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July 19, 2004


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Here are a few random thoughts.

I guess imperatives (etc.) don't go into 'that' clauses in general. You mention 'true that S', 'believes that S', 'possible that S' -- aside from antecedents, is the imperative-resistant category just the category of 'that S' contexts?

I think imperatives also fail to embed in 'because S' constructions. I say 'I think' because I used to think that interrogatives also fail that embedding, but in fact 'because Q' is fairly common in ordinary English.

I'll be interested to hear why you think imperatives can't be antecedents. My tentative view is that this is a syntactic fact, not a semantic one, but I've recently thought of some evidence that it might be more semantic. (The evidence is that there is a kind of construction in English in which an imperative sentence is made to behave like an antecedent, but then in the resulting complex the imperative looks like it has the semantic value of a declarative sentence.)

Hi Jamie. It does indeed look like all 'that S' contexts are resistant to imperatives, exclamations, and interrogatives. For example, it also doesn't look like imperatives or exclamations are embeddable as complement clauses in 'seems that ___', 'said that ___', 'conjectures that ___', and so on. (It also looks like we can add 'wonders whether ____'.) And I think you're right that 'Because ___' is imperative and exclamation resistant, as is '___ so'. So it looks like an expressivist who wanted to adopt the correct compositional semantic theory for complex sentences containing exclamations and imperatives has a pretty hefty burden to explain why ethical sentences, but neither exclamation nor imperatives, are embeddable in these contexts.

On your last point, my view is that pragmatic factors prevent imperatives and exclamations from being antecedents of conditionals, and not semantic and or syntactic factors. (Or, perhaps what might amount to the same thing, I take the pragmatic factor to be the underlying reason that conditionals with imperatives or exclamations as antecedents are syntactically incorrect.) The pragmatic factor is, basically, that having a grammatical construction of a conditional with imperatives or exclamations (or interrogatives) could serve no useful conversational purpose, so we should not expect to find such constructions developing in natural languages. I think I'll make this my next post. For if I am right about this, then it gives rise to what I now think is the most pressing kind of embedding difficulty for expressivists, including my own kind of complex expressivism.

I'm also interested to hear more about your evidence for the reason being semantic, though it may be best to pursue this off-blog. Do you have in mind constructions like 'Play first base and you'll see a lot of action', 'Be good and I'll bring you something special when I return', and 'Give me your money or you'll be sorry'?

Yes, those last examples are exactly the kind I had in mind. Also interesting about those 'and'-conditionals is that some usual strictures on imperatives are relaxed for the ones embedded there. For example, in general it sounds odd and wrong (not exactly to say ungrammatical, but in some way rejectable) for an imperative to cover something that is obviously not under anyone's control (*"Grow an extra limb"); but this doesn't seem to be a problem in the 'and'-conditional context ("Grow two feet taller and you could be a first rate power forward").

As to "that S" contexts:
I thought 'seems that' might be a propositional attitude construction, and the others are indirect discourse, which maybe you'd already mentioned. But since then I've thought of 'probable that' and 'remarkable that', which aren't attitudes or indirect discourse. (There is a whole family of 'that S' constructions with a kind of dummy subject 'it'.)
My untutored hunch is that 'whether' complements are different -- they seem to me to be rearranged questions (I probably mean interrogatives) that just look like declarative sentences.

I said that my view is that the resistance of antecedents to imperatives is syntactic. I should add that I can't think of any good explanation for why syntax should impose this constraint. So, I am looking forward to your pragmatic explanation.

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