We propose a novel use of an automatic parser as a tool for descriptive linguistics. This use has two advantages. First, quantitative data on very large amounts of texts are available instantly, a process which would take years of work with manual annotation. Second, it allows variational linguists to use a partly corpus-driven approach, where results emerge from the data. The disadvantage of the parser-based approach is that the level of precision and recall is lower. We give evaluations of precision and recall of the parser we use.
We then show the application of the parser-based approach to a selection of New Englishes. using several subparts of the International Corpus of English (ICE). We employ two methods to discover potential features of New Englishes: (a) by exploring quantitative differences in the use of established syntactic patterns (b) by evaluating the potential correlation between parsing break-downs and regional syntactic innovations.