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Auteur: M. Ryan BOCHNAK

From adposition to comparative marker: Innovating locative comparisons

Abstract/Résumé: I propose a path of semantic change for comparative constructions that use spatial and locative adpositions as standard markers, following the implicature-based account of semantic change (Hopper & Traugott 2003; Eckardt 2006). At first, a particular adposition is associated with a coded meaning of location/position/direction in space. Its use with a stative predicate invites the pragmatic inference that the speaker intends to make some comparison between two objects. Speakers then begin to exploit these invited inferences in novel situations until the comparison inference becomes part of the conventionalized meaning of the adposition. I propose that the implicature comes about because statives name properties that are spatio-temporally stable, rendering locative modification redundant (Kratzer 1995; Maienborn 2001). The hearer infers that the speaker intends that the assertion of the spatial configuration of the two individuals is somehow relevant. The inference arises that a comparison between the two objects is intended along the dimension associated with the predicate. I argue that Washo is a language where this semantic change is in progress. In particular, the development of Washo locative comparison markers is currently located at the inference stage. First, we observe that Washo speakers produce comparisons using a wide range of spatial/locative postpositions/affixes, providing initial evidence that the comparative semantics isn’t part of the conventionalized meaning of any particular locative expression. The range of spatial/locative markers used includes lelew ‘beside’, 7iwi7 ‘over’, dulel ‘beyond’, and the locative suffix -a. Second, such sentences are only acceptable if the spatial relation encoded in the postposition holds in the context of utterance, indicating that the locative semantics still forms the primary asserted content. Third, there is variation across and within speakers as to when the comparison implicature may be drawn. These unstable judgements indicate that the comparison meaning is merely implicated and not part of the conventionalized meaning of the locatives, i.e., a hearer can fail to draw an implicature that is intended by the speaker. There is also evidence that Washo may be at the beginning of the next stage of semantic change, where the comparison inference is invited in novel situations, namely where locative comparisons don’t involve stative predicates. There is much variation in acceptability between and within speakers, indicating that the comparison inference is still not conventionalized. However, to the extent that such sentences are acceptable as comparisons, it shows that speakers are beginning to generalize the use of locatives to non-stative predicates with the intention of expressing comparison.