Constructing grammatical meaning
Isomorphism and polysemy in Czech reflexivization
In a usage-based analysis of four syntactic reflexives in Czech, this paper examines the question of representing speakers’ knowledge of polyfunctional grammatical categories. I argue that the reflexives form a prototype-based network of partially overlapping grammatical patterns, organized by the pragmatic concept of unexpected referential status in agent–patient relations. This concept is manifested in four distinct communicative functions: marking referential identity between agent and patient roles; distancing discourse participants from their involvement in the reported event; recasting a transitive event as a spontaneous change of state; expressing an attitude toward the reported event. Each function is shown to conventionally co-occur with a set of properties involving various combinations of the following: preferences in aspect and transitivity; semantic and/or pragmatic constraints on agents and patients; verb semantics; shifts in modality and pragmatic force; morphosyntactic constraints. Overall, the analysis supports the view that grammatical categories cannot be properly defined outside of broader grammatical context, thus arguing for a constructional approach to linguistic structure and for re-interpreting the principle of isomorphism in terms of ‘constructions’ in the sense of Construction Grammar.
Published online: 14 August 2007
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