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The Role of Inferencing in Semantic/ Pragmatic Cyclicity: the Case of Latin nunc and French or/maintenant

Maj-Britt Mosegaard Hansen
Published Online: 2018-05-24 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2018-0007


In this paper, I analyze the evolution of the Latin adverb/discourse marker NUNC and its Old and Modern French equivalents, or and maintenant, markers whose content-level source meanings are in all cases equivalent to English now. The analysis pays particular attention to the role of metonymic inference, and to bridging contexts. Showing that the three etymologically unrelated markers have remarkably similar (but crucially not identical) uses, both as temporal adjuncts and as pragmatic markers of various types, I argue that the diachronic changes undergone by these three items constitute a semantic/pragmatic cycle of a type that I call “onomasiological” (cf. Hansen 2015, fc). I suggest that cyclic developments at the level of semantics and pragmatics take place because source items that are semantically similar will favor similar types of contextual inferences. Furthermore, the fact that the range of uses of the items under consideration is not necessarily exactly identical from one cycle to the next supports an instructional view of semantics, which affords a central role in the process of meaning construction precisely to inferencing.

Keywords: Pragmaticalization; Language change; Cyclicity; Inferences; Discourse markers


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About the article

Received: 2017-07-28

Accepted: 2018-01-15

Published Online: 2018-05-24

Citation Information: Open Linguistics, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 127–146, ISSN (Online) 2300-9969, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2018-0007.

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© 2018 Maj-Britt Mosegaard Hansen, published by De Gruyter Open. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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