A corpus-based investigation of language change in Italian: The case of grazie/ringraziare di and grazie/ringraziare per

Lorella Viola

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In Italian, grazie ‘thanks’ and ringraziare ‘to thank’ historically introduce a recipient by means of the preposition di ‘of’ (Renzi et al 1991: 545-548); when grazie and ringraziare introduce a subordinate infinite clause, they may all the same be followed by either di or per ‘for’, the latter being the habitual preposition introducing an implicit causal subordinate (Renzi et al ibid.). In light of these considerations, a general lower frequency of occurrence of collocations with per would be expected. However, a number of authors (e.g., Renzi 2000, Alfieri et al 2008: 331) have reported an increase in the use of constructions with per; though with differences in the approach and the framework employed, they have also hypothesised that such an increase may be due to language contact with English. A careful exploration of the relevant literature, however, has revealed that such claims of both an increase in the use of grazie/ringraziare per in Italian and of an influence from English as the cause of the increase have so far outpaced empirical substantiation. This study, on the contrary, uses verifiable and objective data such as diachronic language corpora of written, spoken and dubbed Italian to empirically investigate the distribution of both constructions through the history of Italian. The results will reveal that, from 1200 to 2011, the frequency of use of forms with per has indeed more than octupled in writing and that, from 1965 to 2004, has more than doubled in speech. Moreover, by analysing the distribution of the studied constructions in a corpus of dubbed Italian from (American) English, the article will also explore the possibility that language contact with English, mainly via dubbing translations, may have played a concurrent fundamental role for such changes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371–388
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Historical Linguistics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • historical corpus linguistics
  • diachronic quantitative investigations
  • language change
  • Italian
  • English in contact with Italian

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