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The attenuating conditional

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Abstract

The attenuative reading of the conditional form (condatt) in Italian and French illustrates the multifunctionality of linguistic structures and the necessity of analyzing them in their synergies with relevant contextual parameters. The condatt allows the speaker to allude to the existence of pragmatic prerequisites for his/her utterance without presenting them as taken for granted. An empirical study of spoken data reveals that at least in French this property has specific effects on various levels of interaction: the form expresses negotiability of the speaker’s acts; it preferredly encodes new information and contributes to structure the thematic progression of discourse; it tends to encode initiative and/or dispreferred communicative acts. These results lead us to formulate some hypotheses as to the condatt’s appropriateness with regard to global context. In particular, given that the form signals negotiability and is better compatible with a reduced rather than with a rich common ground, we expect it to be most appropriate in dialogical genres characterized by a low degree of acquaintance, a high degree of social distance between co-participants, and symmetry of social roles.

References

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