Conceptual Semantics, Symbolic Grammar, and the Day-after-Day Construction
Ronald W. Langacker
The construction exemplified in (1) exhibits special semantic and grammatical properties that render it problematic from the standpoint of standard descriptive and theoretical notions. I will try to show, however, that its characterization is unproblematic from the standpoint of Cognitive Grammar. A brief presentation of this framework is thus prerequisite to the analysis.
(a) It just kept on raining day after day after day after day after day.
(b) Time after timehe failed the exam.
(c) Year after year after yearthey reject my abstract.
Cognitive Grammar presupposes a conceptual account of semantics argued for on independent grounds. Key notions include construal (our ability to conceive and portray the same situation in alternate ways), dynamicity (the time course of conceptualization), mental simulation, and imaginative phenomena (mental spaces, blending, metaphor, fictivity). A conceptual semantics makes possible a symbolic account of grammar, in which the only elements posited are semantic structures, phonological structures, and symbolic links between the two. Grammar is thus inherently meaningful. Lexicon and grammar comprise a continuum of constructions, describable as assemblies of symbolic structures. Crucially, constituency hierarchies of the “classical” sort are just one of the forms symbolic assemblies can assume.