Towards a pragmatic category of conditionals

Chi-He Elder, Kasia M Jaszczolt

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In this paper, we present the benefits of regarding conditionality as a pragmatic phenomenon as compared with approaches based on the syntactic category of a conditional sentence. We propose a pragmatic category of conditionality and justify it using theoretical arguments supported with examples from our database collected from the International Corpus of English-GB. Next, we demonstrate how conditional utterances that pertain to a variety of syntactic constructions can be represented in Default Semantics, a contextualist, truth-conditional approach to utterance meaning. We identify six types of such constructions, using the dimensions of (i) primary vs. secondary meaning (PM/SM index) and (ii) meaning conveyed through sentence structure vs. meaning conveyed at the level of merger representation (WS/Σ index). It is concluded that in view of the diversity of constructions through which conditional thoughts are expressed, conditionality is best regarded as a pragmatic (and as such conceptual) category. Finally, we comment on the status of this claim as a potential semantic/pragmatic universal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-53
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date30 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


  • Conditionals
  • Pragmatic category
  • Radical contextualism
  • Default Semantics

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