Victor Wynne

The syntax of virtual performatives

Tamás Halm:

Virtual performatives (also known as the bounding asterisk construction: e.g. *jumps in excitement*, *sings myself happy birthday*) are widely used in web-based electronic written communication (instant messaging, text messaging, mobile interactive multimodal platforms, discussion boards, social networking sites and microblogging sites, see Virtanen 2020:4-5 and references); and, to a lesser extent, in comics (print as well as electronic, Zimmer 2013). While the pragmatics of the construction has attracted considerable attention (see Virtanen 2020 and references), to the best of my knowledge, no formal syntactic or semantic analysis has been offered so far. In my paper, I argue that virtual performatives are full, non-truncated clauses, and their special behaviour is due to two factors: i) their subjects are first person singular personal pronouns modified by an adjectival temporal expression and ii) they are unspecified for tense. These two factors conspire and lead to the unique characteristics of the construction: the silent subject and the split agreement phenomena. Similar constructions have been reported in other languages such as French (Dias da Silva 2015) or Polish (Lyons 2018) as well; here, I will limit the discussion to English.

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