This article investigates the function of like when it occurs in numerically quantified contexts. The pragmatic literature espouses two distinct positions on this topic, though neither has yet been tested empirically. On the one hand, like is argued to be a genuine pragmatic particle, indistinguishable from other discourse uses of this lexeme. Alternatively, others argue that in numerical contexts like carries propositional content and in this respect, it functions adverbially. Quantitative analysis from a large corpus of contemporary English suggests the latter: like is an approximative adverb, alternating with the more traditional form about in the spoken vernacular. However, the perspective afforded by apparent time reveals rapid, ongoing change whereby the traditional adverb is in the process of being ousted. The pattern of change therefore suggests lexical replacement. Among older speakers the preferred form for approximation is about, while among younger speakers the form of choice is like. These results thus indicate that what has previously been treated as a single entity, discourse like, is in fact two distinct forms: like the adverb and like the particle.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.