Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton August 11, 2022

Conditional conjunctions informed by Japanese and Korean

  • Magdalena Kaufmann EMAIL logo and John Whitman
From the journal Linguistics Vanguard


Many languages assign additional conditional interpretations to apparently regular sentential conjunctions (conditional conjunctions, CCs). Following previous ideas (Kaufmann, Magdalena. 2018. Topics in conditional conjunctions. Invited talk at NELS, vol. 49. Cornell University; Starr, Will. 2018. Conjoining imperatives and declaratives. Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 21. 1159–1176), we provide additional support for the hypothesis that CCs involve topicalized first conjuncts. We argue that Japanese and Korean, which appear to lack CCs, in fact mark them quite transparently. Both languages combine sentential conjunctions with topic markers: Japanese -te=wa (standardly considered one of the language’s conditional connectives) and Korean -ko=nun (occurring naturally, not discussed in the literature). We show that Japanese conditional =to fits into the pattern of CCs as well: it is derived by topicalization of conjunctive =to. Conjunctive =to is normally restricted to NPs, but it can coordinate finite clauses so long as the finite verb does not precede =to (Koizumi, Masatoshi. 2000. String vacuous overt verb raising. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 9(3). 227–285). We argue that this requirement can be met in a topicalized clause carrying default tense; the resultant configuration is the conditional connective =to. Semantically, CCs are known to be more restricted than if-conditionals in not readily realizing epistemic conditionals. The elements -te=wa, =to, and -ko=nun are all subject to exactly this restriction, which we refine to exclude only non-predictive epistemics. Following the transparent structure in Japanese and Korean, we interpret CCs by predicating the regular conjunction distributively of the set of (contextually salient and epistemically accessible) situations described by the topicalized first conjunct. We argue that apparent cases of focus on or within the first conjunct of CCs constitute contrastive topics or corrections.

Corresponding author: Magdalena Kaufmann, Linguistics, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA, E-mail:

Award Identifier / Grant number: AKS-2016-LAB-2250004


For discussion of theory and data, we would like to thank Sabine Iatridou, Yoshiki Fujiwara, Stefan Kaufmann, Shin-Sook Kim, Chloe Kwon, Mingya Liu, Teruyuki Mizuno, Yuya Noguchi, Atsuro Tsubomoto, Muyi Yang, and Malte Zimmermann, as well as the audiences of the workshops “Semantics and Pragmatics of Conditional Connectives” (DGfS 2021) and “Zyookenditionals” (UConn, June 2021), and an anonymous reviewer for this volume. Whitman’s research on this article was supported by the Laboratory Program for Korean Studies through the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2016-LAB-2250004). Kaufmann’s research on this article was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (#2116972, “Research on Conditional and Modal Language”).

Korean: Examples of -ko=nun from a web search for the gerundive pes-ko ‘remove, take off and’ plus topic marker
a. Kuliko pelke-pes-ko=nun khal=ul chal s wu eps-upni-ta.
then strip-remove-ger=top sword=acc sheathe ability not.exist-def-decl
‘Then, if you take off your clothes, you can’t wear the sword (on your waist).’
b. Ankyeng=ul pes-ko=nun ilsang saynghwal=i pulkaha-ci-o.
glasses=acc remove-ger=top Daily life=nom impossible-susp-pol
‘(If) you take off your glasses, daily life is probably impossible.’
Korean: Standard conditional with -myen
Mary=ka nolay=lul pulu-myen John-i t tena ka-keyss-ta.
Mary=nom song=acc sing-cond John=nom leave go-fut-decl
‘If Mary sings a song, John leaves’ (conditional)
Japanese: Unacceptability of -te=wa and =to as epistemic conditionals
a. #Rokketto=o mottei-te=wa ore=no ibosi da.
  locket=acc have-ger=top 1sg=gen half.sister Is
  ‘You have the other half of the locket and you are my half sister.’
b. #Rokketto=o mottei-ru=to ore=no ibosi da.
  locket=acc have-npst= to 1sg=gen half.sister is
  ‘You have the other half of the locket and you are my half sister.’
Korean: Unacceptability of -ko=nun as epistemic conditional
#Lokhes=lul kaciko iss-ko=nun ney i pok camay-ta .
  locket=acc having be-ger=top my half sister be-decl
  ‘You have the other half of the locket and you are my half sister.’
English: Topicalized proposition restricting a quantifier with scope over the conjunction
a. Usually Mary sings and John leaves.
b. [TopicP [Mary sings]1 [TOPIC [… [TP [usually C1 [&P [AspP1 Mary sings1,<s,t>] [and [AspP2 John leaves]]]] T]]]]
c. [usually C1 [Mary sings1,<s,t> [and [John leaves]]]]
λs 1 .usually(C 1 )(λs.sings(mary) & ∃ s2 [s ≤ s 2 & leave s2 (john)])


Bjorkman, Bronwyn. 2013. A syntactic correlate of semantic asymmetries in clausal coordination. Proceedings of NELS 41. 99–112.Search in Google Scholar

Bolinger, Dwight. 1967. The imperative in English. In To honor Roman Jakobson: Essays on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, vol. 1, 335–362. The Hague: Mouton.10.1515/9783111604763-027Search in Google Scholar

Büring, Daniel. 2003. On D-trees, beans, and B-accents. Linguistics and Philosophy 26(5). 511–545.10.1023/A:1025887707652Search in Google Scholar

Cho, Sungdae & John Whitman. 2020. Korean: A linguistic introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/9781139048842Search in Google Scholar

Culicover, Peter W. & Ray S. Jackendoff. 1997. Semantic subordination despite syntactic coordination. Linguistic Inquiry 28(2). 195–218.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199271092.003.0013Search in Google Scholar

Ebert, Christian, Cornelia Ebert & Stefan Hinterwimmer. 2014. A unified analysis of conditionals as topics. Linguistics and Philosophy 37(5). 353–408. in Google Scholar

von Fintel, Kai. 1994. Restrictions on quantifier domains. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

von Fintel, Kai & Sabine Iatridou. 2017. A modest proposal for the meaning of imperatives. In Ana Arregui, Marı́a Luisa Rivero & Andrés Salanova (eds.), Modality across syntactic categories, 288–319. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198718208.003.0013Search in Google Scholar

Givón, Talmy. 1982. Logic versus pragmatics, with human language as the referee: Toward an empirically viable epistemology. Journal of Pragmatics 6(2). 81–133.10.1016/0378-2166(82)90026-1Search in Google Scholar

Gyuris, Beáta. 2020. Information structure. In Daniel Gutzmann, Lisa Matthewson, Cécile Meier, Hotze Rullmann & Thomas Ede Zimmermann (eds.), The Wiley Blackwell companion to semantics, 1–48. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.10.1002/9781118788516.sem050Search in Google Scholar

Haiman, John. 1978. Conditionals are topics. Language 54(3). 565–589. in Google Scholar

Hara, Yurie. 2006. Grammar of knowledge representation: Japanese discourse items at interfaces. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Hara, Yurie. 2019. Diachronic semantic shift of sequential conjunction: The causal to conditional path. Proceedings of SALT 29. 300–319. in Google Scholar

Hasegawa, Nobuko. 2017. Modality. In Masayoshi Shibatani, Shigeru Miyagawa & Hisashi Noda (eds.), Handbook of Japanese syntax, 371–402. Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.10.1515/9781614516613-011Search in Google Scholar

Heim, Irene. 1990. E-type pronouns and donkey anaphora. Linguistics and Philosophy 13. 137–177. in Google Scholar

Iatridou, Sabine. 2013. Looking for free relatives in Turkish (and the unexpected places this leads to). In Umut Özge (ed.), Proceedings of WAFL, vol. 8, 129–152. Cambridge, MA: MITWPL.Search in Google Scholar

Inoue, Kazuko. 2006. Nihongo no jōkensetsu to shubun no mōdaliti [Japanese conditionals and matrix clause modality]. Scientific Approaches to Language 5. 9–28.Search in Google Scholar

Ippolito, Michela. 2013. Counterfactuals and conditional questions under discussion. Proceedings of SALT 23. 194–211. in Google Scholar

Jacobs, Joachim. 2001. The dimensions of topic-comment. Linguistics 39(4). 641–681. in Google Scholar

Kaufmann, Magdalena. 2018. Topics in conditional conjunctions. Invited talk at NELS 49. Cornell University. Available at: in Google Scholar

Kaufmann, Magdalena. 2019. Conditional conjunctions and juxtapositions. Presentation at frege/semantics workshop. Irvine: University of California.Search in Google Scholar

Kaufmann, Magdalena & Stefan Kaufmann. 2015. Conditionals and modality. In Shalom Lappin & Chris Fox (eds.), The handbook of contemporary semantic theory, 2nd edn., 233–270. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.10.1002/9781118882139.ch8Search in Google Scholar

Kaufmann, Magdalena & Stefan Kaufmann. 2021. Iffy endorsements. Journal of Semantics 38(4). 639–665. in Google Scholar

Kaufmann, Stefan. 2005. Conditional truth and future reference. Journal of Semantics 22(3). 231–280. in Google Scholar

Keshet, Ezra. 2013. Focus on conditional conjunction. Journal of Semantics 30(2). 211–256. in Google Scholar

Keshet, Ezra & David Medeiros. 2019. Imperatives under coordination. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 37(3). 869–914. in Google Scholar

Klinedinst, Nathan & Daniel Rothschild. 2012. Connectives without truth tables. Natural Language Semantics 20(2). 137–175. in Google Scholar

Koizumi, Masatoshi. 2000. String vacuous overt verb raising. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 9(3). 227–285.10.1023/A:1008311420647Search in Google Scholar

Kratzer, Angelika. 1989. An investigation of the lumps of thought. Linguistics and Philosophy 12(5). 607–653. in Google Scholar

Krifka, Manfred. 2004. Conjunction and disjunction of imperatives. Presentation at the workshop “Mood and (in)subordination”. ZAS Berlin.Search in Google Scholar

Krifka, Manfred. 2007. Basic notions of information structure. Interdisciplinary Studies on Information Structure 6. 13–56.10.1556/ALing.55.2008.3-4.2Search in Google Scholar

Larm, Lars. 2009. West meets east: A Kindaichian approach to subjective modality. In Barbara Pizziconi & Mika Kizu (eds.), Japanese modality: Exploring its scope and interpretation, 56–86. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.10.1057/9780230245754_4Search in Google Scholar

Link, Godehard. 1983. The logical analysis of plurals and mass terms: A lattice-theoretical approach. In Rainer Bäuerle, Christoph Schwarze & Arnim von Stechow (eds.), Meaning, use, and interpretation of language, 302–323. Berlin: De Gruyter.10.1515/9783110852820.302Search in Google Scholar

Liu, Mingya & Yutin Wang. 2022. Jiu-conditionals in Mandarin Chinese: Thoughts on a uniform pragmatic analysis of Mandarin conditional constructions. Linguistics Vanguard [this volume].10.1515/lingvan-2021-0036Search in Google Scholar

Martin, Samuel E. 1992. A reference grammar of Korean. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle.Search in Google Scholar

Ōno, Susumu, Akihiro Satake & Kingorō Maeda. 1974. Iwanami kogo jiten [Iwanami dictionary of Premodern Japanese]. Tokyo: Iwanami.Search in Google Scholar

Pierrehumbert, Janet & Julia Hirschberg. 1990. The meaning of intonational contours in the interpretation of discourse. In Philip Cohen, Jerry Morgan & Martha Pollack (eds.), Intentions in communication, 271–311. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Rizzi, Luigi. 1997. The fine structure of the left periphery. In Lilliane Haegeman (ed.), Elements of grammar: A handbook of generative syntax, 281–337. Dordrecht: Kluwer.10.1007/978-94-011-5420-8_7Search in Google Scholar

Schwager, Magdalena. 2006. Interpreting imperatives. Frankfurt: University of Frankfurt dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Starr, Will. 2018. Conjoining imperatives and declaratives. Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 21. 1159–1176.Search in Google Scholar

Takubo, Yukinori. 2020. Conditionals in Japanese. In Wesley Jacobsen & Yukinori Takubo (eds.), Handbook of Japanese semantics and pragmatics, 451–493. Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.10.1515/9781614512073-009Search in Google Scholar

Tomioka, Satoshi. 2020. Topics. In Daniel Gutzmann, Lisa Matthewson, Cécile Meier, Hotze Rullmann & Thomas Ede Zimmermann (eds.), The Wiley Blackwell companion to semantics, 1–31. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.10.1002/9781118788516.sem125Search in Google Scholar

Tsubomoto, Atsuro. 1993. Jōken to toki no renzokusei: Toki keiretsu to haikeika no shosō [The continuity of condition and time: The various aspects of the temporal type and backgrounding]. In Masuoka Takashi (ed.), Nihongo no jōken hyōgen [Conditional expressions in Japanese], 99–130. Tokyo: Kurosio.Search in Google Scholar

Vance, Timothy. 1993. Are Japanese particles clitics? Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese 27(1). 3–33. in Google Scholar

Weisser, Philipp. 2015. The syntactic side of conditional conjunction. Lingua 153. 42–65. in Google Scholar

Yoon, James. 1997. Coordination asymmetries. Harvard Studies in Korean Linguistics 7. 3–30.Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2021-03-21
Accepted: 2022-01-28
Published Online: 2022-08-11

© 2022 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 5.6.2023 from
Scroll to top button