The term "pragmatic strengthening" has been tossed around in a lot of papers I've been looking at for a project I'm doing on idioms, and I can't seem to find a simple definition anywhere. Is anyone familiar with this, or could point me to some explanatory materials?

  • Hello roflatreiko... Are you asking for a definition or for references? Or both?
    – Alenanno
    May 30, 2012 at 19:19
  • Sorry, to clarify: a definition would be great, to get me started. May 30, 2012 at 19:24
  • I was asking because, in that case you can add the reference-request tag. :) Just make sure your question is clear, you can edit it, as always.
    – Alenanno
    May 30, 2012 at 19:27
  • It sounds like a common term of art, otherwise known as ingroup jargon. The problem is that "Strengthening" is an awfully common metaphor in linguistic theories, and has been used to refer in the literature to (at least) vocal tensing; stress placement; syllabic weight; morphological augmentation like guṇa, vṛḍḍhi, or thematic vowels; auxiliary-creating syntactic phenomena like Do-Support; semantic emphasizers like hot, cool, baaaad; and Gricean-predicted heightened social/emotive presuppositions or outcomes of speech act. A lot depends on the field; STRONG/WEAK is a busy metaphor.
    – jlawler
    May 30, 2012 at 21:08

1 Answer 1


"Pragmatic strengthening" refers to a situation of ambiguity in the meaning of an utterance, where pragmatic inferences about that utterance serve to strengthen one interpretation. This strengthening can continue to the point where a secondary meaning becomes the default. Pragmatic strengthening is an important process in language change and grammaticalisation as, over time, it can lead to changes in default meaning.

Some references are an early article by Elizabeth Traugott, the Handbook of Pragmatics and Pragmatics and the Flexibitily of Word Meaning.

  • This was exactly what I was looking for, thank you! May 31, 2012 at 21:48

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