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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: September 2009

5 - Non-alternatives and alternatives: mental spaces in different domains


“If Utah's your sister, are you Wyoming or Nevada?”


Non-prediction and non-alternativity

We now move to extend the preceding analysis to categories of conditionals which do not involve alternativity.

(1) If you need any help, my name is Ann.

When a speaker uses a speech-act conditional such as (1), she doesn't intend to set up for her hearer two alternative spaces, one in which the hearer needs help and the speaker's name is Ann, and another in which the hearer needs no assistance and the speaker's name is something else (see Diagram 4). Similarly, as noted in Chapter 1, a speaker of Austin's famous If you're hungry, there are biscuits on the sideboard does not mean that the biscuits are not there, or even not offered, if the hearer is not hungry. Speakers of such conditional speech acts do not seem primarily involved in setting up alternative spaces. Rather, the antecedent is used to specify the mental-space background against which the offer (embodied by the consequent) is made (Nikiforidou 1990, Sweetser 1990). Of course, these examples also don't seem to be in the business of prediction. The examples just cited are making offers (albeit in a hedged manner), not predicting offers; nor are they predicting the immediate contents of the consequent clause, the specification of the speaker's name or the fact of the biscuits' location.

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Mental Spaces in Grammar
  • Online ISBN: 9780511486760
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