Pragmaticalization and Syntactic Change – the Diachronic Rise of the New Quotative "von wegen" in German

Bücker, Jörg

Department of German University of Muenster, Germany


In present-day German the causal preposition von wegen + NPGen/Dat 'because of' is replaced nearly completely by the shorter form wegen + NPGen/Dat. If we have a look at authentic data from the spoken and the written language, we nevertheless find quite a lot of instances of von wegen. In many of these cases von wegen is not being used as a causal preposition but as a metalinguistic discourse marker. Especially in the spoken language it often projects the following of direct speech. This brings up the question how the older prepositional construction with causal meaning could have changed into a non-causal discourse marker.

In my paper I will at first describe the present-day use of von wegen as a discourse marker mainly on the basis of spoken language data. I will show that von wegen often accomplishes conversational tasks such as to contextualize scenic direct speech (by means of the notion "scenic" I would like to characterize it as direct speech which has noticeable rhetorical functions and does not merely aim at exact reproduction).

After that I will go into the diachronic development of von wegen. I will take the view that in the course of Early Modern High German von wegen as a discourse marker developed from the old causal circumposition von + NPGen + wegen by means of syntactic reduction, word-class change and pragmaticalization (cf. Günthner/Mutz 2004, Barth/Couper-Kuhlen 2002 and Lima 2002, for example). Therefore I am of the opinion that the emergence of the new quotative "von wegen" needs to be analyzed in the framework of historical pragmatics (cf. Traugott 1995, for example).

I will show that certain syntactically reduced forms of the old circumposition were used as causal subjunctions and conjunctions temporarily but then got displaced by the more frequent causal conjunctions and subjunctions "denn", "da" and "weil". Subsequently von wegen as a subjunction disappeared whereas von wegen as a conjunction lost its causal meaning and its grammatical function. It finally pragmaticalized into a discourse marker with merely conversational functions.

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Session: Paper session
Various Topics
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 12