16:15 Uhr - 17:45 Uhr Dorotheenstr. 24, 10117 Berlin, Room 1.401

Explicit or redundant: The social meaning of multiple exponence

the slides to download

Finegan & Biber 1994 argue that it is no accident that shorter forms (zero complementizer, contractions, etc) are more common in informal registers, whereas longer forms are more common in formal ones. Similarly, Eckert 2012 reports research showing that shorter variants of sociolinguistic variables can be considered iconic in the sense that the degree of care/effort put into their production corresponds to a perceived degree of education, care for details, power, etc.

I will discuss phenomena that question this clear social/register interpretation of shorter vs longer variants. A prominent classical example is the social meaning of rhoticity in English, where the prestige of the r-full (i.e. longer/explicit) or r-less (i.e. shorter/implicit) variants depend on time and region.

I my talk, I will look at cases of pleonastic marking or multiple exponence at the syntax-semantics interface in which there is a difference in the social meaning between the pleonastic and the implicit variant. The data will come from definiteness marking with inherently definite nouns (proper nouns and uniques), and from negation marking (negative concord).

The longer form is considered more standard („explicit“) in:

  1. the use of the definite article with unique and kind nouns („(the) mango is sweet“, in some New Englishes, Sand 2004)
  2. the use of the negative marker „ne“ in French

The longer form is considered less standard („redundant“) in:

  1. the use of definite articles with proper names for persons in German: „(die) Alex“ `(the) Alex‘
  2. the use of various potential negation markers to express a single negation (i.e. negative concord) in English and German
  3. the use of the negative adverb „pas“ `not´ together with a neg-word („rien“ `nothing´) to express a single negation in French

I will model the data in a constraint-based formal rendering of basic concepts of third-wave variationist sociolinguistics (Eckert 2012): The social meaning attached to a variant will be treated as a conventionalized, expressive meaning. The overall „register“ or „style“ that is inferred from the use of particular variants will be considered a(n extra-grammatical) particularized conversational implicature (see Asadpour et al. 2022).

For the examples above it is plausible to attach the social meaning to the interpretive strategy rather than to individual words or constructions. Such an analysis seems to fall beyond the scope of previous approaches to register/social meaning in Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar (Green 95, Paollilo 2000, Bender 2007, Machicao y Priemer et al. 2022), but can be modelled within the proposed architecture.

I hope to be able to show that multiple exponence can trigger a conventionalized iconic social or register inference. This inference can, however, be one of explicitness or one of redundancy. Considering it an instance of standard pragmatic inferences allows for a flexible yet precise modelling of the multi-variety competence of language users without stipulating any special mechanism for social/register meaning.