Universiteit Leiden

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LUCL Colloquium

  • Martin Hilpert
19 april 2018
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

Sarcastic much?

Martin Hilpert (Université de Neuchâtel), Sarcastic much?

It is a basic tenet of usage-based construction grammar that long-term linguistic changes originate from processes that are at work in actual communicative situations. So far, however, relatively little work on constructional change addresses either the dialogical nature of language or the social context in which a particular construction is used. In this talk, I will focus on these issues by discussing the development of a pattern that I will call the sarcastic much? construction:

 (1)      A: And, Zython, I don’t care what you fucking think – when you do think, that is. Shove off, punk.

            B: Geeze, angry much? All I did was demonstrate why your points were wrong.

(2)       As a woman who loves baseball, I’m a little insulted by the suggestion that women won’t read a book just because it has something to do with sports! Stereotype much?

The sarcastic much? construction conveys a critical or sarcastic meaning, often in response to an utterance by someone else (Adams 2014). This critical meaning is non-compositional, i.e. not fully derivable from the meaning of the parts of the construction. Its pivotal and obligatory component is the adverb much, which marks the right edge of the construction. Functionally, sarcastic much? is not a request for information, but rather an interactional challenge: A previous statement or behavior is called out as being open to criticism or ridicule. In example (1), writer B’s use of angry much? conveys the point that writer A’s abrasive comments were inappropriate in the context of that online discussion. In example (2), the writer explicitly critiques a previous comment as drawing on a stereotype. The construction thus exemplifies what Brône and Zima (2014) call a dialogical unit.

            The sarcastic much? construction is a relatively recent phenomenon that is nonetheless well-documented in web-based corpora such as the GLOWBE corpus (Davies 2013) and that thus affords a rare look at constructional change in real time. Using data from corpora and YouTube videos, it will be shown that sarcastic much? is currently on a trajectory across a widening set of communicative contexts and dialogical functions.


Adams, Michael. 2014. Slang in new media. A case study. In Julie Coleman (ed.), Global English slang. Methodologies and perspectives, 175–186. London: Routledge.

Brône, Geert & Elisabeth Zima. 2014. Towards a dialogic construction grammar. A corpus-based approach to ad hoc routines and resonance activation. Cognitive Linguistics 25(3). 457–495.

Davies, Mark. 2013. Corpus of Global Web-based English: 1.9 billion words from speakers in 20 countries (GloWbE). Available online at http://corpus.byu.edu/glowbe/.

Practical information

Tea and coffee from 15h30. Talk at 16h00, followed by drinks in the LUCL common room.