English Language and Linguistics

Research Article

A constructional taxonomy of I think and related expressions: accounting for the variability of complement-taking mental predicates1


a1 English Department, Ghent University, Rozier 44, 9000 Ghent, Belgium Julie.VanBogaert@UGent.be


This article offers a constructional approach to complement-taking mental predicates (CTMPs), e.g. I think, accommodating a whole class of CTMP types (i think, i suppose, i imagine etc.) and their variant forms (e.g. I would think, I should have imagined) in a constructional taxonomy. CTMPs are generally believed to depend on their prototypical simple present form in order to convey an epistemic/evidential meaning. Corpus evidence shows, however, that there exist several variant forms that equally function as interpersonal modifications. Such variation has long presented a stumbling block to studies approaching CTMPs from the point of view of grammaticalization theory, since this framework has traditionally been rather inimical to the idea that a grammaticalized item may encompass a paradigm of variant forms and instead requires internal fixation into an unalterable form. It will be argued that CTMPs should be regarded as constructions constituting a taxonomy characterized by several levels of schematicity. It will be demonstrated that the most frequently used CTMP, i think, has reached the highest degree of entrenchment and schematicity, and consequently sanctions the widest range of variant forms, which are disseminated throughout the taxonomy by virtue of analogization.

(Received September 04 2009)

(Revised April 26 2010)


1 This study was made possible through funding from the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO Vlaanderen) and the Interuniversity Attraction Poles (IAP), Phase VI, GRAMIS, funded by the Belgian Science Policy. I would like to thank two anonymous referees and Bas Aarts for their pertinent remarks. I am also grateful to Graeme Trousdale for his comments on an earlier draft of this article. It goes without saying that any shortcomings are entirely my own responsibility.