Jonathan Shaheen: "Semantico-pragmatic Effects of Syntax"

  • Date: –12:00
  • Location: Engelska parken – Eng2/1022
  • Organiser: Department of Philosophy
  • Contact person: Matti Eklund
  • Seminarium

The Higher Seminar in Theoretical Philosophy

Jonathan Shaheen, Uppsala universitet: "Semantico-pragmatic effects of syntax: The causal import of relative clause placement in Nordic languages”

In this talk, I investigate a causal construction possible in Nordic languages to see what it can tell us about the meaning of ‘because’. The Swedish version of the construction involves postponing ‘som’ clauses, which results in their receiving causal interpretations, as can be seen by comparing (1c), the interpretation of sentence (1a), with (2c), the interpretation of sentence (2a).

(1)   a.   Du som sitter på kontoret sent på kvällarna är dum.

b.     You who sits at office+the late in evening+s+the are dumb.
c.     You who sits at the office late in the evenings are dumb.

(2)   a. Du är dum som sitter på kontoret sent på kvällarna.

b. You are dumb who sits in office+the late in evening+s+the
c. You are dumb because you sit at the office late in the evenings.

Extant work on the syntax-pragmatics interface recognizes effects of clause ordering on information structure, but postponement of “som” clauses as in 2a seems to have a semantic effect. Meanwhile, I have argued in previous work comparing sentences (3)-(5) that “because” is a lexicalization of the discourse relation of Explanation  (i.e., that the semantic contribution of “because” is essentially pragmatic).

(3)   He brought her moss for her terrarium because he likes her.
(4)   He likes her, because he brought her moss for her terrarium.
(5)   What are you doing tonight? – because there’s a movie on.

Here I will argue that the causal import of postponed “som” clauses in Swedish supports this view.