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Full Access A Multidimensional Semantics for Discourse Particles: Evidence from Spanish Neuter Demonstratives *

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A Multidimensional Semantics for Discourse Particles: Evidence from Spanish Neuter Demonstratives *

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Demonstratives are a fertile source of discourse-particle formation in Spanish. These particles, which we will be calling demonstrative discourse operators, combine a demonstrative pronoun plus additional material in lexicalized complex expressions. In this paper, we argue that these demonstrative expressions contribute to discourse coherence and cohesion by establishing specific rhetorical relations such as Contrast or Elaboration between discourse utterances. Building on the discourse deictic and anaphoric nature of demonstratives as well as on their quantificational properties we also present a novel characterization for these demonstrative discourse operators as operators with a tripartite structure. We argue that the expressive content of these units contains two basic components, namely, a particular rhetorical relation and the speaker’s attitude towards the expressed content. Our proposal not only can have implications for general theories of demonstrative expressions and rhetorical structure but also for recent semantic perspectives dealing with how discourse particles structure and possibly articulate meaning into different dimensions.

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81. fn14 * In this paper we have focused on Peninsular Spanish. All the examples that appear in this study are natural examples from the Corpus de Referencia del Español Actual(CREA), which is accessible online at, to the best of our knowledge, all the analysed demonstrative discourse particles can be found across all varieties of modern Peninsular Spanish.
82. fn1 1 The status of interjections, such as English ohor Spanish ah, as discourse particles has been the subject of intense debate. While some authors have identified the functions of interjections with that of pragmatic markers ( Schiffrin, 1987; Montes, 1999) or even particles ( Zwicky, 1985), others have argued that only a small subset of interjections can be used for this function ( Ameka, 1992: 114). Generally speaking, it appears that interjections encode a particular type of procedural information. Thus, Wharton (2003)argues that interjections encode procedural information that may activate various attitudinal concepts or types of concepts (e.g. interrogative propositional attitudes, dissociative attitudes, attitudes involving delight, surprise, excitement, etc.) depending on the type of interjection involved. As Wharton puts it: “What a hearer does with the attitudinal or speech act information activated might vary in different situations. […] A hearer may use it to construct a higher-level explicature, […] might also lead to propositional embedding, though it may be that many interjections are primarily geared to suddenly perceived objects and events, and only by extension to propositions” ( Wharton, 2003:60). Another detailed study on interjections with a focus on Spanish can be found in Torres-Sánchez (2000), where she also offers a classification of interjections into categories and advocates for specific procedural meanings depending on the category involved.
83. fn2 2 Demonstratives are not necessarily accompanied by a pointing gesture. Most commonly, the pointing serves to single out the intended referent when other competing potential referents are present in the utterance situation or when reference is simply too vague or ambiguous. Even in deixis proper and when the referent is salient enough, use of a pointing gesture would be redundant. Although, by definition, demonstratives are pointers, there are uses of demonstratives where such “pointing” – if any – is not transparent. That is the case of demonstratives in discourse deictic/anaphoric uses when reference is transferred from the physical coordinates of the utterance context to the textual domain. Such pointing function has been characterized as a procedure encoding the cognitive status of the referring expression ( Gundel et al., 1993) or as a focus shift mechanism ( Gundel and Mulkern, 1998).
84. fn3 3 The particle eso sí/ esto síis characterized in the DPDE as a particle whose main function is to weaken a conclusion that may be inferred from a previous discourse segment. On the other hand, the role of the particle con eso y todo(and its variants con todo y con esoand con todo y eso) would be to present a contrary conclusion to one that may be inferred from the previous discourse. Finally, the particle esto es(lit. “this is”) is characterized by Casado as having a meaning akin to the particle o sea(“that is to say”).
85. fn4 4 In our opinion, the existence of the structural Contrastrelation does not preclude the hearer from inferring additional rhetorical relations between the propositions involved. In (8), for example, an Explanationor Causerelation is possible between the two propositions: having had a pleasant time in a theme park may be the cause for this person to be willing to come back as a tourist some time in the future.
86. fn5 5 In purely discourse cataphoric uses, demonstratives appear to have a presentational use that not only contributes to discourse cohesion via co-reference, but it may also contribute a rhetorical effect (technically, not a rhetorical relation in SDRT’s sense), namely, that of creating uncertainty via the utterance of the demonstrative and the subsequent introduction of the relevant presuppositional material.
87. fn6 6 Other approaches and refinements to the notion of discourse marker from different theoretical standpoints are, but do not exhaust, the following: Schiffrin, 1987; Blakemore, 1987, 1992; Redeker, 1990, 1991; Halliday and Hasan, 1976; Schourup, 1985.
88. fn7 7 See Diessel (1990) on the conceptual differences between discourse anaphora and discourse deixis.
89. fn8 8 In the Russellian view of direct reference ( Russell, 1905), the content of a proper name such as Johnor the content of an indexical such as heis just its referent. In other words, a singular term (name, pronoun, definite description, etc.) is directly referentialif and only if its content directly fixes its extension (its referent).
90. fn9 9 Spanish has a three-way demonstrative system: proximal este(“this”), medial ese(“that”) and distal aquel(“that”). As suggested by an anonymous reviewer, the closest equivalent to distal aquelin English (used to identify an object remote from both the speaker and the person spoken to) would be the old demonstrative yon, which is still used in some Northern English varieties.
91. fn10 10 Semantically, generalized quantifiers denote families of sets. A generalized quantifier can be represented using the logical expression Q(λx.P(x)), which is a true formula if and only if the set denoted by (λx.P(x)) belongs to the denotation of the quantifier. Thus, for example, that(λx.P(x)) will be considered a true formula if and only if the set denoted by (λx.P(x)) is a member of the denotation of the quantifier that.
92. fn11 11 An explicature is: “an explicitly communicated assumption … a combination of linguistically encoded and contextually inferred conceptual features” (Sperber and Wilson 1995: 182).
93. fn12 12 In Speech Act Theory ( Searle, 1969), expressivesare illocutionary speech acts in which a speaker conveys an emotional attitude towards the proposition expressed. We believe that the expressive component that we propose for our demonstrative particles could also be analyzed along the lines of Searle’s expressives.
94. fn13 13 See also Cueto-Vallverdú and López-Bobo (2003) and Padilla-Cruz (2009ab)on interjections and procedural meaning and on the difficulties to assign a core semantic meaning to interjections.

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Affiliations: 1: Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and The Ohio State University, USA and


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