Volume 23, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1566-5852
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9854
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How does a rhetorical question become an adverbial down-toner? This paper focusses on a specific type of grammaticalization process: the grammaticalization of a rhetorical construction Goldberg (1995), namely, a “constructionalized rhetorical question” (Bardenstein 2018) which turns into a down-toning adverbial. The particular focus of this paper is on the Hebrew (‘not who knows what’; i.e., ‘not of high quality/quantity’) which has developed from the constructionalization of two earlier constructions. Initially, the biblical question-phrase (‘who knows’) constructionalized as “negatively biased” (Ladusaw 1996). This is a rhetorical question, to which the obvious answer is negative, and in our case can be interpreted as ‘nobody knows’. Most often, it is the case of “not knowing” what the future holds. Then, once a direct object (‘what’) was added, it constructionalized once again into a strengthening/ intensification construction (‘who knows what’), conveying high quantity/quality. This happened since “not knowing what is to happen” can be interpreted as “anything can happen” and this interpretation was used rhetorically to strengthen one‘s utterance. Lastly, (‘who knows what’) constructionalized under the scope of the negation operator (‘not’), into a versatile down-toning adverbial: . Since it is very difficult to negate a strongly positive construction without implying that a less positive one is to some extent true, this negated construction became a versatile down-toner.


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