What can synchronic gradience tell us about reanalysis?

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This paper discusses verb-first conditionals (Had I known this, I would have stayed at home) with regard to the hypothesis that the construction developed from a dialogual sequence into a hypotactic structure. While plausible, independent evidence for this scenario has been scarce. An alternative account posits that questions could have been analogized with existing conditional clause types, making it possible for speakers to use questions as conditional protases. The present study assesses these two hypotheses on the basis of present-day corpus data from German and Swedish. Crucial to this approach is the notion that a reanalyzed structure retains aspects of its original source. Put simply, if the protasis of a verb-first conditional developed out of a question, it should retain some question-like characteristics, even after reanalysis. Further, if verb-first conditionals have become grammaticalized more strongly in one language than in another, the less-grammaticalized construction should display more question-like characteristics.


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