Conditionals, or ‘if-then sentences’, enable us to express our thoughts about possible states of the world. They thus form a crucial ingredient of everyday reasoning and argumentation. The main aim of this dissertation is to elucidate which meanings are expressed by means of conditional constructions by focusing on their different uses and grammatical features.
In the first part of this dissertation, an analysis of conditionals in terms of implicatures of ‘unassertiveness’ and ‘connectedness’ is presented. Insights from semantics, pragmatics, cognitive linguistics, and neighbouring fields are combined. In the second part, the analysis is tested on a corpus of spoken and written Dutch. To investigate the relation between the meaning and grammar of conditionals, several cluster analyses are presented. The results show that grammatical features such as verb tense, modal marking, and syntactic integration do not, or only weakly, license generalised implicatures of unassertiveness and connectedness in Dutch conditionals. This result sheds light on difficulties arising in applying general categories of conditionals to language use data, and it suggests that the fundamentals of categorising conditional constructions need revision.
This dissertation shows the benefits of combining semantic and pragmatic analyses of conditionals. It provides an extensive discussion of classifications of conditionals, an overview of the grammatical features of Dutch conditionals, and it presents cluster analyses using state-of-the-art machine-learning techniques. This study should therefore be of interest to anyone concerned with the syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of conditionals, and to anyone working on Dutch grammar, corpus linguistics, and the interface between semantics and pragmatics.