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<i>N be that</i>-constructions in everyday German conversation

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Abstract

Based on a corpus of conversational German, I will show that the standard view of <i>N be that</i>-constructions (e.g. &#8216;the thing is/the point is...&#8217;) as [matrix clause + subordinated complement clause] cannot be supported by actual data from spoken interactions. Instead of a subordinated complement clause following the matrix clause, speakers reanalyse &#8216;die Sache ist&#8217; (&#8216;part A&#8217;)as a projector phrase, anticipating the upcoming core message (&#8216;segment B&#8217;). Part B (&#8216;the complement clause&#8217;), which overwhelmingly occurs with no complementizer &#8216;dass&#8217; (&#8216;that&#8217;), can take various forms in spoken interactions: it can be realized as a subordinate clause, a main clause, a complex clause and even as a larger discourse segment. In all these cases, it is no longer a conceptual element of segment A&#8217;s proposition. Instead of the traditionally assumed matrix clause vs. subordinate clause relation, the &#8216;matrix clause&#8217; (&#8216;die Sache ist&#8217; syntagma) is reanalysed as a projector phrase, focussing recipients&#8217; attention on the following segment, which expresses the core message. Thus, the &#8216;complement&#8217; overrides the &#8216;matrix clause&#8217;. This functional upgrading of the &#8216;complement clause&#8217; (part B) tends to be accompanied by formal indications of prosodic and syntactic independence.

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