Arguing the case against coercion

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Recent work in cognitive linguistics has hired the term coercion which was formerly associated with computational linguistics to apply to a number of instances in the study of natural language in which there is an incongruity between the semantics of a syntactic frame and the semantics of lexical items found in it. Some of these instances illustrate areas which could well be described as extensions of aspectual boundaries in which the harmony between lexical and grammatical aspect has been penetrated; others illustrate mismatch in nominal phrases, in which the usual parameters that apply have been violated. The purpose of the present chapter is to analyse three individual cases as they have been presented in recent accounts, and to investigate whether such cases could be explained either by pragmatic factors such as metonymic inferencing, or by considering them in the light of their diachronic development. It will then be questioned whether or not a unique phenomenon of coercion can be justified in the context of natural language at all.


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