semantics and pragmatics of to-contraction

Spike Gildea spike at DARKWING.UOREGON.EDU
Fri Aug 3 21:35:01 UTC 2001

Another way of looking at this same set of contrasts is to say that
otherwise unmotivated phonological contraction is one of the
correlates of grammaticalization.  In this case we are not using a
"deep structure" as a way of motivating the contraction facts, but
instead we are using the contraction facts to infer that a
grammatical reorganization is going on.  it would then follow that
wanna in (9a) is an incipient desiderative, whereas the disallowed
*wanna in (14b) is not.  Similarly, gotta in (10a) is an incipient
auxiliary of obligation, whereas the disallowed *gotta in (10b) and
*getta in (9b) are not incipient auxiliaries of privilege/permission.
Finally, oughtta is clearly en route to being an auxiliary of
obligation/epistemic modality, whereas *foughtta is unlikely ever to
generalize to such a status.

In this view of the problem, there is a role for both semantics and
frequency: the semantics of certain complement-taking verbs are
already well-designed to be exploited for novel expressions of common
TAM distinctions (obligation, permission, desire), whereas others are
not such good candidates (disputation).  Then, from the pool of
possible candidates, communities of speakers adopt around certain
innovative expressions, which then increase in frequency.  I know of
no proposals for how we might predict which of the potential
innovations is chosen (I believe this is a social -- rather than
cognitive -- phenomenon).  But it is still clear that once an
innovative expression becomes popular, its frequency goes up
dramatically, at which point it becomes more susceptible to


>  > >So, we have the following contrasts:
>>  >
>>  >(9) a. I wanna go.
>>  > b. *I getta go.
>>  >(10) a. I gotta go. (obligation)
>>  > b. *I gotta go. (privilege)
>>  >
>>  >Also, compare the following pairs (pointed out to me by Paul Postal email
>>  >08/03/01):
>>  >
>>  >(11) a. I ought PRO to go.
>>  > b. I oughtta go.
>>  >(12) a. I fought PRO to go.
>  > > b. *I foughtta go.
>  > >
>  > >(14) a. Who do you want [to see Bill]?
>  > > b. *Who do you wan[na see Bill]?

P.S.  I believe the permission/privilege reading of may and can is a
secondary development, in each case arising by implicature from an
etymologically prior abilitative reading.  Are there well-attested
cases in the literature of permissive auxiliaries/affixes arising
directly from permissive matrix verbs like get, that have no
abilitative reading at all?

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