Direct speech compounds: Evoking socio-cultural scenarios through fictive interaction

Esther Pascual, Emilia Królak 1  and Theo A. J. M. Janssen 2
  • 1 University of Warsaw
  • 2 VU University of Amsterdam


This paper examines English nominal compounds whose modifier could serve as a self-sufficient discourse unit (e.g. “Hi honey, I'm home happiness,” “‘not happy, money back’ guarantee”). The scant literature on the construction treats such modifiers as embedded sentences, clauses, or phrases. Drawing on a collection of over 7,000 different examples from written as well as oral English of various dialects and registers, we suggest that regardless of their internal syntax, they always constitute (pieces of) fictive conversational turns. They are structured by the conversation frame as they are based on our everyday experience with situated communication. Hence, they constitute instances of fictive interaction (Pascual 2002). The direct speech element metonymically sets up a significant and easily knowable or recognizable scenario, which serves as a reference point for subcategorizing the denotative potential of the head noun. Making use of encyclopedic and episodic knowledge, direct speech compounds serve to name subjective semantic categories. They are catchy and involving, as they construct a sense of immediacy through (re)enactment. We claim their use to be motivated by the cultural model that relates saying, believing and the truth (Sweetser 1993 [1987]) as well as the understanding of talk-in-interaction as the most concrete indication of the utterer's mental, emotional and behavioral world (cf. Cicourel 1973).

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Cognitive Linguistics presents a forum for linguistic research of all kinds on the interaction between language and cognition. The journal focuses on language as an instrument for organizing, processing and conveying information. It is devoted to high-quality research on topics such as the structural characteristics of natural language categorization and the functional principles of linguistic organization.