Vera Tobin

Elements of Surprise / Publications / Teaching / CV

“An Afterthought on Let Alone.” Journal of Pragmatics. 80:70-85. With Bert Chappelle and Edgwige Dugas.

We here revisit the let alone construction, which was first described in a 1980s paper that put Construction Grammar on the map. Our focus is on a seemingly aberrant use where the first conjunct does not entail the restored second conjunct, as in I don’t have ten children, let alone one. We argue that this use should not be considered as a highly exceptional speech error or as evidence that some speakers wrongly assume that the first proposition is the entailed one. First, a systematic examination of let alone examples extracted from the BNC and COCA shows that it is not exceedingly rare, as does a growing collection of authentic examples we have collected over the years. Second, it constitutes a usage type in its own right, whereby the first proposition has most contextual relevance and the second conjunct is represented by the speaker as an apophasis-like afterthought. There are transitional cases between the two types (canonical and afterthought), where both conjuncts have considerable relevance. For contemporary speakers, the afterthought use may require extraction of a general pattern with bleached semantics and pragmatics, possibly re-filled in with specific information.