Constructions as resources in interaction: Syntactically unintegrated att 'that’-clauses in spoken Swedish


As shown by Evans (2007) insubordination, that is, conventionalized main clause use of formally subordinate clauses, seems to be a typologically more widespread phenomenon than previously believed. Despite this, the phenomenon remains fairly unexplored both generally and in particular languages (cf. Verstraete, D’Hertefelt and Van Linden 2012: 124-125). According to Evans (2007: 279), insubordinated clauses, which I will call syntactically unintegrated subordinate clauses, emerge diachronically via a process of ellipsis and conventionalized ellipsis. In the final stage of the process, when the clauses are reanalyzed as main clauses, constructionalization takes place: the constructions get a meaning or function of their own and the traces of ellipsis may be lost. During this process toward insubordination, the grammatical dependency markers are, as pointed out by Mithun (2008: 3), functionally extended “from sentence- level syntax into larger discourse and pragmatic domains”.

The typology of functions of insubordinated clauses presented by Evans (2007) includes a broad selection of functions such as, for example, expressing desire, warnings, requests (indirection and interpersonal control), epistemic and evidential meaning, exclamation (modal insubordination) and contrastive focus and reiteration (signaling presupposed material). In this paper, I will analyze the functions of syntactically unintegrated clauses with the connective att ‘that’ in Swedish from an interactional and Construction Grammar point of view. Syntactically unintegrated ‘that’-clauses have been discussed in a number of recent studies (see e.g. Laury and Seppanen 2008; Keevallik 2008; Gunthner 2011; Panther and Thornburg 2011; Verstraete, D’Hertefelt and Van Linden 2012; Weinert 2012; Mertzlufft and Wide 2013). The focus in this paper is on the type of ‘that’-clauses which according to Verstraete, D’Hertefelt, and Van Linden (2012) express discourse insubordination. I will not discuss att-clauses with an expressive-evaluative function (Panther and Thornburg 2011; see also Verstraete, D’Hertefelt and Van Linden 2012:139-142) in clauses like Att det kunde ga sa illa ‘That it had to end that badly’ (SAG 4: 759-760, 766). The att-clauses I focus on clarify or expand previous utterances similar to the way some of the dat- and dass-clauses in Dutch and German do (see discussion by Verstraete, D’Hertefelt and Van Linden 2012 for Dutch and Weinert 2012 for German.)

As I will show, att-clauses have a rephrasing or a reasoning function. Examples of these two related but yet slightly different functions are shown in (1) and

  • (2) below. In example (1) an informer at a poison control centre explains what she means by symptom ‘symptoms’ when she uses the two att-clauses in lines 2-3. In example (2) a teenage boy draws a conclusion about a teacher based on what his sister has just said about the teacher. The conclusion is presented in the form of a syntactically unintegrated att-clause. (Both examples are analyzed in more detail in the empirical part of the paper.)
  • (1) Difficulties breathing? (GRIS: GIC 16519; I = informer C = caller)
  • 1 I: [...] men du har inga symptom fran luftvagarna,

but you have no symptoms from the respiratory organs ‘but you do not have any symptoms from the respiratory organs’

  • ->2 att du tycker de e jobbit a andas eller att de trycker ATT you think it is difficult to breathe or ATT it presses ‘that you find it difficult to breath or that it presses’
  • ((Overlapping turn by the caller omitted))
  • 3 I: over=brqstet eller nat sadant?

over the chest or something like that ‘over the chest or something like that?’

  • (2) Sculpture class (GRIS: Wallenberg; Anward 2003)
  • 1 S: Birgitta hon har sadar eh kan ingenting.

Birgitta she has like knows nothing

‘Birgitta, she has like knows nothing’

  • ((5 lines omitted))
  • -}2 V: jaha att da ska ja’nte: valja henne i ^skulptur.

PRT ATT then shall I not choose her in sculpture

‘okay, so I’m not choosing her for sculpture class, then’

As shown by Lehti-Eklund (2002) and Anward (2004), the interactional context plays a fundamental role in the use of syntactically unintegrated att-clauses in Swedish. The clauses clearly function as resources in certain types of communicative settings (see section 3). Rather than being licensed by the syntactic context they can be seen as licensed by the interactional and pragmatic context. They are typified on the one hand, by the connective att ‘that’, which points both backward and forward in the conversation (see section 3) and, on the other hand, by the paraphrasing or reasoning function of the construction as a whole. The interesting question from an interactionally oriented Construction Grammar point of view is how these two functions should be related to the concept of constructions. Are we dealing with one construction, two constructions or two sub-variants of the same construction? How should the functions be dealt with within a Construction Grammar framework?

The outline of this paper is the following. In the next section, I present my data and the methodological and theoretical background of the study. In section 3, some basic facts on the connective att and clauses that use att are provided. Findings in previous studies on syntactically unintegrated att-clauses and similar clauses in other languages are discussed in the same section. Sections 4-5 form the empirical part of the paper. I start by discussing att-clauses with a paraphrasing function in section 4. In section 5 I discuss att-clauses with a reasoning function. The results of the analysis are summarized in section 6 where I also discuss the syntactically unintegrated att-clauses from a Construction Grammar point of view.

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