Please join us this Friday for a talk by Andrea Beltrama, PhD Candidate in Linguistics at the University of Chicago:
Speaker: Andrea Beltrama (Linguistics, PhD Candidate)
Title: Totally, unsettledness and questions under discussion: Exploring the pragmatic side of intensification
Date: Friday, April 17
Time: 12:30 am – 2:20 pm
Location: Rosenwald 208
Totally, unsettledness and questions under discussion. Exploring the pragmatic side of intensification. Intensification has received considerable attention in semantics. Yet, most authors mostly focused on cases of degree modification, where intensifiers operate over degree scales lexically encoded by their argument. Instead, little has been said about cases of purely pragmatic intensification, where intensifiers target scales recruited from non truth-conditional dimensions like commitment, certainty, expressivity, and as such operate outside the realm of regular at-issue semantic content. The current talk aims to take a step towards exploring this flavor of intensification by discussing the licensing and distribution of totally in American English in examples like the following.
(1) WTF Florida! Man in “I have drugs” shirt totally had drugs
(2) You should totally watch this movie.
(3) Dionne: There was a stop sign there!
Cher: I totally paused!
I argue that, in its usage as a pragmatic intensifier, totally operates as a device to resolve unsettledness surrounding the truth of a proposition. More specifically, by explicitly inviting the interlocutor to remove from the discourse model all worlds in which the proposition is false, totally intensifies the assertion itself, serving as device to close a question under discussion. Moreover, in contexts where no question under discussion is explicitly present, it can retroactively force the accommodation of one, while marking the proposition as conversationally relevant. I conclude by sketching out a possible way to bridge the connection between these cases and totally’s more canonic use as a degree modifier, suggesting that degree modification and pragmatic intensification are distinct flavors of the same underlying phenomenon.