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From epistemic modality to concessivity: Alternatives and pragmatic reasoning per absurdum

Abstract : There is an unnoticed parallelism between what has been called the concessive future (Sarà un professore universitario, ma sicuramenteè un idiota) 1 in the literature on some Romance languages (and Italian in particular), and what has been labeled 'speech act modality' (He may be a university professor, but he sure is dumb; Sweetser, 1990: 70) in the literature on English modals. In these parallel literatures, the idea is advanced that the future tense and the English modals may/might are concessive in that they 'concede' to the addressee that p is true and they thus convey 'distancing'. Establishing a connection with irrelevance conditionals (König, 1986 and subsequent literature), we propose a different unified view of these phenomena cross-linguistically, which grounds in the existential epistemic modal semantics of both the future tense in Ital-ian and the epistemic modal in English (and French peut-être) their capacity of enhancing a concessive interpretation in discourse and in particular in an adversative construction. We capitalize on their alternative semantics, as well as on the interaction between the alternatives and the adversative, and propose an account in which distancing is the pragmatic counterpart of the dismissal of a premise that leads to an inconsistency in a pragmatic reasoning per absurdum. We will spell out a variety of pragmatic effects, which have been previously gathered under the label 'distancing' and which correspond, in our analysis, to different strategies to repair the absurdum.
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Submitted on : Friday, July 26, 2019 - 4:55:42 AM
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Laura Baranzini, Alda Mari. From epistemic modality to concessivity: Alternatives and pragmatic reasoning per absurdum. Journal of Pragmatics, Elsevier, 2019, 142, pp.116-138. ⟨10.1016/j.pragma.2019.01.002⟩. ⟨ijn_02194771⟩

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