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Auteur: Chi-He ELDER

Co-Auteur(s): Kasia M. JASZCZOLT, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Conditional utterances and conditional thoughts: A contextualist account

Abstract/Résumé: Conditionals in English come in a variety of forms, the most dominant of which is the structure ‘if p (then) q’. A pilot study of spoken discourse from the International Corpus of English-GB (ICE-GB) showed that 46% of conditionals use the word ‘if’ (Elder 2012). However, if-constructions are not the only way to express conditional thoughts (such as (1) and (2)), and moreover, if-constructions can be put to uses other than to express conditional thought (as in (3) and (4)). (1) Say one word against the Conservative Party and Tom will be offended (2) Your money or your life (3) If you wouldn’t mind, could you close the door? (4) If that’s a real diamond I’ll eat my hat! Next, conditionals do not constitute a uniform category: in addition to the standard distinction between indicatives and counterfactuals, they also yield to a variety of more, or less, adequate typologies (e.g. Sweetser 1990, Declerck & Reed 2001). The most striking observation in this respect is perhaps Kratzer’s (2012) claim that ‘[s]emantically, conditionals are no longer much of a topic in their own right’ (p.94) and ‘[t]he history of the conditional is the story of a syntactic mistake’ (p.106). We present a corpus-based analysis of the conversational uses of if-constructions founded on data extracted from the ICE-GB by one of the authors (Elder). Next, we focus on so-called ‘indirect conditionals’, where there is no overt conditional relationship between the antecedent and consequent, as in (6). (6) There are biscuits on the sideboard if you want some. We point out through attested examples that as far as the speaker’s intended meaning is concerned, indirect conditionals lend themselves to a cline, where at one end of the scale there need not be a single intended consequent recoverable from the context, as in (7), while at the other, a conditional relationship may be overtly specified. (7) If you’d like to put on your helmet. In addition, the role that conditional thought plays varies from explicit to implicit (strong or weak). Combined with direct conditionals at one end and non-conditional uses of 'if' at the other, this affords a full scale of degrees of conditional thought associated with conditional if-constructions. We use the framework of the post-Gricean contextualist approach of Default Semantics/Interactive Semantics (Jaszczolt 2005, forthcoming) and demonstrate that the diversity of ways of expressing conditional meaning, as well as the diversity of uses to which conditional 'if' can be put, are not a problem for radical contextualism. This is because the meaning of the utterance is attributable to the result of the interaction of information coming from different sources identified in the theory.