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Cognitive Linguistics

Editor-in-Chief: Divjak, Dagmar

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Volume 24, Issue 1


Subject auxiliary inversion and linguistic generalization: Evidence for functional/cognitive motivation in language

Rong Chen
Published Online: 2013-01-25 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2013-0001


This paper provides a unified account of English subject-auxiliary inversion (SAI). It argues that SAIs, as have been called in the literature, belong to two semantically distinctive constructions. The first is the Auxiliary Subject Construction (ASC), one that merely reverses the subject and auxiliary order, without the fronting of another unit. It functions to mark non-indicative moods. The second SAI construction is the X Auxiliary Subject Construction (XASC), in which the auxiliary-subject (AS) order is accompanied by the fronting of a unit from its original, post-subject position in the canonical, SV order sentence. The XASC serves a different purpose from the ASC, i.e., to focus the fronted unit. As such, it shares both structural and functional affinity with full-verb inversion (Chen 2003), which is referred to hereafter as the X Verb Subject Construction (XVSC) for sake of consistency. The second purpose of this study is to address the issue of invertability of the subject auxiliary/verb order. Drawing on Deane (1992), I propose an Invertability Hypothesis, which applies to both the XASC and the XVSC. On this hypothesis, invertability depends on the strength of the linkage between the fronted unit and the auxiliary/verb that exists in the canonical sentence. The stronger the link, the more likely the order of the subject and the auxiliary/verb will be inversed once the unit is fronted. With this analysis – one that is decidedly different from previous accounts (e.g. Goldberg 2006) – I intend to demonstrate that the functional/cognitive approach to language is indeed capable of handling a complex construction such as inversion, the generalization of which generative linguists believe can only be stated formally (Newmeyer 1998; Borsley and Newmeyer 2009; Lidz and Williams 2009).

Keywords: SAI; full-verb inversion; mood; focus; construction; functional/cognitive linguistics; autonomous syntax; linguistic generalization; linguistic motivation

About the article

California State University, San Bernardino; Xi'an International Studies University

Published Online: 2013-01-25

Published in Print: 2013-01-28

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics, Volume 24, Issue 1, Pages 1–32, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2013-0001.

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