VCC Symposium 2016

International Symposium on Verbs, Clauses and Constructions

Plenary Lectures

Clefts with copular-type matrices: rethinking their delienation and their form-function relations

Kristin Davidse
KU Leuven – University of Leuven

This presentation will propose a functional-cognitive account of cleft constructions with copular-type matrices such as it is (1), there is (2), we’ve got (3), in which their form and function are shown to match in accordance with the theoretical tenets of Halliday (1992), McGregor (1997) and Langacker (1987: 305). Intriguingly, the two main structural accounts of it-clefts put forth in both the formal and functional tradition have posited some form-meaning mismatch, even if their authors in theory assume a natural coding relation between form and meaning. The first account views the matrix as semantically empty (e.g. Jespersen 1937, Ball 1994, Kiss 1998, Lambrecht 2001). In the second account, the relative clause is claimed to modify subject it, either syntactically (e.g. Halliday 1967, Bolinger 1972, Percus 1997, Patten 2012) or only semantically, with it and the relative clause functioning pragmatically as a discontinuous definite description (e.g. Hedberg 1990, Reeve 2011).
Crucial to the analysis proposed here is a broader delineation of English cleft constructions with copular-type matrices than in the mainstream. The type with matrix it be is generally recognized and most authors view it as an exhaustively specificational construction: in (1) the postverbal NP only a chosen f\ew (salient syllable bolded, falling tone \), exhaustively specifies the value for the variable x, the ‘gap’ in the relative clause ‘x can understand him’. Like Lambrecht (2001), I (2000) have argued for the existence of non-exhaustive specificational clefts, whose matrix in English is either there be (2) or a matrix like I/you/we have (got) (3). Their complement NPs also specify a value for a variable, e.g. ‘x is also known’ in (2) and ‘x can look after ’em’ in (3), but without exhaustiveness implicature.

                I argue that the three subtypes have the same structural assembly, which is motivated by the same conceptual dependencies, and which explains their different semantics and pragmatics.

                In further support of the proposed analysis, I relate this semantico-grammatical account to the different information structures (realized by prosody) that have been associated with it-clefts (e.g. Collins 2006) and argue that these generalizations can be extended to there- and have-clefts.


Ball, C. 1994. The origins of the informative-presupposition it-cleft. Journal of Pragmatics 22. 603-628.
Bolinger, D. 1977. Meaning and form. London & New York: Longman
Collins, P. 2006. It-clefts and wh-clefts: Prosody and pragmatics. Journal of Pragmatics 38: 1706-1720.
Davidse, K. 2001. A constructional approach to clefts. Linguistics 38: 1101-1131.
Halliday, M.A.K. 1967. Notes on transitivity and theme in English 2. Journal of Linguistics 3: 199-244.
Halliday, M.A. K. 1992. How Do You Mean? In M. Davies & L. Ravelli(eds) Advances in Systemic Linguistics: Recent Theory and Practice, London: Pinter, 20–35.
Hedberg, N. 2000. The referential status of clefts. Language 76: 891-920.
Jespersen, O. 1937. Analytic syntax. London: Allen & Unwin.
Kiss, K. E. 1998. Identificational focus versus information focus. Language 74: 245–273.
König, J.-P. & Lambrecht, K. 1998. French relative clauses as secondary predicates: A case study in Construction Theory. In F. Corbin, C. Dobrovie-Sorin & J.-M. Marandin (eds) Empirical Issues in Formal Syntax and Semantics 2. The Hague: Thesus, 191-214.
Lambrecht, K. 2001. A framework for the analysis of cleft constructions. Linguistics 39: 463-516.
Langacker, Ronald W. 1987. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar Vol. 1: Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
McGregor, W. 1997, Semiotic Grammar. Oxford: Clarendon.
Nichols, J. 1978. Secondary predicates. Berkeley Linguistics Society Proceedings 4: 114-127.
Percus, O. 1997. Prying open the cleft. In K. Kusumoto (ed.), Proceedings of NELS 27. Amherst, MA: GLSA, 337–351.
Patten, A. 2012. The historical development of the it-cleft: A comparison of two different approaches. Studies in Language 36: 548-575.
Reeve, M. 2011. The syntactic structure of English clefts. Lingua 121: 142-171.

Making one's way through the history of the Intransitive Motion Construction and the Way-construction

Teresa Fanego
University of Santiago de Compostela

This paper revisits the development of the Way-construction (1) and its connection with the Intransitive Motion Construction (IMC; Goldberg 1995: 3, 78), as exemplified in (2).

The verbs that occur in the Way-construction in Contemporary English may be verbs of motion, such as climb in (1a), but also verbs such as work, which do not inherently convey the idea of movement. The Way-construction thus imposes a meaning of motion on its component parts and has, as a result, proved a favourite topic of discussion in the literature on argument structure constraints (e.g. Jackendoff 1990: 211-223, Levin & Rappaport Hovav 1995: 198-202) and Construction Grammar (Goldberg 1995: 199-218). Its historical development has also attracted attention, initially in Israel's seminal study (1996) on the emergence of the construction since late Middle English times; more recently, in Traugott & Trousdale's re-interpretation (2013:76-91) of Israel's findings from the perspective of constructionalization, and Mondorf's analysis (2011) of the competition between the Way-constructionand reflexive structures such as Sue worked herself to the top.
Based on the OED database, Israel argues that the Way-construction emerges out of three subtypes or 'threads' that develop through analogical patterning, namely a manner of motion thread (3), which appears in late Middle English; a means of motion thread (4), recorded from the end of the sixteenth century; and an incidental activity (or accompaniment) thread (5), which develops by the mid-nineteenth century and involves verbs that code some activity "that happens to accompany motion" (Israel 1996: 224):

Building on Goldberg's hypothesis that the way-construction is "a kind of conventionalized amalgam" (Goldberg 1996: 39) of the IMC and other expressions, I will try to expand Israel's account of the Way-construction by looking at its early history, which has been intertwined, since Old English times, with that of the IMC, both patterns being often found with the same verbs (6a-b), or with verbs closely related semantically (7a-b):

The analysis will trace the gradual specialisation of the Way-construction for the expression of means of motion ([4], [7a]), at the expense of the IMC (7b). Special attention will also be paid to the accompaniment thread, a semantic relation emerging late in the history of English and for which the IMC was used, almost exclusively, until well into the 20th century. The reasons behind these developments will also be examined.

Data sources

B&T = Bosworth, Joseph & T. Northcote Toller. 1898. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary.- 1921. Supplement by T. Northcote Toller.- 1972. Revised and enlarge addenda by Alistair Campbell. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
CLMET3.0 = De Smet, Hendrik, Hans-Jürgen Diller & Jukka Tyrkkö, compilers. 2013. The Corpus of Late Modern English Texts, version 3.0.
CMEPV = Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse. <>
COHA = Corpus of Historical American English. <>
DOE = Healey, Antonette diPaolo, ed. 2008. The Dictionary of Old English: A-G on CD-ROM. Fascicle G and Fascicles A to F (with revisions).Toronto: University of Toronto, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.
MED = Kurath, Hans, Sherman M. Kuhn et al., eds. 1952-2001. Middle English Dictionary. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
OED = Oxford English Dictionary. 3rd edn. in progress: OED Online, March 2000-, ed. John A. Simpson. <>


Goldberg, Adele E. 1995. Constructions: A Construction Grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Goldberg, Adele E. 1996. Making one's way through the data. In Masayoshi Shibatani & Sandra Thompson, eds. Grammatical constructions. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 29-53.
Israel, Michael. 1996. The way constructions grow. In Adele E. Goldberg, ed. Conceptual structure, discourse and language. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications, 217-230.
Jackendoff, Ray. 1990. Semantic structures. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Levin, Beth & Malka Rappaport Hovav. 1995. Unaccusativity: At the syntaxlexical semantics interface. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Mondorf, Britta. 2011. Variation and change in English resultative constructions.  Language Variation and Change 22: 397-421.
Traugott, Elizabeth Closs & Graeme Trousdale. 2013. Constructionalization and constructional changes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Semantic Range of the Verbs hyran / gehyran: from 'hearing' to 'obeying' to 'belonging to' to ‘learning by hearing’

Antonette diPaolo Healey
Dictionary of Old English

The Old English verbs hyran / gehyran display a complex range of senses and complementation – a range still evident today where the definitions and citations of the verb ‘to hear’ in the print OED occupy four full columns of text and encompass thirteen main sense divisions. The overview I present is that of a twenty-first-century lexicographer engaged in mapping two densely polysemous OE verbs, an activity comprising countless acts of selection and choice. In attempting to identify meaning, the lexicographer must negotiate at times the competing claims of cognitive linguistics with its synthetic power and of corpus linguistics with its analytic richness. I describe here some of the challenges as well as the advances in defining these two verbs.