Rethinking English specificational sentences with indefinite variable and the surrounding copular system: a cognitive-functional account

Project: Research

Project Details


This project looks into specificational clauses with an indefinite variable, atopic largely ignored in the literature. Specificational copular clauses areclauses that set up a variable and assign a value to it, e.g. (1a).(1a) The capital of France [variable] is *Paris* [value].The role of such a clause is similar to a mathematical function, like “x=2”,with "x" being the variable and "2" the value specified for that variable. Thevariable in a specificational clause can be introduced either by a definitearticle (the), as in (1a), but also by an indefinite one (a(n)), e.g. (2a).(2a) An important figure in British modernism [variable] was *Virginia Woolf*[value].Examples (1a) and (2a) share the specificational features that they putinformation focus on the value (between asterisks) and that they arereversible, in that they allow for a subject-complement switch (Huddleston &Pullum 2002), e.g. (1b) and (2b).(1b) *Paris* [value] is the capital of France [variable].(2b) *Virginia Woolf* [value] was an important figure in British modernism[variable].In the literature, the study of specificational clauses has typically focused ondefinite ones (1a-b), while indefinite ones (2a-b) have either not beenacknowledged or simply put on a par with their definite counterparts. Myproject wants to fill that gap in the literature and explore indefinitespecificational clauses as a distinct type in their own right. The aim is toexplore how indefinite specificationals relate to other types of copularclauses, in particular definite specificational clauses but also predicationalones, with which they share the indefiniteness of the semantically moregeneral constituent, e.g. the indefinite complement “a wizard” in (3).(3) You’re a wizard, Harry.Establishing the similarities and differences between the different types willallow for a more adequate categorization of indefinite specificationals and,hence, for a more fine-grained typology of copular clauses in general.
Short titleEnglish indefinite specificationals
Effective start/end date1/10/1530/09/19