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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton November 20, 2019

Metalinguistic conditionals and the role of explicit content

Chi-Hé Elder
From the journal Linguistics


This paper aims to bridge the relationship between metalinguistic if you like as a non-propositional discourse marker and its conditional counterparts. This paper claims that metalinguistic if you like is polysemous between a hedge that denotes the speaker’s reduced commitment to some aspect of the main clause, and an optional yet potential conditional reading that interlocutors can legitimately draw on in interaction which is brought about due to the ‘if p, q’ sentence form. That is, although the metalinguistic reading is most likely obtained automatically by default, it also carries an available conditional reading that is akin to other metalinguistic conditional clauses such as if you see what I mean. Next, a semantic representation of metalinguistic if you like is developed that takes on board a characterization of conditionality that departs from lexico-grammatical conventions, such that conditionals of the form ‘if p, q’ no longer bear a one-to-one correspondence with “conditional” truth conditions. Employing a radical contextualist semantic framework in which the unit of truth-conditional analysis is not constrained to the sentence form, utterances employing metalinguistic if you like are given a semantic representation such that the if-clause does not contribute propositional content, yet they also maintain their status as conditionals as the sentence form gives rise to a potential conditional secondary meaning.


I would like to thank the participants of the 1st International Pragmatics Conference of the Americas, the University of Kent LingLunch seminar, and the Hamburg Biscuit Conditionals workshop for their discussion on this topic. I am grateful to my colleagues John Collins, Eva Csipak, Luna Filipovic, Kasia Jaszczolt and Roberto Sileo for discussing the ideas with me, as well as to the anonymous reviewers for their detailed comments on earlier drafts of this paper. This paper was written under the Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship scheme.


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Published Online: 2019-11-20
Published in Print: 2019-11-18

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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