An extraposition account of it-clefts

In Patten (2010, 2012), I argue for a particular extraposition account of it-clefts. This type of analysis results from examining it-clefts in relation to other kinds of copular sentence. For instance, the it-cleft in (4) corresponds to the pseudocleft (or th-cleft) in (5) as well as to the noncleft NP BE NP sentence in (6).[1] In addition to exhibiting similarities in form and truth conditions, such sentences also share the same specification function. For instance, all of the examples below serve to identify (or specify) the referent Howard as the individual who plays the bassoon; that is, the postcopular NP provides the value for a variable delimited by a precopular NP or described by a sentence-final clause (see Higgins 1979; Declerck 1988).[2] This correspondence leads me to argue for a non-derivational extraposition-from-NP analysis of it-clefts, on which the cleft clause (situated in an extraposed position) modifies the initial it to form a discontinuous definite description, shown in (4). On this account, (4), (5), and (6) are all NP BE NP sentences, containing a precopular (discontinuous) definite NP and a postcopular proper noun.

(4) [It_] s Howard [who plays the bassoon]i [it-cleft]

(5) [The one [who plays the bassoon]] is Howard [th-cleft]

(6) [The bassoon player] is Howard [noncleft NP BE NP]

Alternative extraposition accounts have been put forward from within a variety of different theoretical frameworks.[3] Nevertheless, this type of approach is (2000), Han & Hedberg (2008), and Reeve (2010, 2011), who adopt this aspect of the expletive approach without assuming an expletive it especially compatible with the assumptions of construction grammar.[4] On this model, key generalizations are sought at a local level, with reference to families of constructions (located in clusters within the grammatical network). Inheritance links are posited between constructions that are both formally and functionally related, with an emphasis placed on similarities of surface form (Goldberg 2006: 23) and aspects of meaning that go beyond truth-conditional synonymy (Goldberg 1995: 103). Like the th-cleft in (5), the it-cleft contains a copular verb, a restrictive relative clause, and a precopular noun marked as definite; they also share a specificational function and are both exhaustive and presuppositional.

Once we situate the it-cleft in a family of copular constructions, as inheriting properties from a more abstract specificational copular schema, the cleft clause has not only the form but also the modifying function of a restrictive relative; the initial it is not an empty expletive element but a (restrictively modified) definite pronoun. In turn, this explains the construction's pragmatic properties of exhaus-tiveness and presupposition, both of which are associated with definiteness (see also Percus 1997). This analysis is therefore consistent with the view that form and meaning are interdependent; in other words, a more complicated structure should usually result in a more complex meaning. The aim here is to provide a full account of both the structural and functional properties of this specialized linguistic pattern, which explains how the it-cleft construction is motivated (or supported) by the language system.

  • [1] I use the term th-cleft to refer to pseudoclefts introduced by the definite article and one of a small number of semantically general head nouns, such as the one or the thing (see Collins 1991). The term is used in a different sense in Ball (1977) and Hedberg (1990, 2000) to depict cleft sentences introduced by demonstratives, such as this or that. In this chapter, I use the term demonstrative cleft to refer to such sentences.
  • [2] There are different ways of analysing specificational copular sentences, as either equating two arguments of the same semantic type (usually two referring expressions) or as involving an inverse predication relationship in which a predicative NP precedes a referring expression. However, to argue for any particular analysis is beyond the scope of this chapter (see Patten 2012).
  • [3] For instance, this type of analysis was popular in the transformational tradition of the 1970s (see Akmajian 1970, Gundel 1977, and Wirth 1978). However, on these syntactic-derivational accounts, the initial it functions either as a placeholder or a pronominal copy for an extraposed 'headless' subject clause.
  • [4] Despite this, Lambrecht (2001) presents an expletive account of it-clefts within a constructional framework. Lambrecht's concern is to emphasize the it-cleft's idiosyncratic and irregular properties; although he extends his analysis to pseudoclefts (arguing that initial what and the one are also semantically inert dummy elements), he does not situate the it-cleft within a hierarchical network of constructions and does not exploit a system of inheritance.
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