Pragmatic Strengthening is not Strong Enough: Meanings of Sequential Closed-Class Forms

Volume 16
Issue 2
Konrad Szcześniak
This study focuses on the semantics of word patterns and schematic constructions. Examples of constructions with purportedly rich meanings are shown to convey readings less complex than is claimed in the literature. Many previous studies stressed these constructions’ idiosyncratic properties which have been held up as arguments in favor of their special construction status—pairings of (usually unique, conventionalized) form and (usually idiosyncratic) meaning. I wish to argue that although the constructions reviewed here do have clear meanings, their form and function are not as idiosyncratic, irregular, or unpredictable as they are portrayed in the literature. Indeed, the formal and functional properties of one construction analyzed here, the Incredulity Response Construction fit well within traditional characterizations of items located on the syntactic side of the lexicon-syntax continuum. I will attempt to demonstrate that the form of the construction is an iconic representation of its reading. Additionally, I question the reading itself, arguing that the incredulity that gave rise to the construction’s very name is not its semantic contribution. Instead, I propose a more general and abstract reading of incongruousness or “cognitive dissonance”. Finally, it is argued that there are no known mechanisms that could equip constructions with overly rich semantic content. One potential candidate, pragmatic strengthening, capable of endowing constructions with meanings does not go beyond fairly sparse readings already known to occur in grammatical forms.

Keywords: Grammatical Constructions, Closed-Class Forms, Pragmatic Strengthening, Iconicity