Professional Activities




1.     The making of a construction: The intransitivization of English reflexive constructions.


2.     Or: Semantic meaning and discourse use.


3.     Mapping some.


4.     Preferred Argument Structure as a scaffolding for grammaticizing adjuncts
(with Elitzur Dattner and Tal Linzen).


5.     What does semanticization involve?: The case of Hebrew xaval al ha-zman.



The thinking behind my current projects


My main interest lies in the intricate relationship between grammar and discourse. I am intrigued by questions pertaining to types of context-driven meanings, to various grammar/pragmatics interfaces and to grammaticization. Each of these issues problematizes the relationship between grammar  and natural discourse (language used in context).


Regarding the grammar/pragmatics interfaces issue, I continue to explore the semantics versus pragmatics division of labor for quantifier some and or constructions. For some I argue that just like most, it too is an upper-bounded scalar quantifier. Since quantifier some is not some’s dominant use, I am working on mapping all the uses of English some into a variety of sub-constructions. Cross-linguistic comparisons show a partial, but by no means total overlap between the functions served by counterpart expressions. Regarding or, I challenge the fundamental role attributed to the distinction between exclusive and inclusive readings. Unlike my conclusion regarding most, where I proposed to reverse the lexical and the pragmatic meanings (of the upper bound and of the ‘all’ compatibility), for or, the most general meaning may actually be even more minimal than the inclusive meaning normally assumed. I will also suggest that we need to analyze the disjunction as a set of constructions, each with its specific formal and functional characteristics (a-lá Goldberg, 1995).


The same is true for reflexive predicates in current English (The making of a construction: The intransitivization of English reflexive constructions). My goal is to demonstrate how discourse patterns can explain how come a construction initially used for highly transitive predicates may end up as a construction specialized for intransitivity. Ad hoc inferences turned part of the explicature and generalized for the construction as a whole may become semantic. Such an account is very much in tune with typological findings. It can explain why it is that languages use reflexive constructions for similar, yet not identical functions. In fact, grammaticization (including semanticization) is always a primary target in my research. Such is my current work on Hebrew dative constructions (with Elitzur Dattner and Tal Linzen), which adduces discourse counts in support of Du Bois’ 1987 idea of complexity building as constrained by Preferred Argument Structure (PAS). The point is that PAS constraints are more rigidly applied in the initial stages of grammaticization. They are later on relaxed.


Grammaticization also ties in with my interest in distinguishing between  a variety of contextual meanings. In addition to conversational implicatures and explicated inferences (inferences contributing to the explicature, according to Relevance theory), I believe we need to consider truth-compatible uncooperative inferences (introduced in Ariel, 2004). And in addition to bare linguistic meanings, and to both minimal and maximal ‘what is said’ representations (explicatures), we need to consider wise-guy interpretations and privileged interactional interpretations (both introduced in Ariel, 2002, see also Ariel, 2008:Chapter 7). Moreover, given a specific form which routinely gives rise to a certain inference, we cannot take it for granted that that inference will have the same cognitive and discoursal status on every occasion. Rather, what is implicated in one context may be explicated on another, or even only uncooperatively inferred (Relational and independent and conjunctions – under review). In fact, it may very well be that the discoursal prominence of propositions determines whether (and how strongly) they contribute to truth evaluations (Ariel, 2010:9.6, first proposed by Bach, 1999). We also need to reconsider which inferred meaning it is that is prone to semanticization. I propose that explicated inferences (more so than implicatures) play a crucial intermediary role here (Hebrew xaval al ha-zman).




Ariel, Mira.    2002. Privileged interactional interpretations. Journal of Pragmatics 34:1003-1044.

                     2004. Most. Language 80:658-706.

                     2008. Pragmatics and grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

                     2010. Defining pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Bach, Kent.   1999. The myth of conventional implicature. Linguistics and Philosophy 22:327-366.

Du Bois, John W 1987. The discoiurse basis of ergativity. Language 63: 805-85.

Goldberg, Adele E. 1995. Constructions: A construction grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.







Linguistics, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, Israel, 69978

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