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Context in Constructions


Traditional associations between syntax and grammar include the notions of anaphora, deixis, ellipsis, speech acts, and information structure. However, there exist numerous other layers of communicative organization, including the structure of conversation and turn-taking, quasi-ritualized interactions, and genre and register. Long recognized as analytically important categories in the fields of Conversation Analysis, contrastive pragmatics, Interactional Sociolinguistics, and others, they have been largely ignored in linguistic and especially syntactic theory. This study aims to begin an integration of formal and social/interactional approaches to linguistics from the perspective of a flexible and precise grammatical framework: Sign-based Construction Grammar.

Through a series of close studies of grammatical constructions in English and Japanese, it is shown that grammatical structure and the interactional contexts in which language is used have a far closer and more integrated relationship than is usually assumed. I introduce the script as a way to capture the fact that not only can language reflect context, but context can exert a significance force on speakers' linguistic choices. The case studies proceed from relatively low-level contextual features to higher levels of organization, showing at each point the necessity to recognize grammatical constructions sensitive to that level of interaction.

Chapter 1 introduces the question of the syntax-context interface. Chapters 2 and 3 present a syntactic representation for lexically- and constructionally-licensed argument omission (null instantiation). Aside from contextual features normally associated with ellipsis, it is seen that to fully account for argument omission it is necessary to incorporate into grammatical constructions references to a fine-grained categorization of speech acts and attitudinal and epistemic stances. Chapters 4 and 5 show that broader regions of conversational context are crucial to licensing constructions. Chapter 4 examines means of providing identification in situations where there is no visual contact (on the phone, at the front door). Chapter 5 illustrates the existence of Japanese and English constructions which function to project future linguistic actions. Chapter 6 extends the framework to consideration of persistent contextual features, namely kinship relations, and how these determine or influence linguistic choices in referring to other family members. Chapter 7 concludes and discusses directions for future work.

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