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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

7 - Functional syntax


Chapter 6 was devoted to many topics on the canonized list of pragmatic topics. We here address an additional topic on that list, functional syntax, one of the first topics pragmatists addressed. Functional syntax analyzes functions, i.e., meanings and use conditions associated with specific, syntactically defined structures (e.g., cleft sentences, existential there sentences). Quite often, the functions involved are defined according to information statuses, namely, as to how various types of accessible/New or foregrounded/backgrounded information are preferably introduced into the discourse. Functional syntax was considered pragmatic right from the start, but pragmatists hardly ever refer to functions associated with syntactic constructions. Interestingly, two different and contradictory pragmatic criteria are mobilized to support this near exclusion.

Linguists at large considered functional syntax findings pragmatic from the start, simply because of the general functionalist assumption at the basis of such research, namely the claim that language (and syntax specifically) is mobilized in the service of communication. Prominent researchers in the area, such as Kuno, Prince and Thompson, saw it as pragmatic, because the norms involved most often concern extralinguistic concepts, they don't contribute to the truth-conditional content of the proposition, violating these norms does not create ungrammaticality, and the interpretations involved are implicit. Other pragmatists, semanticists and philosophers of language interested in the delimitation of pragmatics often assume that there is nothing specifically linguistic to discuss here. For them, the relevant interpretations are pragmatic, for they are straightforwardly derivable by applying general inferential pragmatic theories to specific constructions.

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