Discontinuity as defocusing. A cognitive interpretation of the so-called discontinuous reciprocal constructions

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I intend to analyze a peculiar kind of reciprocal construction, in which the natural symmetry of the complex event is split due both to the defocusing of one participant (O), coded as a comitative, and the foregrounding of the other one (A), coded as a subject controlling the agreement with the verb. This construction (“discontinuous reciprocal construction”, Dimitriadis 2004), involves a “natural reciprocity” (Kemmer 1993) or “mutual configuration” (Haspelmath 2007) of the event (kissing, marring, meeting). Found in many languages, it is well attested in Italian too, both at standard level and at the informal one (1), alongside the prototypical reciprocal one (2): 1. Gianni si sposa/incontra/bacia/scrive con Maria Gianni REC. marry/meet/kiss/write.SING with Maria 2. Gianni e Maria si sposano/incontrano/baciano/scrivono Gianni and Maria REC. marry/meet/kiss/write.PL From a cognitive perspective, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the profiling of one participant only, requires a “loosening” in the underlying symmetric relation, entailing a more distinguishability of participants. Thus, the depiction of the event is “normalized” and it gets closer on an interaction between an agent and a patient occurring within an inclusive setting and constituting a single event (Langacker 1991: 298). Differently from the canonical transitive event, however, the intrinsic reciprocity of the situation and the affectedness of the subject are preserved and coded (reciprocal clitic; selection of unaccusative auxiliary “be” in the past tenses). Moreover, the marked coding of O is a clear manifestation of the decrease of transitivity (Hopper-Thompson 1980). As a consequence, also the interpretation of the clitic si is ambiguous between a true reciprocal reading and a normal middle one, also depending on the lexical semantics of the predicate (i.e. on the values of telicity and punctuality), and gives rise to polisemy. My aim is to illustrate the range of use of this kind of construction at different levels of Italian and to provide an explanation of its interpretation and its different degrees of acceptability as depending on both semantic and contextual factors, inferred on a metonymical basis.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteSyntax in Cognitive Grammar
Numero di pagine21
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2011


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