An Interdisciplinary Journal of the Language Sciences
Editor-in-Chief: van der Auwera, Johan
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Metaphor and metonymy do not render coercion superfluous: Evidence from the subjective-transitive construction
The present article challenges the claim that the notion of coercion, as understood in Construction Grammar(s) (henceforth CxG), is superfluous and can simply be accounted for in the light of metaphoric and metonymic extension in general (Ziegeler, Journal of Pragmatics 39: 990–1028, 2007, Constructions and Frames 2: 33–73, 2010). Specifically, coercion will be argued to be of pivotal importance to account for the semantico-pragmatic and discourse-functional properties of the family of the English subjective-transitive construction, understood as a web of interrelated form-function pairings (Gonzálvez-García, Language Sciences 31: 663–723, 2009b). Two substantive broad-scale generalizations emerge from the theoretical discussion as well as the cursory bottom-up, data-driven analysis on which this article draws. First, although the phenomenon of the interpretation of slot-determined meaning may involve metaphor and metonymy, a descriptively and explanatorily adequate account of the kinds of type-shifts allowable in the family of the subjective-transitive construction in English requires us to posit a variety of lower-level (verb-class or verb-specific) subconstructions, which vitiate a general-purpose metonymy-based account. Crucially, these constructions do not appear to be amenable to an explanation in terms of metaphor or metonymic extension alone, thus pointing to the inevitability of retaining coercion as well as constructions as free-standingtheoretical entities. Second, it is proposed that the phenomenon of coercion should be understood in terms of a continuum, that is, as a scale representing the extent to which a type of coercion is entrenched and conventionalized (Langacker, Cognitive Linguistics 20: 167–176, 2009) rather than as an allor-none property leading to a full matching or, by contrast, a semantic conflict between specific lexical items and constructions. Thus, what actually needs to be refined is the notion of the (degree of ) semantic (in-)compatibility between lexical items and construction meaning. At a higher level of granularity, it is further suggested that the notion of coercion be treated in terms of a continuum at a vertical or intra-constructional level, that is, within items of the same paradigm as well as a horizontal or inter-constructional level, among different instances, including lower-level configurations of the same construction.
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