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Standing out with the progressive



In this paper we demonstrate on the basis of diachronic and synchronic data from a variety of languages that progressives are particularly liable to be used for the expression of extravagance. We define extravagant language use as a signaling mechanism that consists in the exploitation of an unconventional construction in a given context as a way for speakers to indicate that there is something non-canonical about the situation that they are reporting. Novel constructions naturally lend themselves to such extravagant exploitation, since they are by definition to a certain extent unconventional. This is why, as we will demonstrate, the English, Dutch and French progressives were notably often recruited in extravagant contexts at the onset of their development. However, our synchronic data reveal that Present-day English, Dutch and French progressives continue to be used for extravagant purposes, which suggests that there is something inherent about progressive aspect that makes it liable to such expressive usage. This is confirmed by data from other, typologically diverse languages. We offer a cognitive-semantic analysis in terms of epistemic contingency in order to account for this intrinsic association of progressive aspect and extravagance across languages. Our analysis thus reveals that extravagance is not a transient property of emerging progressives, but that, instead, the semantics of these constructions makes them particularly liable to be recruited for extravagant purposes. It also demonstrates that in order to analyze the range of uses of progressive constructions in a unified fashion, we need to look beyond the temporal import of these constructions.


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Author’s address: Department of Linguistics, University of Antwerp, Grote Kauwenberg 18, S.D.329, 2000 Antwerp,
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We wish to thank the three anonymous referees for the Journal of Linguistics for their valuable comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Peter Petré also wishes to acknowledge the ERC, whose Horizon 2020 programme made possible the research reported on in Sections 2.1–2.2 (Project ID 639008;



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Standing out with the progressive



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