Journal of Social Sciences

Entrenching Inferences in Implicational and Illocutionary Constructions

Francisco José Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez

DOI : 10.3844/jssp.2015.258.274

Journal of Social Sciences

Volume 11, Issue 3

Pages 258-274


The starting point for the present paper is the classification of constructions, understood as fixed pairings of form and meaning, into four levels of meaning representation, i.e., the argument-structure, implicational, illocutionary and discourse levels. The meaning part of constructions contains fixed and variable elements. In argument-structure constructions the fixed elements are generic and, as such, they are open to parameterization through the integration of lower-level lexical structure into them. For example, the ‘caused-motion’ construction, which takes the form X CAUSES Y TO MOVE Z, can parameterize ‘cause to move’ by means of such predicates as ‘push’, ‘kick’ and ‘drag’. In constructions from other levels of description, the fixed part, which is non-generic, contains sets of conditions that are stably realized by specific formal configurations, which are highly idiomatic. For example, the sentence Who's been messing up the bulletin board? is usually not a question about the identity of the person that has performed the described action, but an expression of irritation on the part of the speaker at someone having handled the notices on the board inefficiently. The underlying configuration, which can be labeled Who's Been VP-ing (Y)?, is an implicational construction whose VP component-which completes the past perfect form of the fixed part-is necessarily a progressive form, thus indicating that the action has taken place in the recent past and is of consequence to the present moment. The rest of the meaning cannot be derived compositionally but is obtained from previous inferential activity based on the non-grammatical content of the “VP Y” part of the construction: People are expected not to misuse what is not theirs. Such content is a matter of socio-cultural conventions that regulate human interaction with other humans and the inferences originally derived from it have become entrenched through frequent association with the expressive pattern that now constitutes the formal part of the construction. The same is the case with illocutionary meaning, which is often captured by idiomatic constructions. For example, Can't you please stop making noise? derives its combination of directive and expressive force (it is a request and a complaint at the same time) from the entrenchment of meaning implications arising from the fact that it is not socially acceptable for people to act in ways that bother other people. Along these lines, the paper explores other such socio-cultural conventions, examines the type of inferences that they underlie and makes correlations with formal expression patterns. Such a correlation reveals networks of meaning relations among formal patterns that enable us to give structure to the implicational and illocutionary segments of the ‘constructicon’ of English. It also sets up explicit connections between the constructional and inferential domains of linguistic research.


© 2015 Francisco José Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.