Motivation in Language

Law 111
Tuesday 19 November 2019 (16:15-17:15)

Seminar organiser: Marcus Perlman (

  • English Language Research Seminar
  • Speaker: Klaus-Uwe Panther & Günter Radden (University of Hamburg)

Motivation is a multifactorial phenomenon. We believe that the factors triggering a motivational process are always language-independent and are mediated through conceptualization. Language-independent factors include bodily experience, perception, culture, frequency, and communicative interaction. Motivational processes operate on linguistic signs and may either pertain to the concept-form relation of a linguistic unit or to relations between linguistic units. We therefore propose the following working definition of linguistic motivation:

A linguistic unit is motivated if some of its properties are shaped by a linguistic form and/or concept in conjunction with language-independent factors.

The role of motivation as an explanatory theoretical concept is illustrated with the Coordinate Structure Constraint (CSC) postulated by Ross (1967), which (correctly) predicts that structures such as *What did Mary drink a cup of coffee and eat? are ungrammatical. However, one finds cases that, at least in colloquial English, allow the violation of the CSC as e.g. in What did Mary go to the store and buy? It will be shown that the acceptability of examples like the latter are motivated by metaphor, iconicity, and other conceptual-pragmatic factors. They instantiate examples of emergent grammaticalization, in particular, aspectualization.