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On the grammatical status of insubordinate if-clauses

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Abstract

Insubordinate clauses are a problem for grammatical analysis as they are subordinate in terms of their form but used like independent main clauses. This chapter investigates the grammatical status of insubordinate if-clauses in English on the basis of spoken data from the British Component of the International Corpus of English. The analysis shows that insubordinate if-clauses have highly specialised functions and fall into two main categories, viz. performatives and elaboratives. The former include directives, optatives, and exclamatives, while the latter express some elaboration of a previous utterance and as such are pragmatically linked to the preceding cotext. Directives represent the most frequent category and are shown to correspond with specific formal features which set them apart from ordinary conditional clauses: three dominant syntactic patterns (If you + [Verb: present], If you + [Modal: past], If you’d like to) and terminal prosodic contour. It is concluded that directive insubordinate if-clauses are not mere performance phenomena but represent a grammatical category in their own right in a Construction Grammar sense. It is further concluded that insubordinate if-clauses are part of a larger category of theticals (Heine et al. 2013), which also includes parenthetical if-clauses and conversational if-clauses (Dancygier 1998).

References

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