Clitics or affixes? On the relevance of illocutionary level

in the controversial categorization of a series of interrogative morphemes

in Central Veneto and other north-eastern varieties


Elisabetta Fava



Data and arguments brought forward in literature sometimes locate the same examples in rather different or even opposite frameworks. The analysis of the systematic correspondences between speech acts and grammatical forms offers one case which has highlighted several contradictions in the categorization of a series of morphemes, characterizing prototypically, but not exclusively, both direct yes/no and wh-questions in Central Veneto, as well as in many other north-eastern Italian varieties (Fava 1993, 2014). Diachronically, these interrogative morphemes, as well as proclitic subjects, derive from the non-clitic nominative forms of ancient medieval dialects, continuing the forms of the Latin nominative (Renzi & Vanelli 1984). Synchronically, the representations of these markers, which involve distinctions of gender, number and person, have been dealt with controversially, ranging from clitic inversion (Brandi & Cordin 1989, Rizzi 1986) to NP in SpecAgr inversion (Poletto 1993) or to the affixing of an interrogative conjugation or mood, a definition going back to nineteenth-century grammars (Nazari 1876, Pajello 1896, Rohlfs 1968, Fava 1993, 2001, Loporcaro 2009). These variations and contradictions in the categorization of this illocutionary device deserve a theoretical approach that takes into account the different weight given to different levels of empirical generalizations. The aim of this paper is to defend the methodological importance of semantics and pragmatics research in verifying and controlling linguistic stipulations. Starting from meanings and functions involves a change in perspective in the evaluation of data, including independently observed phenomena, which forces us to unify them in order to offer a coherent grammatical description. Grammatical research on illocutionary force devices, which requires a comparison of several levels of grammatical description – phonology, morphology, syntax and lexicon - and has a unifying explanation in function, calls for an assessment of their organization and interaction. Reconsidering some of the major proposals for north-eastern varieties, I will bring to light some of their common inflectional features by pinpointing the properties that have structural relevance and require systematic reconsideration. Moreover, crosslinguistic considerations of Vicentino and Italian grammatical illocutionary devices highlight the relevance of inflectional variation strategies in expressing illocutionary force variations in both languages.


Keywords: north-eastern Italian varieties • Central Veneto, clitics, affixes, illocutionary force

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