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Abstract Graumann

Concessive constructions: An unexpected blend?

This contribution will give an explanation for concessive sentences by integrating current ideas from the field of cognitive semantics. Concessive constructions are semantically one of the most difficult (and interesting) constructions among complex sentences. A range of linguists have tried to explain concessive sentences by describing them as in-causal, a-causal, negative causal etc. sentences, in which either the causal relation as such or the out-come of an otherwise causal action (implied by the antecedent) is negated. For a number of reasons none of underlying explanations is satisfying: They try to solve the problem with logical derivations, focus on the implicit causal relation indicated by the main clause, ignore pragmatic aspects, negate the adversative compound evident in these constructions, etc.

One promising approach can be seen in DiMeola’s (1998) description of concessive sentences as being constructed of two causal relations functioning as background. DiMeola assumes that concessive constructions are based on a hypothetical and on a real causal relation from which constitutive parts are presented. Concessivity is therefore defined as “hidden causality” by DiMeola. While the idea that concessive sentences represent the cause and result of two different causal constructions seems plausible, DiMeolas approach does not explain (and he actually negates the idea) how antagonism (adversative patterns) comes into play. Yet, the fact that antagonistic relations are crucial for the construal of concessives has recently been shown in a couple of investigations (cf. Rudolph 1996). Talmy’s suggestion to regard concessive (or as he names them “despite”-) constructions as sub-concepts of the more abstract Force Dynamics Systems seems to integrate the different aspects. Yet, in categorizing concessive patterns as a concept alongside causal concepts he rules out the implicit structures of causality evident in concessives.

As I see it, the FD-System is indeed one compound integrated in or guiding the construal of concessive concepts and their verbal representations (as generic space). Thus, concessive structures are processed on the basis of the Force Dynamics System but they result from two different inputs blended in a new space (cf. Fauconnier/Turner 2002). The construal is underpinned by the schematic FD-System, which describes situations in which „a stronger force [is] opposing a weaker force head on” (Talmy 2000: 467). In concessive constructions the stronger force is the agonist (coded only partially in syntactic structure), which resists or blocks the antagonistic force and can thus be described as an adversative (sub-) concept. This adversative schema is defining the concessive structure of the blend and can be seen as its fundamental frame. The integration of causal inputs and adversative schema leads to and explains the “unexpected” outcome implicit in the subordinated concessive clause (marked by the subordinating connector) in relation to the information given in the main clause.

By regarding concessive patterns as complex blends all the features defined so far in research can be integrated in one construal process.



DiMeola, C. (1998): Zur Definition einer logisch-semantischen Kategorie: Konzessivität als ‘versteckte Kausalität’. Linguistische Berichte 175: 329 – 349.

Fauconnier ,G./Turner, M. (2002): The way we think. New York: Basic Books.

Rudolph, E. (1996): Contrast. Adversative and Concessive Relations and their Expressions in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese on Sentence and Text Level. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.

Talmy, L. (2000): Toward a cognitive semantics. Vol. I: Concept structuring systems. Cambridge (u.a.): Bradford.