Constraints on inferential constructions

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This chapter addresses the cross-linguistic variability of inferential constructions and the constrained character of the English <i>it is that</i>-construction in particular. A quantitative case study of the latter (e.g. <i>It’s just that I’m a different person now</i>) shows that, compared with inferential constructions in other languages, the English construction is even more restricted than has previously been assumed. A discourse constraint is proposed which limits its applicability to inferences which are highly accessible at the point of utterance. This constraint severely limits the use of the construction in its unmarked form, i.e. in affirmative declarative clauses without further modification, and explains why it occurs specifically with certain modifiers and in combination with certain other grammatical constructions. The chapter explores the implications of these findings for the study of inferential constructions across languages.


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