The grammatical description of New Englishes is a relatively young field but at the same time one that benefitted much from recent developments in corpus linguistics. Standard reference corpora such as the International Corpus of English (ICE) have made it possible to research grammatical phenomena even in smaller outer circle varieties of English. In the field of grammar, innovations typically start out at the intersection of grammar and lexis. We investigate verb-preposition combinations in four corpora of first and second language varieties of English, among them the preliminary version of the written component of ICE Fiji. Our focus is on what has been termed ‘new prepositional verbs’ (cf. Mukherjee 2009, Nesselhauf 2009), i.e. novel combinations of verbs and prepositions.
We compare a manual and a semi-automated approach to the study of new verb-preposition combinations. The manual approach consists of a surface search for prepositions followed by a careful manual filtering process. The semi-automated approach is a corpus-driven investigation using parsed corpora and detecting variation-specific prepositional collocations. Typically, the advantage of manual searches is that precision is very high; the disadvantage is that the investigation is time-consuming and recall can be incomplete, because the scope of investigations may have to be restricted. The advantage of automatic, parse-based methods is that they are fast and corpus-driven, which may increase recall; the disadvantage is that error-rates are high, which seriously affects precision. We discuss similarities and differences in the results of the two approaches and show examples of new verb-preposition combinations from ICE India and ICE Fiji that the two approaches deliver. We conclude that both methods validate, but also complement each other.