Volume 33, Issue 1
  • ISSN 0378-4169
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9927
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Conditional clauses in spoken Italian and other languages are often uttered with no main clause. It will be argued that in this case they constitute a construction in a technical sense, namely in the sense proposed by Simone (2006a), which is mainly reliant on the presence of specific pragmatic functions. The functions free conditionals actually cover are identified as the following: (1) posing a generic question of the type: what will happen? (2) making a statement to the effect that there is no point taking any action in the situation: there’s nothing we can/must do (3) acting as exclamatory rebuttal of what has just been stated: you are wrong! (4) making a request or offering to do something, (5) expressing desire. The syntactic and semantic features that make conditional clauses particularly suited to endorsing such functions are examined. The analysis conducted on a corpus of spoken Italian and extensive samples from other languages, both current and dead, contributes to the understanding of the steps whereby free conditionals move from high frequency in discourse to ultimately becoming an established construction.


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