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Metarepresentation and evidentiality in

Spanish tense and mood: A cognitive pragmatic

Article in Belgian Journal of Linguistics March 2016

DOI: 10.1075/bjl.29.03ahe


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3 authors, including:

Aoife Ahern Jose Amenos

Complutense University of Madrid Complutense University of Madrid


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Metarepresentation and evidentiality
in Spanish tense and mood
A cognitive pragmatic perspective

Aoife Ahern, Jos Amens-Pons and Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes

Universidad Complutense de Madrid / UNED, Madrid /
Universidad de las Islas Baleares

This paper sets forth a theoretical framework in relation to metarepresentation

and evidentiality in Spanish, supported by an empirical analysis of tense/mood
contrast expressions. More specifically, we describe how metarepresentational
and evidential content are expressed and interpreted in ifconditional and
although-concessive clauses. We also report original experimental data from a
written, multiple choice interpretation task in L2 Spanish; and from an L1 task
in Spanish with a set of conditional and concessive utterances in which indica-
tive and subjunctive moods alternate. Our global results show that the ability to
efficiently integrate linguistic and nonlinguistic cues is particularly costly for
nonnative speakers. Yet native speakers also reveal, to a different degree, effects
suggestive of processing difficulties related to syntax/discourse interface.

Keywords: metarepresentations, Spanish, tense, mood, SLA

1. Introduction

Ever since the publication of Chomskys early work (1959,1965), the study of lan-
guage has largely been approached from a mentalist perspective. Still, cognitive
theoretical models differ in their conceptions of the nature of linguistic knowledge
and language acquisition, and in their descriptions of the operations involved in
online language processing and use. Among others, Lakoff (1974) developed an
alternative approach to generative grammar; contra Chomsky, Lakoff argued that
the form of language could not be studied independently of its communicative
function; language form and language use were the product of general cognitive
principles and general learning capacities.

Belgian Journal of Linguistics 29 (2015), 6181. doi 10.1075/bjl.29.03ahe

issn 0774-5141/ e-issn 1569-9676 John Benjamins Publishing Company
62 Aoife Ahern, Jos Amens-Pons and Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes

However, as Paradis (2001/2009) claims, neurolinguistic evidence points to

a cerebral division of labour concerning the treatment of linguistic versus prag-
matic elements in verbal communication:
Rules (i.e., implicit computational procedures) are one thing: they belong to the
domain of linguistic competence, which is the province of the left hemisphere.
The selection of the appropriate rule in the given context is another thing entirely:
it belongs to the pragmatic faculty, which is in large part the province of the right
hemisphere (and possibly to some extent the frontal lobes), and in any case out-
side of the grammar itself. (Paradis 2001/2009:66)

This suggests that two qualitatively different types of processes are at stake in lan-
guage use. They are independent and theoretically separable, although they must
necessarily interact. Linguistic meaning is rule-based and mandatory, but it is
also underspecified; therefore, probabilistic pragmatic processes are needed to
provide the exact referents and the illocutionary force of utterances, as well as to
infer speaker meaning and epistemic stance (Paradis 2001/2009). This approach
has been adopted by cognitive pragmatic theories such as Sperber and Wilsons
(1986/95) Relevance Theory (RT).
Sperber and Wilson emphasize that language is used to express not only rep-
resentations of the world, but also metarepresentations: representations of other
representations. Thus, a metarepresentation consists of a higher-order represen-
tation, in which a lower-order representation is embedded. Evidentiality can be
seen as a subclass of linguistic metarepresentation, conveying the attribution of
the propositional content to a specific information source, or type of source (e.g.
sensory perception, hearsay, conjecture).
Building on RT proposals, this paper describes two different mechanisms
that are available in Spanish, as well as other languages, for the configuration of
metarepresentational uses. The first mechanism is purely semantic: this is the case
of the Subjunctive (subj) mood, which encodes, precisely, an indicator that the
proposition is expressed as a metarepresentation (Ahern 2004,2006). The second
mechanism is located at the interface between semantics and pragmatics, and can
be observed in the quotative interpretations that the Imperfect Indicative (imp-
ind) receives under certain discourse-contextual conditions. Unlike the subj
mood, the imp-ind is not inherently metarepresentational: evidential impind is
closely related to extreme cases of aspectual coercion, where integration of infor-
mation from different cognitive language modules (i.e., linguistic and pragmatic)
is at play in the process of utterance interpretation.
Our aims are twofold: on the one hand, we intend to characterize the two mech-
anisms defined above, and to describe the way they operate in two specific types of
constructions: although-concessives and if-conditionals in Spanish. In both cases,

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Metarepresentation and evidentiality in Spanish tense and mood 63

certain contextual effects are achieved through mood alternation, which are linked
to the interpretation of metarepresentational and/or evidential content.
On the other hand, we attempt to compile empirical evidence of the cogni-
tive processing load that the interpretation of the different types of metarepre-
sentational content imposes both in advanced L2 learners and in L1 speakers. We
obtained data from two groups of adult advanced (CEFR B2-C1 levels) learners
of L2 Spanish: an L1 French group (n=50) and L1 English group (n=40); in addi-
tion to a control group of native speakers of European Spanish (n=35). A 30-item
multiple choice task was set, testing the ability to interpret effects on sentence
meaning of indicative/subjunctive mood contrasts in conditional (20 items) and
concessive (10 items) clauses.1
The paper is organized as follows. In Section2, we discuss the relationship
between linguistic metarepresentation and evidentiality, from the point of view
of RT; we also develop our background assumptions on linguistic meaning (and
more specifically, on the type of meaning mood, tense and aspect encode) and on
how linguistic and extralinguistic information interact during the interpretation
of utterances. In Section3 and Section4, we describe the mechanisms through
which subj and imp-ind can articulate metarepresentational content; both sec-
tions are completed with the presentation of empirical data related to both L2 and
L1. Finally, Section5 contains the discussion and conclusions.

2. Theoretical background

Within the RT framework, verbal communication is seen as an ostensive-infer-

ential process, driven by cognitive mechanisms that are attuned to seeking opti-
mal relevance from the processing of communicative stimuli; a process that is
triggered by the hearers recognition of the speakers communicative intention.
A presumption of optimal relevance leads hearers to take the encoded meaning
of the expressions used in a given utterance as an indication of what the speaker
intends to convey, i.e. the speakers meaning. However, an essential tenet of RT is
the recognition that inference takes place throughout the entire process of utter-
ance interpretation, from the identification of the explicit meaning, to that of
any implicit content conveyed, acknowledging the integration of contextual and
world-knowledge at every level of meaning conveyed in language use.

1. Our non-native informants were learning Spanish at a relatively homogenous, non-

immersion, institutional setting: Instituto Cervantes, either in France or in one of the following
English speaking countries: the UK, Ireland, the USA or Australia. Online and paper versions
of the material were used (subjects chose the most suitable format).

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64 Aoife Ahern, Jos Amens-Pons and Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes

Within this framework, utterance interpretation involves the identification

of the explicit meaning of the expressions used, and embedding this content
under a representation of the speakers attitude. Producing a sentential utterance,
thereby, involves expressing the content of the proposition, but also conveying
ones stance, or propositional attitude, in relation to that content. In this sense,
the proposition expressed constitutes a basic layer of meaning, and it is embed-
ded under a higher-order representation in which the illocutionary force and/or
speaker attitude information is identified.
For a given utterance, interpretation could involve identifying the propo-
sitional content as the speakers belief; however, depending on factors such as
the suprasegmental features of the utterance, or the use of paralinguistic cues
(i.e. a particular tone of voice, gestures, etc.), very different propositional atti-
tude information might be identified in its interpretation: for instance, that the
speaker doubts or wonders whether the proposition is true, or is expressing her
own disbelief and scorn towards another individuals expression of that propo-
sition. Extensive analysis of how such interpretations are derived has also been
developed within the RT framework.

2.1 Metarepresentation and evidentiality

In languages with evidential inflectional morphology, the explicit encoding of evi-

dential information is analysed within the framework of RT (Ifantidou 2001) as
the presence of linguistic devices conveying meaning that contributes to identify-
ing the speakers degree of commitment or epistemic attitude, and forms part of
these higher-order representations in utterance interpretation. Thus, explicit indi-
cations of the source of knowledge is used as input by the hearer in deriving infer-
ences about the speakers attitude. This information can be expected to be useful
to the hearer in determining how reliable the content of a given utterance may be.
In other languages, including those involved in the present study Spanish,
French and English the identification of epistemic-stance, attitudinal and illocu-
tionary information for the higher-order representation may take place by means
of purely inferential processes, or through processes combining inference and the
decoding of grammatical and/or lexically encoded meaning. In the present study,
we assume that in Spanish, the subj mood constitutes a grammatical means for
marking a proposition as a metarepresentational use and providing an indication
that guides the inferential processes that lead to the identification of informa-
tion in the higher-order representation of the proposition. On the other hand, it
is also assumed that under certain discourse-contextual conditions, the Spanish
imp-ind also leads to inferences of a similar kind, affecting the identification of
the attribution of the propositional content to a source external to the speaker.

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Metarepresentation and evidentiality in Spanish tense and mood 65

2.2 Procedural meaning and metarepresentation

A fundamental distinction for the analysis of mood and tense upon which the
present study is based is that of conceptual and procedural meaning. Within RT,
this differentiation has been established between, on the one hand, linguistic
expressions that represent concepts, conceptual meaning and, on the other hand,
procedural expressions, which encode instructions or indications that guide
the inferential processes of utterance interpretation (Blakemore 1987; Wilson
and Sperber 1993; Escandell, Leonetti and Ahern 2011). Procedural expressions
encode computations over conceptual representations, and these computational
instructions are not modifiable in contrast to the flexibility that characterises
conceptual meaning but remain consistent across interpretations. Thus, proce-
dural analyses of the semantics of mood, tense, determiners and certain discourse
markers have proposed that they act as constraints on inferential processes.
For instance, the Spanish subjunctive has been analysed as an indicator of a
particular kind of metarepresentation, i.e., that the proposition is expressed as
an instance of interpretive use: it represents an attributed utterance or thought,
or possible utterance, by virtue of a relationship of resemblance (Ahern 2006).
This piece of semantically encoded information is used as input to inferential
processes in which assumptions from the discourse and extralinguistic context
are integrated to lead to either one of the two possible readings that obtain
from this mood in Spanish: irrealis or presuppositional, as explained further in
Section3.1 below.

2.3 Semantic/pragmatic interfaces in SLA: An overview

The perspective adopted in the present study, and in general within RT, consists in
considering grammatical expressions like mood and tense as encoding a particular
kind of meaning, i.e., procedural meaning, as just explained. Procedural meaning
has been described as the encoding of instructions for computations over concep-
tual representations, leading to constraints on the inferences that arise in utterance
interpretation. In that sense, since procedural meaning is not represented concep-
tually, yet is conveyed by way of linguistic features that feed into LF, procedural
expressions can be considered to constitute interpretable features.
Mood, tense and grammatical aspect can also be described, in UG terms,
as interpretable features. However, language use and utterance interpretation are
interface phenomena, where information from different systems is integrated.
More specifically, metarepresentations may be linguistically encoded, but in any
case their interpretation in specific environments depends, to varying degrees, on
pragmatic enrichment processes (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995).

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66 Aoife Ahern, Jos Amens-Pons and Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes

Thus, assuming that evidentiality is a universal semantic category that could

be expressed via different mechanisms in which different language modules inter-
vene, and considering the aims of our research, it is imperative to briefly look at
what has been said in relation to the acquisition of multiple interfaces in SLA.
Integrating linguistic and non-linguistic information always has a cognitive
cost, but it may be expected that this cost will be more apparent in the case of
nonnative speakers, as current SLA theoretical accounts such as the Interface
Hypothesis (Sorace 2011) have reported. In recent research on L1, L2 and bilin-
gual acquisition, considerable emphasis has been placed on the study of interfaces
between the linguistic system and grammar external modules, such as syntax/
discourse, or between different modules of grammar, such as syntax/semantics,
syntax/morphology or morphology/phonology. This has led to claims that dif-
ficulties experienced by L1, L2 and bilingual speakers can be accounted for in
terms of the complexity of integrating linguistic phenomena relevant to specific
interfaces. With some exceptions, there has been a tendency to consider at least
some interface phenomena as inherently problematic (i.e., external interfaces),
while others are inherently unproblematic (i.e., internal interfaces). Still, a plead
must be made about the importance of being cautious and not assuming that all
interfaces are equally problematic or unproblematic, or that different linguistic
phenomena affecting the same interface will necessarily behave alike. Only the
interface between syntax, semantics and discourse will be explored here, and no
claim will be made about other interfaces, internal or external, nor about other
linguistic phenomena apart from those we have already mentioned.
Therefore, the main hypothesis of this paper is that, when the interpretation
of metarepresentational content is mainly reliant on interface integration, it car-
ries higher processing cost, both to L1 and L2 speakers (although not necessarily
to the same degree).

3. Concessives

Despite the fact that Spanish concessive clauses may be introduced by a variety of
connectives, aunque is probably the most frequently used concessive connective
and is the one considered in the present study. Aunque-clauses in Spanish consti-
tute an interesting environment for analyzing the effects of indicative-subjunctive
mood alternation, since both moods are grammatical, and therefore lead to dif-
ferences albeit subtle ones in interpretation.

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Metarepresentation and evidentiality in Spanish tense and mood 67

3.1 Mood alternation in Spanish although-concessives in Spanish

Concessive clauses in Spanish, as in other languages, are subordinate adjunct

clauses that express a situation as a potential obstacle to the fulfilment of the situa-
tion described in the main clause (Olmos and Ahern 2009). In this sense, the rela-
tionship between the main and the concessive clause is rather complex. Adding
to this complexity is the fact that indicative and subjunctive mood alternate in
Spanish concessive clauses in order to express slightly different nuances, which in
English are more clearly conveyed by varying the concessive connective:
(1) Aunque {es /sea} muy tarde ahora, vamos a salir.
Although {is (ind/ subj)} very late now, we-go to go-out.
a. Even though its (ind) very late now, were going out.
b. Even if its (subj) very late now, were going out.

In an utterance like (1), the use of the indicative is interpreted as conveying

that the proposition its late is asserted: i.e., added to the common ground, or
expressed as new information. If the speaker chooses the subjunctive mood, there
are two possible interpretations: the concessive clause proposition can either
be identified as a potential state of affairs in an irrealis interpretation or, as
presupposed or given information. The presuppositional interpretation obtains
when the proposition of the concessive clause is identifiable as already forming
part of the discourse or the communicative context, the common ground: for
instance, if it has been expressed in a previous utterance to which the speaker is
responding; or the utterance is produced as the speaker ostensively looks at her
watch or at a clock. The irrealis interpretation, on the other hand, obtains when
the propositional content is not identifiable as already present in the utterance
context or (expected to be) known by the interlocutors. Thus, in some cases one
or the other of the possible interpretations of the subjunctive will be determined
by assumptions that are accessible to the interlocutors within the communica-
tive (i.e. situational or discursive) context; in other cases, what determines the
adequate interpretation is world knowledge, for instance in:
(2) Aunque seas mi hermano, no te prestar ni un euro.
Although you-are (subj) my brother, not I will-lend you not one euro.
Even though youre my brother, I wont lend you a single euro.

This utterance exemplifies a case in which knowledge of the world would generally
be sufficient to determine a presuppositional reading based on the presence of the
subj in the concessive clause, given that it will be assumed that the interlocutors
take for granted the fact that the addressee is the speakers brother. However, there
are of course possible contexts in which an irrealis reading would be obtained: for

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68 Aoife Ahern, Jos Amens-Pons and Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes

instance, if the utterance is produced between individuals involved in a legal pro-

cess to determine whether they are long-lost biological siblings.
In relation to evidentiality, it can be seen that presuppositional readings of the
subjunctive in concessive environments are those that can be classified as trans-
mitting evidential meaning, in the sense that this reading obtains under the condi-
tion that the propositional content is verifiable through its presence in the context,
either in the form of a previous utterance (leading to hearsay/echoic readings) or
as perceivable in the communicative context (leading to other kinds of evidential
readings, such as sensory, or reportative ones). The speakers choice of the sub-
junctive, in these cases, can lead to several types of evidential interpretations, iden-
tified by means of inferences that take into account the contextual information,
as explained above. The empirical data reported below consists in an attempt to
contribute to a more complete understanding of the effects of integrating different
types of information in order to identify the most appropriate interpretation of
mood alternation in concessives, and how the two groups of L2 Spanish learners
cope with the processing demands in such cases, as compared to native speakers.

3.2 Data on the interpretation of concessives in L2 Spanish

In relation to the semantic and pragmatic properties attributed to mood alterna-

tion in concessive clauses above, the present section reports results of a written sen-
tence interpretation task completed by L2 Spanish learners and by an L1 peninsular
Spanish control group (see Section1). The items with concessive clauses included
in the task were developed in order to collect data on the ability to interpret mood
alternation in aunque-clauses, either in consonance with the assertive contribution
of the indicative, or for subjunctive concessives, in accordance with the contextual
information provided in the experimental task, which pointed toward one of the
two possible readings described above: irrealis or presuppositional.
As just seen in the outlined analyses of mood interpretation in this kind of
sentential environment, it requires the ability to deal with and integrate semanti-
cally encoded meaning with information from extralinguistic sources: the dis-
course and communicative context, as well as world knowledge. In this sense we
have affirmed that our study involves exploring the development of the capacity
for interface integration in L2. Likewise, this enquiry is pertinent to the claims of
current psycholinguistic research that processing effort is closely linked to com-
plex interface integration (Bott 2010). Research in language acquisition suggests
that the effect of such effort will affect not only (advanced) non-native speakers,
but also bilinguals and L1 users (Belletti et al. 2007; Sorace 2011 and references
therein; Sorace and Filiaci 2006; Tsimpli and Sorace 2006; White 2009 inter alia).

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Metarepresentation and evidentiality in Spanish tense and mood 69

In particular, based on these hypotheses, it was intended that our experimental

data would shed light on the development of the capacity to discriminate between
irrealis and presuppositional readings of the subjunctive in concessive clauses,
considering that the L2 participants had upper-intermediate (B2) to advanced (C1
and C1+) proficiency in Spanish. All of the learner groups were expected to have
greater difficulty than the control group in identifying the most adequate interpre-
tation for each item, and it was hypothesized that the L1 French group might be at
an advantage with respect to the L1 English group, given the similarities between
French and Spanish with regards to indicative and subjunctive mood contrast.2
The interpretation task consisted of reading a brief text that provided a con-
text for, and included, an utterance with a concessive clause, and choosing among
three paraphrases of interpretations of the utterance, including one irrealis-type
interpretation, one presuppositional, and a distractor. The items were presented
in randomized order and included concessive clauses with present, perfect and
imperfect tenses in indicative and subjunctive. The following table shows some
example items and the numbering of each tense-mood combination:

Table1. Concessive items (interpretation task)

Items 21 and 22. Aunque+Present Subjunctive (irrealis reading expected)
No podemos tener un perro en casa, aunque Juan me lo pida de rodillas.
We cant have a dog in the house, even if Juan begs me on his knees.
Items 24 and 25. Aunque+Present Indicative
Creo que estoy enamorado, aunque ella me ignora.
I think Im in love, although she ignores me.
Items 27 and 28. Aunque+Imperfect Indicative
Iba acumulando deudas, aunque l manifestaba que todo se iba a solucionar.
He went on accumulating debts, although he claimed there would be a solution for
Items 23 and 29. Aunque+Perfect Subjunctive (presuppositional reading expected)
Aunque haya nacido en Nueva York, mi hijo tendr un padrino muy flamenco.
Although he was born in New York, my son will have a very flamenco godfather.
Items 26 and 30. Aunque+Imperfect Subjunctive (irrealis reading expected)
La junta electoral orden la admisin de todos los candidatos, aunque a algunos les faltara la
The electoral committee ordered the admittance of all the candidates, although some may
have been missing documents.

2. Despite overall similarities in the verbal mood systems between French and Spanish, con-
cessive clauses in French do not allow mood alternation as occurs in the items studied here.
For further relevant details of mood in these two languages, see Ahern, Amens-Pons and
Guijarro-Fuentes (2014).

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70 Aoife Ahern, Jos Amens-Pons and Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes

The expected readings mentioned in Table1 were established by means of a pilot

study, in which eight native speakers of European Spanish were asked to choose
between three different interpretations of each item. Afterwards, in the analysis
of the results of the main study, we compared the answers provided by each group
with the previously established expected answers. The results that were obtained
in this task are summed up in the graph in Figure 1.






L French: Item difficulty value (mean) L English: Item difficulty value (mean)
Control: Item difficulty value (mean)

Figure1. Results by groups of concessive items

The only statistically significant differences found in the mean difficulty levels
between the learner groups were related to items 27 and 28, which included
concessives in imp-ind, in which the English L1 group were at a disadvantage
(M=0.80, SD=0.26) in comparison with the French L1 group (M=0.88, SD=3.2);
t(88)=0.142, p=0.158.
Regarding the differences among the responses of the control group versus
those of the L2 Spanish learners, it was found that the native speaker group showed
greater variability in their responses than the learner groups in the items with subj
concessive clauses items 21 and 22; 23 and 29; 26 and 30. As can be observed in
the bar graphs of Figure 1, the control group chose the expected responses with
equal or lower frequency than the learner groups. This variability, we assume,
may be due to the different processing tendencies of L1 users versus L2ers: in
the L1, a wider range of contextual assumptions can intervene in interpreting
mood choice in these constructions (for instance, as illustrated in Example(2)
above), whereas L2 speakers may limit their interpretation by applying some form
of memorized rule about the meaning and use of each verbal mood.3 Our findings
also suggest further research focusing on the time required by L2 Spanish learners
to process verbal mood alternation in similar constructions is necessary, since it
would provide more solid evidence regarding the differences detected among the
L1 and L2 groups in the present study.

3. To confirm our hypotheses, a follow-up, qualitative task was designed, in which the partici-
pants (a group of native speakers) were asked to describe their interpretations of a set of con-
textualized concessive utterances. Our results corroborate the idea that natives tend to access a
rich array of contextual hypotheses when interpreting subjunctive forms in concessive environ-
ments. For details of this task, see Ahern, Amens-Pons and Guijarro-Fuentes (forthcoming).

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Metarepresentation and evidentiality in Spanish tense and mood 71

4. Conditionals

4.1 Tenses as procedural devices

Moeschler (1994,1998) and Nicolle (1997,1998) were the first to describe tenses
as procedural devices: they impose restrictions on the determination of tempo-
ral reference, as well as on the inferential processing of representations of states
and events. Contrastingly, eventualities were described as conceptual (Moeschler
1994): they have logical properties, are easily brought to consciousness and add to
the propositional content of the utterance.
It is assumed here that lexical categories can encode conceptual and/or proce-
dural meaning, while functional categories are always procedural (Escandell-Vidal
and Leonetti 2000,2011). Within this framework, grammatical aspect (unlike
eventuality types) is considered procedural, because it is, like tense, a functional
category. Thus, tense and grammatical aspect are procedural items that add to the
propositional content of utterances. Both ideas are compatible: the potential con-
tribution of an expression to the interpretation process is not constrained by the
type of linguistic meaning (conceptual or procedural) encoded in the expression
(Wilson and Sperber 1993).4
Building on Escandell-Vidal and Leonetti (2000,2011), we consider rigidity
as a basic property of procedural meaning (in contrast with conceptual meaning,
which is always adaptable and coercible).5 Tense and grammatical aspect are com-
plementary and do not conflict with each other. On the contrary, eventualities may
be subject to coercion in order to solve interpretive conflicts arising as a result of
combining dissimilar semantic notions, such as imperfective aspect and telicity.
Nevertheless, tenses do not carry specific information about how the proce-
dural instruction they contain may be accomplished (Leonetti 2004): there are,
indeed, different ways of satisfying the interpretive constraints of a procedural
expression. Thus, the stability of the semantic features of tenses contrasts with
their extreme adaptability at discourse level. This is easily accounted for by the RT
linguistic underdeterminacy thesis (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995; Smith 1990):
tenses can only locate temporal reference in a very general way, whereas establish-
ing concrete reference is a matter of contextual enrichment. The changing effects
associated with the use of each tense in different discourse environments are nat-
urally seen as distinct interpretations, stemming from the combination of a single
meaning with dissimilar contextual assumptions.

4. See Vetters and De Mulder (2000) and Vetters (2003) for a different view.
5. See Moeschler (2002) and Moeschler, Grisot and Cartoni (2012) for an alternative claim.

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72 Aoife Ahern, Jos Amens-Pons and Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes

4.2 imp-ind in Spanish: Metarepresentational capacities

The meaning of Imperfect Indicative (imp-ind) can be described, in procedural

terms, as an instruction for the hearer to represent an eventuality of any type as
unbounded, and to find a past frame to establish temporal reference.
Being imperfective, the imp-ind naturally selects atelic eventualities. When the
tense is combined with a telic event, it must be contextually interpreted as atelic,
through the means of coercion (De Swart 1998,2003; Egg 2005; Vicente 2010,
among others); coercion of telic events has been said to play a role in some prag-
matically marked interpretations of the tense, such as narrative use (Bres 2005) and
quotative readings based on prospectivity (Escandell-Vidal and Leonetti 2003).
Still, coercion is not necessarily indicative of telic events: habitual readings of
imp-ind (which may involve atelics) have also been analysed as cases of coercion
(Montrul and Slabakova 2002,2003; Bott 2010), because they force iterative inter-
pretations of single eventualities to make them compatible with a broad times-
pan, contextually acting as the referential framework. Habitual interpretations of
the imp-ind are frequent and pragmatically unmarked: unlike in narrative use,
imperfectivity is unequivocally preserved; unlike in quotative use, habituality is
generally compatible with factuality and pastness.
The procedural instruction contained in the imp-ind leaves open different
possibilities for identifying the appropriate referential frame: guided by expecta-
tions of relevance, the hearer will follow the path of least effort and choose the
(linguistically or pragmatically) available frame that is most compatible with the
assumptions that are part of the context. The meaning of the tense will be enriched
accordingly, in order to maximize suitable contextual effects.
Tenses do not operate on objective chronological coordinates, but on mental
representations. Therefore, it is only natural that, when the mental representation
of a past frame is not available, the tense may choose a metarepresentation (i.e., a
representation not mapped onto external reality, but onto another representation)
for referential purposes (Sthioul 1998; De Saussure 2000 and 2013; De Saussure
and Sthioul 1999 and 2005). In (3), (4) and (5) below, a metarepresentation is
exploited in each case for referential purposes; the situations in the imp-ind are
evoked as perceived by a contextually inferable subject, whose coordinates are
different from those of the speaker and the hearer:
(3) Yo era la princesa, t eras la reina.  (Gili Gaya 1943)
I was (imp-ind) the princess, you were (imp-ind) the queen.
(4) Quera pedirle un favor. (Gili Gaya 1943)
I wanted (imp-ind) to ask you a favour.

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Metarepresentation and evidentiality in Spanish tense and mood 73

(5) Sabes algo de Juan? No llegaba maana?

Do you know something about Juan? Wasnt he arriving (imp-ind) tomorrow?
Have you had any news from Juan? Wasnt he supposed to be arriving tomor-

Metarepresentational uses of the imp-ind are pragmatically marked cases. They

are only recognized when their contextual need is salient: in (3), it is manifest to
the speaker and the hearer than they are not, respectively, a princess and a queen;
(4) would normally be followed by a request, not related to the past, but to the
present or future; in (5), the tense does not directly indicate Juans arrival, but
some point in the past when his plans were expressed. Therefore, (3), (4) and (5)
share the presence of a contextual mismatch in the available cues (a past tense in a
non-past environment); constructing a metarepresentation is the most satisfying
way of solving the conflict, taking into account expectations of relevance.
In metarepresentational uses of the tense, the contextual unavailability of a past
framework is often highlighted by linguistic means, such as non-past adverbials
employed for reference (De Saussure and Sthioul 2005); this is the case of utterance
(5) above. Escandell-Vidal and Leonetti (2003) have found that the interpretation of
non-explicitly introduced quotative contents (as in (5)) is frequently related to the
simultaneous presence of: (a) a telic event in prospective imp-ind; (b) a focalised
temporal adverbial; (c) an event or a series of events that can be planned; (d) the fact
that the verb in the imp-ind is not in the first or in the second person.
Therefore, quotative readings like (5) are a particularly complex type of coerced
interpretation of the imp-ind, because they require combining (and making sense
of) imperfectivity, telicity and (apparent) non-pastness.6 Such interpretative con-
flict is solved by building an evidential reading of the tense. This highlights an
important fact: metarepresentational readings of the imp-ind are the result of a
last resort procedure that allows a plausible interpretation when there is no other
way to achieve it.
At this stage, an important fact must be recalled: metarepresentational use
of language does not necessarily involve the identification of a source (as stated in
Section2.1), but metarepresentational readings of the imp-ind are always attribution-
al.7 This clearly suggests that, as far as the imp-ind is concerned, such readings arise
from the contextual need of finding an appropriate referential frame for the tense.

6. Quotative intepretations of the imp-ind are also possible in past environments.

7. The attributed content is not always an actual utterance; it may merely be a thought. Its
source can be an entity different from the speaker, but it can also be the speaker at a differ-
ent time. In the remainder of the paper, attributional uses of imp-ind will be referred to as

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74 Aoife Ahern, Jos Amens-Pons and Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes

4.3 imp-ind and imp-subj in if-conditionals in Spanish

The antecedent of factual conditionals introduced by the conjunction si if , such

as (6) below, selects for the indicative mood; the consequent may take the indic-
ative or the imperative. Conversely, in irrealis conditionals, like (7), Imperfect
Subjunctive (imp-subj) is the standard tense in the antecedent and Conditional
(cond) is the most frequent tense in the consequent:
(6) Si llego tarde, mi padre me lleva al colegio.
IfI am (pres-ind) late, my father takes me (pres-ind) to school
(7) Si pudiera, me ira al Caribe. Las playas, el sol Qu rico! Qu ganas tengo
de que lleguen las vacaciones!
IfI could (imp-subj), Id go (cond) to the Caribbean. The beaches, the sun
how luxurious! Im just dying for the holidays!

In informal language, imp-ind can also be found in the consequent of irrealis con-
ditionals, instead of cond. Such alternation is typically connected to the expres-
sion of the speakers attitude: imp-ind adds an effect of emotional closeness (with
varying nuances depending on the context), due to the absence of the [+posteri-
ority] feature that is linked to the meaning of cond (Amens-Pons 2015).
In the antecedent of if-conditionals, imp-ind can have two different types of
interpretation: habitual and quotative-echoic, illustrated below in (8) and (9). The
choice between the two interpretations of the imp-ind is related to the tense used
in the consequent (imp or cond), but it also (and crucially) depends on the predi-
cate type and contextual assumptions. The antecedent of habitual conditionals
denotes stable or iterated situations in the past, while quotative-echoic condition-
als locate attributed past speech events. Therefore, both are factual, but in a clearly
different way:
(8) If+imp-ind+imd-ind Habitual interpretation.
Yo siempre tena vrtigo Si me trataban con medicina natural, yo creo que
era una medicina equivocada.
I always had vertigo IfI was being treated (imp-ind) with natural medicine,
I think it was (imp-ind) the wrong medicine.
(9) If+imp-ind+cond (or imp-ind) Quotative-echoic interpretation.
El programa electoral del Partido Ecologista estableca que si llegaba al gobi-
erno acabara (acababa) con la energa nuclear en menos de 20 aos.
The electoral programme of the Ecologist Party established that if they arrived
(imp-ind) to the government they would finish (finish imp-ind) nuclear energy
in less than 20 years
The electoral programme of the Ecologist Party established that if they got
into government they would put an end to nuclear energy in less than 20 years

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Metarepresentation and evidentiality in Spanish tense and mood 75

In the previous section, it was seen that habitual readings of the imp-ind are much
more widespread than quotative-echoic readings. Conditional environments are
no exception: quotative-echoic uses of the imp-ind in if-clauses need a much
richer array of contextual cues. Such readings are often highlighted by linguistic
means, not unlike those found in other quotative-echoic cases; typically, the ante-
cedent involves (a) a unique telic event in imp-ind, (b) the tense receives a pro-
spective interpretation, (c) the utterances contain events that can be planned, and
(d) the imp-ind is not in the first or in the second person (Amens-Pons 2015).
In the consequent of quotative-echoic if-constructions, use of the imp-ind
instead of cond is a frequent option in oral language, with the same effect of emo-
tional closeness that is found in irrealis cases (with imp-subj in the antecedent).
By contrast, the imp-ind is compulsory in the consequent of habitual if-condi-
tionals. Thus, in irrealis and quotative-echoic environments, using an imp-ind in
the consequent adds a supplementary effect to the interpretation. Conversely, in
habitual conditionals, such effect does not exist, because there is no possibility of
alternation (only the imp-ind is grammatical).

4.4 Interpreting if-conditionals in Spanish: Our data

As seen in the previous section, a clause containing if+imp-subj is always inter-

preted as irrealis, while a clause including if+imp-ind can have different inter-
pretations, depending on discourse constraints. If the claims mentioned earlier
regarding interface integration in language acquisition (2.3) are correct, inter-
preting quotative-echoic uses of the imp-ind in the antecedent of if-conditional
clauses would be particularly costly for L2 learners; some extra difficulty would
also be expected when imp-ind is used instead of cond in the consequent of such
clauses; such effects would also be apparent for L1 speakers.
To enquire into these issues, our participants completed an interpretation
task (see Sections1 and 3.2 above) containing, in addition to the concessive items,
twenty if-conditional multiple choice items in randomized order. As in the case
of the although-concessive items, three answer options were given for each item,
each one describing a different type of interpretation (quotative-echoic, habitual
or irrealis). The participants included groups of L1 French and L1 English learn-
ers, as well as an L1 Spanish control group, as set forth in Section1.8

8. Neither French nor English allow mood alternation in the antecedent of if-conditional con-
structions; use of imp-ind in the consequent (instead of cond) is also much more restricted in
French and English than in Spanish. Therefore, French and English have parallel possibilities,
which are different from those existing in Spanish.

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76 Aoife Ahern, Jos Amens-Pons and Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes

Table2 displays the distribution of the conditional items in the task, including
an example of each item type. The results obtained are shown in Figure2.

Table2. Conditional items

Items 14 If+imp-ind+cond
El programa electoral del Partido Ecologista estableca que, si llegaba al gobierno,
acabara con la energa nuclear en menos de 20 aos.
The electoral programme of the Ecologist Party established that if they got into

government they would put an end to nuclear energy in less than 20 years.
Items 58 If+imp-ind+imp-ind
Era una situacin muy comprometida: si aprobaba aquella ley se creaba un conflicto con
todos los dems pases; si no la aprobaba, se creaba un conflicto con la extrema derecha
It was a no-win situation: if they approved that law, a conflict would be created (imp-
ind) with all the other countries; if they didnt approve it, a conflict was created with the
Republican far right.
Items 912 If+imp-ind+imp-ind

Yo siempre tena vrtigo Si me trataban con medicina natural, yo creo que era una
medicina equivocada.
I always had vertigo If they treated me with natural medicines, I think it was the
wrong medicines.
Items 1316 If+imp-subj+cond
Me gusta mucho la poltica, tengo una gran vocacin. Por eso, si le dijera que me voy a
retirar pronto, le engaara.
I like politics a lot, its my vocation. Thats why, if I said Im going to retire soon, Id be
deceiving you.

Items 1720 If+imp-subj+imp-ind

Si pudiera, me iba al Caribe. Las playas, el sol Qu rico! Qu ganas tengo de que
lleguen las vacaciones.
IfI could, Id go (imp-ind) to the Caribbean. The beaches, the sun how luxurious! Im
just dying for the holidays!

As predicted, items 14 and 58 (quotative-echoic uses of imp-ind) were the most

difficult subset for both L1 groups: 73% answers in items 14 were correct for the
L1 French group, and 74% for the L1 English group; 73% in items 58 for the
French group and 78% for the English group. Differences between both groups of
learners and the control group are statistically significant (L1 French/ Control,
p=0.001; L1 English/ Control, p=0.020 in the T-Tests). In contrast, items 1316
were the easiest for both experimental groups, with 95% correct answers for the
French group and 93% for the English group. Differences between the experi-
mental groups and the control group are not significant (p>0.05 in the ANOVA).

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Metarepresentation and evidentiality in Spanish tense and mood 77






to to to to to

L French: Item difficulty value (mean) L English: Item difficulty value (mean)
Control: Item difficulty value (mean)

Figure2. Results by groups of conditional items

In the L2 groups, the effect of using imp-ind instead of cond in the consequent
was not stable: in the quotative-echoic imp-ind construction, there is no signifi-
cant difference for any of the experimental groups; the utilization of imp instead
of cond does not significantly alter the accuracy of the answers. Yet a significant
increase in difficulty is found for the utterances with irrealis imp-subj: conse-
quents with imp-ind are harder for both groups (for the L1 French group, if items
1316 are compared to items 1720, p=0.046 in the T-Tests; for the L1 English
group, p=0.005).
In the control group, changing the tense of the consequent does not modify
the accuracy of the answers. However, native speakers do not always give correct
answers: 100% accuracy is only approached for items 1320, that is, for the groups
of items that dont involve any type of coercion.
In contrast, the fact that both groups of learners have little difficulty with
items 912 (which do involve coercion) might be due to the type of coercion itself
(see Section4.2), although further research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

5. Empirical findings and conclusions

In the previous sections, two different types of metarepresentional use of lan-

guage have been described: it has been argued that, in although-concessive utter-
ances, metarepresentations result from the encoded semantics of the subj mood;
conversely, in if-conditional constructions, metarepresentational readings arise
only as the result of complex contextual enrichment of the imp-ind, when inter-
preting an utterance under specific constraints, combining semantic and prag-
matic information.

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78 Aoife Ahern, Jos Amens-Pons and Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes

Metarepresentations do not always involve evidentiality. When interpreting

the subj in concessives, the evidential source may be identified as attributive (to
an external source), but not necessarily so; contrastingly, all the metarepresenta-
tional uses of the imp-ind in conditionals are attributive. This implies that two
different processes are at stake.
Turning to our empirical data, in the two types of constructions considered
here, the performances of two groups of advanced L2 learners and a group of L1
speakers in interpreting metarepresentational and non-metarepresentational use
of each linguistic expression have been compared. An essential question underlies
our study: does metarepresentational use of language always involve an increase
in processing effort, or does processing effort vary based on whether it is rooted in
semantics, as opposed to arising from inferential interpretation processes?
If the varying degree of success in our task is an indicator of processing effort,
it must be concluded that the primary locus of difficulty is not metarepresenta-
tional vs. non-metarepresentational use, but the changing complexity of interface
integration. In the type of if-conditional items described here, the most difficult
subset was the quotative-echoic imp-ind group. In our conditional items, both
the subj and the quotative imp-ind were metarepresentational; however, the
interpretation of the former was systematically linked to the representation of
unreality or potentiality, while the recognition of the latter required taking into
account a complex array of indicators, both linguistic and pragmatic. Indeed, L1
speakers proved to be faster and more efficient than the L2 groups,9 but what we
consider to be an interface effect was also found in the control group.
On the other hand, in the although-concessive items, the subj subset was the
most difficult, both for the L1 and for the L2 speakers: unlike in if-conditional
environments, interpreting the subj form in concessive utterances may generate a
wide range of diverse effects, depending on contextual assumptions.
Thus, what the findings presented suggest is that metarepresentational use of
language increases processing effort (both in L1 and L2) in those cases where it is
heavily reliant on complex interface integration. The effort is not directly linked
to the kind of interpretation obtained, but to the type mental processes involved.
In Spanish, evidentiality is not encoded as such in the subj mood, nor in the imp-
ind: it is an interface phenomenon. Therefore, within metarepresentations, those
related to evidentiality will tend to be a particularly difficult type to interpret. It
is hoped that further studies may lead to consolidating these claims, in particular

9. The L1 English speakers self-reported the largest amount of time to complete the task
(mean 41 minutes); the French L1 group (mean 38 minutes), used a slightly, though not signifi-
cantly, shorter amount of time. Finally, the Spanish L1 control group used significantly less time
(mean 26 minutes) than the groups of learners.

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Metarepresentation and evidentiality in Spanish tense and mood 79

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