Procedural Structures: the case of pre-posed subordinate clauses

31 May 2024
Room G1

Procedural Structures: the case of pre-posed subordinate clauses

What is the difference in meaning between the sentence-structure in (1)/(3), on the one hand, and that in (2)/(4), where the subordinate clause has been placed to the left of the main clause?

  1. She thanked him because/since he helped her.
  2. Because/since he helped her, she thanked him.
  3. I’ll buy this house, if you give me the money.
  4. If you give me the money, I’ll buy this house.

Given the propositional equivalence of (1)-(2) or (3)-(4), differences in meaning of this sort have basically been studied by appeal to pragmatic notions like ‘topic’ or ‘givenness’ (Ford and Thomson 1986, Schiffrin 1992), that is, notions that basically originate from the field of functional linguistics. However, as is often suggested in the relevant literature, the foregoing notions tend to evade a widely-acknowledged definition. This, however, can be said to impede the task of describing reliably and univocally (across contexts) the type of impact that a pre-posed subordinate clause has on the pragmatics of an uttered sentence.

In light of all this, the aim of this presentation is to seek a more reliable perspective from which to explore the pragmatics of subordination, placing emphasis on the case of pre-posed subordinate clauses.

The model of meaning analysis brought to bear on the achievement of a rigorous and coherent account is that of relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson 1995). More specifically, it will be shown that the foregoing cases of pre-position can be accommodated rigorously and uniformly on standard procedural grounds, in other words as syntactic constraints on procedural inference. Thus, the employment of a sentence-initial clause serves to trigger the procedure that, whatever the content that will follow the pre-posed clause [e.g. she thanked him (2), I’ll buy this house (4)], it will be relevant to the context associated with the pre-posed clause.



Ford C. and Thomson S. (1986). Conditionals in discourse: A text-based study from English. In On Conditionals.(pp. 353-373), E. Traugott, A. Meulen, J. Reilly & C. Ferguson (eds.). Cambridge University Press, 353-373.

Schiffrin, D. (1992). Conditionals as topics in discourse. Linguistics 30, 165-197.

Sperber, D. and Wilson, D. (1995). Relevance, Communication and Cognition. Blackwell Publishing.