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LINGUIST List 21.2440

Wed Jun 02 2010

Diss: Syntax: Patten: 'Cleft Sentences, Construction Grammar and ...'

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        1.    Amanda Patten, Cleft Sentences, Construction Grammar and Grammaticalization

Message 1: Cleft Sentences, Construction Grammar and Grammaticalization
Date: 02-Jun-2010
From: Amanda Patten <amandalouisepattengmail.com>
Subject: Cleft Sentences, Construction Grammar and Grammaticalization
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Institution: University of Edinburgh
Program: Linguistics and English Language
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2010

Author: Amanda Patten

Dissertation Title: Cleft Sentences, Construction Grammar and Grammaticalization

Linguistic Field(s): Syntax

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director:
Nikolas Gisborne

Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis examines the structure and function of the English it-cleft
configuration within the framework of construction grammar. My analysis
begins with the claim that it-clefts are a subtype of specificational
copular sentence. After identifying problems with previous accounts, I
outline my own, original analysis of specificational NP be NP sentences. I
argue that specificational meaning involves an asymmetric predication
relation and is dependent upon the inherent semantics of definite noun
phrases (rather than syntactic movement). I treat nominal predication set
theoretically, as a semantic relation between members and sets. I claim
that specificational meaning is brought about by a reinterpretation of the
class-membership relation involving definite NP predicates, whereby the
referent is identified as the unique member of a restricted and
existentially presupposed set.

As a member of the family of specificational copular sentences, the
it-cleft inherits properties from the more basic construction. From this,
it follows that it-clefts should also involve a nominal predication
relation, containing a definite NP predicate. This leads me to argue in
favour of a non-derivational extraposition-from-NP analysis of it-clefts,
in which the pronoun it and the cleft clause (analysed here as a
restrictive relative) function together as a discontinuous definite
description. My analysis improves on similar accounts of this type in two
ways. First, since my analysis explains the role that definite descriptions
play in the creation of specificational meaning, I am able to explain,
rather than simply identify, the numerous similarities between it-clefts
and definite noun phrases. Second, my analysis of specificational sentences
as involving a nominal predication relation allows for a straightforward
account of the relationship between specificational and predicational

The thesis also examines the historical development of the it-cleft
construction. I show that (a) much of the it-cleft's structure is
reminiscent of an earlier stage of the language and (b) the construction
has become increasingly schematic and productive over time, sanctioning
instances which override inheritance from the more basic specificational
schema. In this way, the historical evidence provides an explanation for
the it-cleft's idiosyncratic properties. Together, my synchronic and
diachronic analyses add up to a maximally explanatory account of the
it-cleft construction.

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