LINGUIST List 7.165

Fri Feb 2 1996

Sum: Conditionals

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. ChangBong Lee, conditionals

Message 1: conditionals

Date: Thu, 01 Feb 1996 23:27:14 EST
From: ChangBong Lee <>
Subject: conditionals
I posted a query on conditionals two weeks ago.
The following people responded to my query and provided
valuable information.

Woo-hyoung Nahm
Ginny Brennan
Dale Russell
Maik Gibson
Donald T. Davis
Murvet Enc
Richard Schrodt
Kai von Fintel
Ziv Yael

The gist of the original query was as follows.

There is a wide concensus saying that conditionals are defined
within the irrealis domain (e.g. Akatsuka(1985)). The following
example in Korean conditionals seems to challenge this concensus
in that the antecedent (-myen clause) describes a given fact
that the speaker patently knows.

(1)(to her own older sister; against her arrogant attitude)
ne-ka enni-myen, cheyil-i-nya
you-NOM sister-if best-be-Q
`If you are my older sister, is it the best?' (literal)
`If you are my older sister, does that mean you can do anything?'

I notice that the speaker carries a special attitude over the
utterance of the conditional sentence above; that is, I challenge
the implication (p -> q) you have (being an older sister means
she can do anything to her younger sister). I find that without
this specific speaker attitude -myen cannot describe a given
fact that the speaker knows already. Thus, we have (2) contrasted
with (1).

(2) (to her own older sister in the dining table:)
ne-ka enni-i-(#myen) mence mek-e
you-NOM sister-be-(#if) first eat
'(#If)Since you are my older sister, eat first.'

The speaker attitude in uttering (2) is sharply contrasted with that
in (1). In (2) the speaker seems to carry the conventionally-held
implication in Korean culture (elders start eating first). 
 Based on this observation, I developed the argument saying that
the speaker attitude of challenging the implication expressed over 
a conditional statement held by the hearer or conventionally constitutes
one of speaker attitudes that belong to the domain of conditionals.
We can argue that this specific attitude has a kind of irrealis flavor
in that the speaker challenges/denies/doubts the implication based on
the realis fact in p. 
 If this argument is correct, this specific speaker attitude can 
be a conditional target in general in natural language. My original
query intended to find out whether this prediction is borne out
in the data of other languages. 

First, after talking with some native speakers of English,
I found that the use of IF in the same context of (1) is controvertial.
However, the fact that there are some speakers of English who find it
acceptable in that context seems to strongly support my argument above.

Maik Gibson informed me that as a British English speaker the sentence
I quoted in English in (1)is absolutely fine to him. He also pointed out
that he could have `If you really were my sister ---' without denying
the actual fact.
Ginny Brennan pointed out that she would use `even if ---' in the same 
context of (1) above; that is, Even if you are my sister, you cannot
say that to me. gloss: You cannot say that to me at all, and this 
prohibition is so strong that the fact of your being my sister
doesn't change it.

Second, I could get one concrete supporting example from Hebrew.

Ziv Yael informed me that the sentence I quote from Korean has a 
similar counterpart in Hebrew:

ve-im at axoti ha-gdola, at yexola leharbitz li?
and-if you my sister the big you can to hit me
`and if you are my sister, can you hit me?' (do you have the right
to hit me?)

According to her, she prefers the conjunction initially in Hebrew
in this example, although it is acceptable without the conjunction
as well.

Her point that she prefers the presence of conjunction is very interesting
in that I find that it is also true in Korean. Even in English,
those people I discussed these examples with told me that with the
presence of `so' or `and' at the start of the sentence, the given
the use of If-clause sounds better. I have no clear answer for why 
this is the case. However, it seems that this has to do with the 
contribution by the conjunction in terms of carrying a sarcastic
rhetoric effect in this context.

It remains to be seen in how many languages this specific speaker
attitude is a conditional target (marked by the prototypical
conditional marker). Thus, I will still be interested to hear
from you (speakers of other languages).

Thanks again for all those who responded to my query.
If anyone is interested to read my work on this topic,
please contact me directly.


Chang-Bong Lee
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