Or constructions, argumentative direction and disappearing ‘alternativity’

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The essence of X or Y constructions is the verbalization of multiple alternatives. It is a puzzling finding, then, that the most frequent reading associated with or constructions is Higher-level category (Ariel, 2015), where the speaker introduces into the discourse only a single concept. The goal of this paper is to explain why this is not so puzzling after all, and how such a “non-alternativity” reading could come about for a construction whose initial function is ‘alternativity’ between multiple, distinct options. The idea is that in order to constitute relevant alternatives, ‘X’ and ‘Y’ must in effect be construable as members of a single higher-level category. By definition, then, X or Y evokes not only the members ‘X’ and ‘Y’, but also (the higher-level) category that includes them. The relevant evolution, then, involves a shift in foreground and background between the individual alternatives and the higher-level category. This shift was facilitated by a recurrent discourse profile for or constructions where at least argumentative distinctness between the alternatives is missing. Such uses, I claim, bridge the gap between member-focus and category-focus constructions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101195
JournalLanguage Sciences
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Ad hoc category
  • Alternative
  • Category-focus
  • Higher-level category
  • Member-focus
  • Or


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