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On so-called ‘embedded imperatives’ in Modern German

Back to issue: Linguistische Berichte Heft 266
EUR 19.90

In recent years, M. Kaufmann’s claim that embedded imperatives are a principled option of grammar has gained increasing acceptance. In this paper I investigate a particular instance of this claim, namely that embedded imperatives are part of German grammar. While accepting that ‘embedded’ (alias ‘indirect’) imperative readings occur, I argue that they have no basis in grammar but are grammatical illusions. To this effect, I show first that the ‘embedded imperative’ cases fail the crucial syntactic tests truly embedded structures would have to meet, hence the ‘embedded’ readings must have a different grammatical basis. This basis, I claim, is the paratactic sequence of head clause + direct imperative speech report, which allows for ‘indirect’ = ‘embedded’ readings under favorable syntactic-semantic-pragmatic circumstances. In substantiating this claim I show that the many restrictions (dis)allowing these readings cannot plausibly count as grammatical in nature, but can be made sense of if viewed as conditions enabling the critical (but grammatically illicit) ‘indirect reading’ to pass, i.e. the embedding illusion to arise. In concluding I point out a possibly relevant consequence of my findings for further cross-linguistic research on embedded imperatives.