Motivations and mechanisms for the development of the reactive what-x construction in spoken dialogue

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With data from two comparable corpora of spoken British English, the London-Lund Corpus and the new London-Lund Corpus 2, this study tracks the development of the reactive what-x construction half a century back in time. The study has two goals: (i) to describe the uses of the construction over time and (ii) to establish the motivations and mechanisms related to its development in spoken dialogue. The corpus data show that the reactive what-x construction was already in use in the mid-20th century but has gained ground since then. By combining Invited Inferencing Theory with focus on speaker-initiated decisions in interaction and a Cognitive Semantic approach to meaning shift and change from a Construction Grammar perspective, we demonstrate that the development of a construction has to be explained with reference to both the social motivations in spoken conversational discourse and the cognitive processes that operate at the conceptual level. The development of the reactive what-x construction, which is simultaneously used to express reaction and make a request, was motivated by the interaction of discourse-structuring and turn-taking inferences at the functional level that proceeded through metonymic micro-adjustments of the conceptual structure of the construction itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-84
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Specific Languages


  • conversation
  • London-Lund Corpora
  • Invited Inferencing Theory
  • metonymization
  • Cognitive Semantics
  • Diachronic Construction Grammar


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