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Competing Motivations in Grammar and Usage$
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Brian MacWhinney, Andrej Malchukov, and Edith Moravcsik

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780198709848

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198709848.001.0001

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Or constructions: Monosemy vs. polysemy

Or constructions: Monosemy vs. polysemy

(p.333) 20 Or constructions: Monosemy vs. polysemy
Competing Motivations in Grammar and Usage

Mira Ariel

Oxford University Press

Codes and inferences compete in language, and the competition manifests itself at the level of the language system and in real‐time interactions. Grammars sometimes offer a monosemous code for some messages, but sometimes a form not coded for the intended message can (or must) be mobilized to serve the speaker's message. This is polysemy, where the speaker relies on a rich context which helps the addressee derive the interpretation via inference. This chapter examines various disjunctive interpretations and finds a number of competitions for expressing them. First, the disjunctive idea may be expressed by a dedicated construction, e.g. [X or Y], but it may be left to inference, when derived on a series of questions, for example. Second, specialized disjunctive interpretations may be conveyed by the general, polysemous construction, with the help of context‐driven inferences, or by dedicated, monosemous sub‐constructions, which encode the specialized meaning (e.g. [X or something]).

Keywords:   code, competition, construction, sub‐construction, disjunction, grammaticization, inference, monosemy, polysemy, salient discourse pattern

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