The Pragmatics of Constituent Order in English
In recent work, I have argued for the existence of sets of syntactic variants, or ‘alloforms’, of noncanonical-word-order constructions, defined by a shared discourse function but conditioned by their syntactic environment. For example, inversion and long passives share a functional constraint, but appear in complementary distribution syntactically, and thus may be considered alloforms of a single construction. At the same time, an analysis of inversion as an alloform of both preposing and postposing fully accounts for its distribution in discourse, without the need to stipulate an independent pragmatic constraint. Similar reasoning suggests alloform status for other pairs of noncanonical structures. But increasing numbers of such relationships raise a worrisome question: If, for example, long passives are an alloform of inversion, and inversion is an alloform of presentationals, what does that mean for the relationship between long passives and presentationals? In this talk, I confront the inevitable problem of tying it all together. Using patterns of both syntactic and functional distribution, I argue for a class of preposing structures that constitute one abstract construction with syntactically-conditioned alloforms, and a class of postposing structures that constitute another such construction, along with a class of argument-reversing structures constituting conditioned alloforms of both. I then consider the ramifications of this analysis for various approaches to the notion of a construction, and argue for a view of noncanonical constructions as functionally constrained structural templates for syntactically-conditioned alloforms.
What do experiments add to the field of pragmatics?
Paul Grice’s seminal proposal placed intentions at the center of utterance understanding and laid the groundwork for a theory in which an addressee arrives at a speaker’s meaning (what the speaker intended to communicate by uttering a sentence) while encoding sentence meaning (the properties of a sentence assigned to it by the grammar). His armchair approach to pragmatics also provided researchers of a different stripe — experimentalists — with a framework to investigate pragmatic processes constructively, viz. by treating (mostly) addressees as naive participants. In this talk, I will show how Gricean analyses have led to experiments that provide the literature with original discoveries and reliable findings. Studies to be discussed include developmental and adult behavioral experiments as well as those using the tools of neuroscience. Among the topics I aim to cover are scalar implicature, irony and conventional implicature. I will describe how Gricean approaches along with alternative accounts collectively play an important role in experimental research because they provide a forum in which theoretical approaches can be compared. That is, experiments encourage researchers to agree on the contours and contrasts in a phenomenon and to make specific theory-driven predictions that can then be tested. Experimental work thus represents an opportunity for pragmatists to better delimit the field through generally accepted methods and objectives.
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