Original scientific article
Page 53 - 85

Failing without trying

J. Lachlan Mackenzie
VU University Amsterdam & ILTEC, Lisboa

Jezikoslovlje_1_.09.053.Mackenzie.pdf [ 0.21 MB - English]
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Abstract: The article presents an analysis of the over 12,000 occurrences of fail and failure followed by to in the 100m-word British National Corpus. In its lexical use, fail is a negative-implicative verb of the type identified in the seventies by Karttunen and Givón (Susan tried and failed to seduce her teacher). In its grammaticalized use, however, it functions as an alternative to not (It failed to rain last night = It didn’t rain last night; The fur failed to fly at the meeting = The fur didn’t fly at the meeting). We analyse the latter use of fail firstly as a subject-raising verb and ultimately as a grammatical operator of negation with periphrastic exponence of the type proposed by Ackerman & Stump. Various presuppositions connected with the lexical sense of fail persist in its grammaticalized use, but not where fail is followed by to be. An application of Functional Discourse Grammar reveals that the periphrastic negative has narrower scope than not, which leads to an examination of the use of fail in litotes. The article concludes with discussion of the semantic and pragmatic motivations for the grammaticalization.
Functional Discourse Grammar, grammaticalization, subject-raising verbs, negative-implicative verbs, grammatical operator of negation, periphrastic negative,
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