Linguistics ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-12-2017


This research offers insight into the way linguistic constructions develop new meanings by examining a group of semantically and structurally related form-meaning pairings in Spanish, all of which contain a verb and the word cuenta ‘count/account’. Five constructions which now all have cognitive meanings, dar(se) cuenta ‘realize’, caer en la cuenta ‘realize’, hacer (de) cuenta ‘pretend’, tener en cuenta ‘consider’, and tomar (en) cuenta ‘consider’, are examined from the 1200s to the 1900s. The data come from the Historical Corpus del Español (Davies 2002). 5,301 examples of these constructions were coded for factors based on two pilot studies (Healey 2012, 2016) and analyzed using a Random Forests machine-learning algorithm and variable rule analysis. The results indicate that darse cuenta, hacer (de) cuenta, tener en cuenta, and tomar (en) cuenta have followed Traugott’s (1989) first tendency of semantic change whereby meanings based in the external world increasingly become based in the speaker’s internal/mental world. In this case, these four constructions began with more external meanings: dar cuenta ‘give payment’, hacer (de) cuenta ‘settle the account/do a count’, tener en cuenta ‘have in account’, and tomar (en) cuenta ‘take payment’/‘take a count’. These four individual constructions have undergone semantic change via metaphorization. On the other hand, the fifth construction being studied, caer en la cuenta, is a case of analogization from darse cuenta. Another conclusion of this research is that a Verb + cuenta exemplar cluster exists in the speaker’s mind based on the semantic and syntactic relatedness of these constructions.

Project Sponsors

Russel J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Foundation




diachronic construction grammar, corpus linguistics, random forests, semantic change, exemplar theory, metaphorization

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Linguistics

First Committee Member (Chair)

Damian Wilson

Second Committee Member

Christian Koops

Third Committee Member

Melissa Axelrod

Fourth Committee Member

Richard File-Muriel