Axel Holvoet (Vilnius Universitet): Historical imperatives: a diffuse construction type and its sources – Københavns Universitet

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Axel Holvoet (Vilnius Universitet): Historical imperatives: a diffuse construction type and its sources

Axel Holvoet er grammatiker, typolog, ekspert i baltiske og slaviske sprog og professor ved universitetet i Vilnius, Litauen. Hans interesser spænder vidt. I de senere år har han bl.a. publiceret bøger og artikler om argumentstruktur i baltisk, diatese, komplementering, modalitet og kausativer. Han og hans hustru Gina Kavaliūnaitė Holvoet er initiativtagerne til og blandt de drivende kræfter bag det årlige grammatikakademi på den forladte herregård i Salos, en lille landsby på en lille ø i en lille sø langt ude på landet i Litauen.


Historical (also called dramatic, narrative, or descriptive) imperatives are imperatives replacing past tense forms to describe unexpected events or in vivid narration, as in Russian

A                          on                        i                            pobegi.

and                     he                        PCL                       run.IMP.2SG

‘And suddenly off he went.’

These imperatives have long baffled linguists because of their clearly non-directive function and the apparent impossibility of deriving them from the basic directive function of imperatives. One of the ways of dealing with this has been to describe the semantics of imperatives in terms of highly abstract features underlying, among other things, the directive imperative but also manifesting themselves in various peripherous imperative functions. But historical imperatives are underinvestigated: in the literature we find no serious discussion of their origin. In my talk I will concentrate precisely on this. Obvious sources for historical imperatives are narrative devices such as inner monologue or apostrophe (with subsequent grammaticalization), but I will argue these are not the only ones. At least two paths of metaphorical extension lead from directive to mirative imperatives, and mirative imperatives may, in their turn, assume certain narrative functions and become historical imperatives—in fact the line of division between historical and mirative imperatives is rather fuzzy. The question remains, of course, whether historical (and mirative) imperatives constitute a cross-linguistically identifiable construction type, or type of grammatical meaning.

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