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Auteur: Mira ARIEL

Interpreting or Constructions

Abstract/Résumé: Monosemy and polysemy compete. Applied to constructions, the (super-) polysemous construction associated with multiple meanings competes with various monosemous sub-constructions, each with its own dedicated meaning. I here examine the disjunctive construction and sub-constructions and motivate the competition between them. First, the most polysemous disjunctive interpretation involves no dedicated marking and relies on inferencing: 1. … Practices of abortion of, perhaps, pre-partum, perhaps postpartum (LSAC). Then, [X or Y], the most general dedicated disjunctive construction, introduces multiple alternatives which the speaker raises as possible alternatives. This very minimal meaning is routinely inferentially enriched in various ways. Surprisingly often, [X or Y] is used to denote a single, higher-level category (‘monarch’ in ‎2): 2. Who was the king or queen (SBC:023) Next, biased linguistic contexts sometimes create salient discourse profiles, which minimize (but don’t eliminate) inferencing. For example, questions (Coffee or tea?) mostly receive ‘exclusive’ readings (90%). Finally, specialized sub-constructions virtually guarantee specific interpretations. A single, (hedged) concept reading is associated with [X or somethingdestressed]: 3. is he in like jail or something? (SBC:001) Many languages have a dedicated construction for the opposite function, where the speaker indicates that each of the disjuncts denotes a distinct discourse option. Very often these options are also construed as exhausting all options, and an exclusive reading is triggered. This is true for virtually all the either X or Y sub-constructions, and for all bare either ors in LSAC and SBC. (‎4) lists additional sub-constructions: 4. a. Corrective: ... Hand me that ashtray. ... Or your light, (SBC:007). b. Dispreferred Y: … (H) Or else I'll give her a call tomorrow. (SBC:014) c. Dilemma: .. to follow, or not to follow. (SBC:025) d. Impossible Y: Armageddon is upon us or I'm a monkey's uncle!! e. One option: Who is the idiot—me or me??? Note that the basic [X or Y] can be used to convey most of the interpretations that the dedicated sub-constructions convey. This then is a case of rather heavy polysemy competing with high monosemy. Why have both polysemous and monosemous constructions for the same function? Because all competitors evolve naturally and nonteleologically in discourse. Speakers routinely mobilize current (monosemic) forms to express additional meanings via inference, so polysemies are constantly evolving. At the same time, since the same forms are consistently recruited for each intended interpretation, dedicated sub-constructions emerge, which increase monosemy. The process goes on: e.g., [X or Y] > [X or something like that] > [X or something].