The shift from lexical to subjective readings of Spanish prometer ‘to promise’ and amenazar ‘to threaten’. a corpus-based account

Bert Cornillie


The Spanish verbs amenazar ‘to threaten’ andprometer ‘to promise’ do not only have a lexical reading but can also yield a subjective one, whereby the likelihood of the event expressed in the infinitive receives a negative, resp. a positive, evaluation. Three hypotheses are being tested: 1) as an outcome of the illocutionary force and the subject commitment attached to lexical prometer, the subjective readings of the latter may be expected to score high on the probability scale, whereas the event introduced by subjective amenazar will score low, in line with the lack of illocutionary force and weak subject commitment in lexical reading of this verb. 2) The viewpoint substantiated by the two verbs also differs: Whereas amenazar renders an event-oriented evidential reading from an internal point of view, prometer projects an external viewpoint leading to a more speaker-oriented subjective reading. 3) As a result of (1) and (2), prometer should easily combine with negatively oriented complements, whereas amenazar should resist taking positively oriented ones. The corpus research fully corroborates the first two hypotheses. The data, however, fail to unequivocally sustain the third one, especially because amenazar displays more flexibility than expected.

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