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  • Exclamative Clauses: At the Syntax-Semantics Interface
  • Raffaella Zanuttini and Paul Portner

A central issue in the theory of clause types is whether force is represented in the syntax. Based on data from English, Italian, and Paduan, we examine this question focusing on a less wellstudied clause type, exclamatives. We argue that there is no particular element in syntax responsible for introducing force. Rather, there are two fundamental syntactic components which identify a clause as exclamative, a factive and a wh-operator. These are crucial because they are responsible for two fundamental semantic properties characteristic of exclamatives, namely that they are factive and denote a set of alternative propositions. The force of exclamatives, which we characterize as widening, is derived indirectly, based on the semantic properties.*

1. Exclamatives and the notion of clause type

Sadock and Zwicky (1985) define clause types as a pairing of grammatical form and conversational use.1 In this article we use this notion of clause type as we examine one of the less commonly discussed types, exclamatives. Within the class of exclamatives we include sentences like What a nice guy he is!, which associate a variety of syntactic features with a specific conversational use. In general, scholars have approached the characterization of clause types in a way that is very natural given a definition like Sadock and Zwicky’s: they ask how the conversational use is represented in the form. There are two main approaches here. On the one hand, one finds analyses that postulate a morpheme or grammatical feature representing a sentence’s illocutionary force. On the other, there are construction-oriented theories that characterize a class of structures and link this class to the pragmatic use directly and as a whole.

We believe both of these perspectives leave out a level of analysis: the sentence’s denotation, that is, compositional semantic interpretation.2 The denotation mediates the form/use relationship and plays a crucial role in the analysis of both sides of the pairing. In terms of form, we propose that the class of exclamative structures is defined as comprising those which encode two crucial properties of meaning. A sentence is an exclamative if its denotation has these two properties. We investigate in some detail the syntactic characteristics of this class of sentences, focusing in particular on how the crucial aspects of meaning are represented. In terms of use, we suggest that the [End Page 39] two semantic properties in question imply that the sentence’s use is as an exclamative, provided that we understand the notion of use properly. We spend a significant proportion of the article clarifying the relevant concept of use and its application to exclamatives.

Let us provide more detail about our proposals. We identify two syntactic properties that define the class of exclamatives:


a. Exclamatives contain a wh operator-variable structure.

b. Exclamatives contain an abstract morpheme FACT in the CP domain.

These two properties characterize exclamatives because they contribute the two crucial components of meaning to the denotation.


a. Exclamatives denote a set of alternative propositions, a result of the operator-variable structure.

b. Exclamatives are factive, that is, their propositional content is presupposed; this presuppositionality is the result of the abstract morpheme FACT, which is thus an example of the factive morpheme proposed in previous literature on complement clauses.

These aspects of our proposal explain the similarities across languages between exclamatives and interrogatives. Since both denote sets of propositions, their syntax is alike in respects that give rise to this aspect of their meanings. The need to host the abstract morpheme expressing factivity explains certain subtle differences between exclamatives and interrogatives that have been noted in the literature on Romance.

The ‘use’ of exclamatives is analyzed in terms of another fundamental concept, that of widening.

(3) Exclamatives widen the domain of quantification for the wh operator, which gives rise to the set of alternative propositions denoted by the sentence.

Widening allows us to capture those aspects of the meaning of exclamatives which have been informally described as ‘a sense of surprise’, ‘unexpectedness’, ‘extreme degree’, and the like. Widening is not in general directly encoded in the syntax; it is, however, derived from the...


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