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LINGUIST List 22.781

Wed Feb 16 2011

Qs: 'Means-end' Interpretations of Conjunctives

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        1.     David Oshima , 'Means-end' Interpretations of Conjunctives

Message 1: 'Means-end' Interpretations of Conjunctives
Date: 15-Feb-2011
From: David Oshima <davidyogmail.com>
Subject: 'Means-end' Interpretations of Conjunctives
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It is widely recognized that, across languages, coordinate conjunctive
construction and participial constructions (eg. English free adjuncts)
both may implicate a wide range of semantic relations, including the
"means-end" (also referred to as instrumentality, manner, etc.) relation,
arguably due to Gricean pragmatic enrichment.

(1a) He pressed the switch and opened the door. (= and thereby
opened the door)
(1b) Pressing the switch, he opened the door. (= by means of pressing
the switch)

(2a) He poured hot water on the ice and melted it. (= and thereby
melted it)
(2b) He melted the ice pouring hot water on it. (= by means of pouring

Let me use the term "subordinate conjunctive construction" to refer to
structure like English free adjuncts, where one clause is subordinate to
another and the semantic relation between them is, at the level of
semantic/literal meaning, (something close to) mere logical conjunction.

It has been reported that some languages "lack instrumental
[coordinate] conjunctions" (Kortmann 1991, Free adjuncts and
absolutes in English: p.164).

So in French, only subordinate conjunctive constructions (gérondif) but
not coordinate conjunctive constructions can be used to indicate the
means-end relation.

(3a) ??Il a appuyé sur l'interrupteur et a ouvert la porte.
(3b) Il a ouvert la porte en appuyant sur l'interrupteur.

(4a) ??Il a versé de l'eau chaude sur la glace et l'a fondu.
(4b) Il a fondu la glace en y versant de l'eau chaude.

I also noticed that in English too, there are cases where the means-end
relation can naturally be expressed only with a subordinate conjunctive

(5a) ??He used chopsticks and ate fried noodles.
(5b) He ate fried noodles using chopsticks.
(cf.) He used a lethal weapon and wiped out the enemy.

I suspect that the principle of iconicity is behind the contrasts between
(3a) & (3b), (4a) & (4b), and (5a) & (5b). My theory is that when two
events described as a "means" and an "end", they are not
conceptualized as being on an equal status, but the means-event is
taken to be something subordinate to, dependent on, or perhaps
"fused into", the end-event -- therefore a subordinate conjunctive
construction, where two clauses stand in an asymmetric relation, is
more appropriate.

And I am curious what cross-linguistic variation can be found regarding
the availability of means-end interpretations. Tentatively, I put forth the
following generalization:

If a language has a coordinate conjunctive construction and a
subordinate conjunctive construction, either of the following holds:
(A) The means-end relation can be expressed only by the subordinate
conjunctive construction (as in French). OR
(B) Some subcases of the means-end relation are compatible both with
the subordinate and coordinate conjunctive constructions. Some other
subcases, notably including those that involve a prototypical tool like
chopsticks, are compatible only with the subordinate conjunctive
construction (as in English).

From conversations I had with my colleagues, I gather that Korean
belongs to group-A along with French, and that Russian belongs to
group-B along with English. And I now hope to obtain input from a
wider range of linguists.

Can anyone point me to existing work that addresses the contrast in
question? Can anyone find more languages that pattern like French
(Group-A) or English (Group-B)? Can anyone find languages that do
not fit into group-A or group-B?

I would appreciate any feedback, and will post a summary if I get a
good amount of inputs.

Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics

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