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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton March 1, 2022

Intonation as a cue to epistemic stance in one type of insubordinate clauses

  • Mirjam Fried ORCID logo EMAIL logo and Pavel Machač ORCID logo
From the journal Folia Linguistica


This corpus-based study focuses on the spoken nature of insubordination by analyzing intonation vis-à-vis interpersonal functions associated with specific insubordination patterns in spontaneously produced Czech conversations. This paper shows that there is a consistent relationship between the epistemic function of a given variant and its intonational contour: the pattern found in argumentative settings is associated with a conclusive, sharply falling cadence, while the variant found in collaborative contexts and imparting an explicative flavor has a slightly rising melody, suggesting inconclusiveness. We also discovered a clear parallelism between these two intonational variants and an intonational split in the embedded polar questions after the verb form nevím ‘I don’t know’, the most likely source of the insubordinate structures. This finding further motivates the interpersonal functions served by the insubordination patterns: the argumentative variant marks a high degree of confidence about p not being true, while the slightly rising contour of the explicative pattern marks a low degree of confidence in p being true, thus necessarily projecting tentativeness. The results strengthen the status of these patterns as conventional grammatical units distinct from their syntactic source; they show that their phonic properties provide salient interpretive cues; and they also contribute to the question of how we conceptualize the emergence of insubordination.

Corresponding author: Mirjam Fried, Department of Linguistics, FF UK, nám. J. Palacha 1/2, 116 38Praha, Czech Republic, E-mail:

Award Identifier / Grant number: CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000734

Funding source: Charles University

Award Identifier / Grant number: Progres Q10


We wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their careful reading and thoughtful comments, as well as the audiences at several conferences (SCLC 2019, ICLC 2019, CALC 2019) for insightful and inspiring discussions that helped shape the manuscript.

  1. Research funding: This work was supported by the European Regional Development Fund project “Creativity and Adaptability as Conditions of the Success of Europe in an Interrelated World” (reg. no.: CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000734), and by the Charles University project Language in the shiftings of time, space, and culture (Progres Q10).


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Received: 2021-04-03
Accepted: 2022-01-03
Published Online: 2022-03-01
Published in Print: 2022-04-26

© 2022 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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