Clause Types:

Form and Force in Grammatical Theory

 This website is quite out of date at this point, but we keep it up in case anyone finds it useful. We have continued to work on related issues; please see our individual websites for more information.

This project represents joint work by Paul Portner and Raffaella Zanuttini of the Linguistics Department of Georgetown University, with the assistance of Miok Pak, a postdoc at Georgetown, and Simon Mauck, a graduate student at Georgetown. Drs. Portner and Zanuttini have been awarded a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation on the topic of "Clause Types: Form and Force in Grammatical Theory".   

         The purpose of the grant is to investigate how human language represents such basic functions as making a statement, asking a question, and giving an order.   There are many significant but unexplained cross-linguistic patterns in how languages encode these concepts, and this research will address both empirical and theoretical aspects of the issues.   On the empirical side, this project will study in depth two typologically diverse languages, Korean and Badiotto (a northern Italian dialect).   On the theoretical side, it will provide for a detailed formal analysis of various types of speech acts and clausal structure.

Our approach

          Previous approaches assume that the force of a clause is formally represented in the syntax. We disagree with this, because in the detailed studies of two clause types we have conducted so far (on exclamatives and imperatives), we have found little evidence for a morphosyntactic element present in all and only the members of individual types. Instead, we argue the following (Zanuttini & Portner 2000, 2003):
  • Sentential force per se is not formally represented
  • Clause types are marked in the syntax by encoding primitive components of the type's semantics.
In addition:

  • We hypothesize that the range of possible forces is determined by the nature of the discourse context, and that its properties are universal.
  • Our analysis emphasizes uncovering the components of truth-conditional meaning which determine the force of a clause.