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EnglishMeaning and Culture$
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Anna Wierzbicka

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195174748

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195174748.001.0001

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The English Causatives

The English Causatives

Causation and Interpersonal Relations

(p.171) Chapter 6 The English Causatives

Anna Wierzbicka (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

While it is generally agreed that, metaphorically speaking, words are carriers of meaning, it is less widely recognized that grammatical categories of a language, too, encode meaning. But in fact this is what grammar is all about: certain meanings are so important to communities of speakers that they become not just lexicalized (linked with individual words) but grammaticalized, that is, embodied in the language's structural patterns. In this chapter, the theme of the “cultural elaboration of grammar” is applied to English causative constructions. The chapter seeks to show that English has an extremely wide range of such constructions (not only in comparison with other European languages but also from a universal perspective). This wealth is concealed, to some extent, by the use of the same key words such as make, have, or let in many different constructions, all of which may appear to be examples of a single “make construction”, “have construction”, or “let construction”. In fact, there are reasons to distinguish, on both semantic and structural grounds many different, “make constructions”, “have constructions”, and “let constructions”. This chapter seeks to clarify, by means of “NSM”, the precise nature of causal relations encoded in English grammar and to compare them with those encoded in German and Russian. It also seeks to explore the cultural roots of this extraordinary elaboration of causation in modern English grammar. A number of interpretive hypotheses are put forward, linking grammar with different patterns of social interaction, the rise of democracy, and with changing attitudes and values.

Keywords:   causation, grammatical semantics, causative constructions, negative freedom, live and let live, cooperation, non-interference, democracy

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