What? Me, lie?

The Form and Reading of the Incredulity Response Construction

  • Konrad Szcześniak
  • Małgorzata Pachoł


In the present study, we focus on the formal properties of the Incredulity Response Construction (IRC) and attempt to point out that they provide clues to help establish the interpretation of this closed-class form. While many previous studies stressed the construction’s idiosyncratic properties which have been held up as arguments in favor of its special construction status, we wish to argue that although the IRC is a construction with a clear meaning, its form and function are not as idiosyncratic, irregular, or unpredictable as they are portrayed in the literature. Indeed, the formal and functional properties of the IRC fit well within traditional characterizations of items located on the syntactic side of the lexicon-syntax continuum. We will attempt to demonstrate that the form of the construction is an iconic representation of its reading. Additionally, we question the reading itself, arguing that the incredulity that gave rise to the construction’s very name is not its semantic contribution. Instead, we propose a more general meaning of incongruousness or “cognitive dissonance”.