Research Project at the ZAS


The main goal of the proposed research is to develop a linguistic typology of expressive constructions, an area of linguistics that is currently understudied (Efremova 2006; Potts 2007; Schneider 2003; Wade 2000). Expressive constructions indicate the speaker’s attitudes and emotions towards the content of speech (Potts 2003, 2007). For example, in (1), the Japanese expressive o-ninat indicates that the speaker views Sam positively; while in (2), the English expressive bastard indicates that the speaker views Sam negatively.

(1) Japanese: Sam-ga             o-warai-ninat-ta.
                          Sam-NOM.SG HONOUR-laugh-HONOUR-PAST
                          ‘Sam laughed (honorific: the speaker views Sam with respect)’
                           (Potts & Kawahara 2004: 238)

(2) English: That bastard Sam was late for work yesterday.
                      (Potts 2007: 165)

What makes expressive constructions particularly interesting is the fact that their meaning (‘function’) is similar across languages, but their syntactic structure (‘form’) differs significantly from one language to the next. This suggests that there is no 1:1 correlation between form and function of expressive constructions, which has important implications for the syntax–semantic mapping of categorization. Modern approaches to categorization assume vague functional criteria to identify the category of expressive constructions, but these approaches lack precise formal criteria. My goal is to develop and refine such formal criteria. In the proposed research, I will identify and analyze all possible formal types of expressive constructions across languages.

Read more here.