Subjectivity, intersubjectivity and epistemic complementation constructions

This paper takes a cognitive perspective on epistemic complementation constructions in English, focusing on the contrast between constructions of the type [X thinks that Y] and [X thinks Y]. Given that English has two different syntactic constructions for building up the same semantic content, the question to be raised, based on the Non-Synonymy Principle (Goldberg 1995), is: what is the pragmatic difference between them?

In this paper, we aim at addressing this question, relying on the notions of subjectivity and intersubjectivity (Langacker, 1990; Verhagen, 2005). The analysis is based on real corpus data, consisting of complementation constructions instantiated by epistemic verbs such as think, suppose, believe, find and know, which were gathered from transcribed interviews (Kepler, 2001, 2009). Our main  arguments are:

(i) Epistemic complementation constructions (e.g. I think that he’ll come and I think he’ll come) are more subjective than corresponding independent clauses ( e.g. He’ll come), since the former directly or indirectly codes the Ground (speaker, hearer and immediate circumstances of the speech event), whereas the latter presents the event as if there were no subject of consciousness implicit to it.

(ii) Complementizer and non-complementizer taking constructions indicate intersubjectivity in two distinct ways. The latter signals the speaker’s cognitive conjunction to other participants’ perspectives presented in the preceding discourse or available through shared knowledge; the former indicates the speaker’s cognitive disjunction to other participants’ perspectives.

The main contribution of the paper is to take an approach to subjectivity and intersubjectivity phenomena in complementation constructions which differs from other discourse-oriented proposals in the literature (Traugott and Dasher, 2002; Verhagen, 2005). We argue that intersubjectivity goes beyond the complex complementation clause, since it codes the relation between the speaker’s perspective and  other participants’ perspectives available in the preceding discourse context.

Keywords: epistemic complementation constructions, subjectivity, intersubjectivity,  viewpoint.


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