Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

An Investigation of Discourse Markers in English

Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

An Investigation of Discourse Markers in English

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

Semantic connectives have long been a focus of research in cognitive and language development. Such connectives as so, because, and but encode causal and adversative relations among events and create textual cohesion (Halliday and Hasan, 1976). Recently, however, researchers have been examining other types of relations that need to be encoded in discourse. Deborah Schiffrin (1987), for example, has focused on 'discourse markers (DMs)', a broader category of connective or relational forms than semantic connectives. Discourse markers are "linguistic, paralinguistic, or nonverbal elements that signal relations between units of talk by virtue of their syntactic and semantic properties and by virtue of their sequential relations as initial or terminal brackets demarcating discourse units" (Schiffrin, 1987: 40). During everyday communication, speakers use discourse markers a lot.

Since the 1970s interest in DMs has increased with growing interest in the production and comprehension of extended discourse and, more generally, in pragmatic and contextual aspects of utterance interpretation. During the past ten years, the study of DMs has explored in linguistics, with dozens of articles appearing yearly. This broadening of interest brought about increased attention to those elements of linguistic structure that appear to be most directly involved in the relation of separate utterances. Within this new perspective many elements in sentence-based linguistic research have been paid more attention, including many expressions, such as well, and y'know, etc. which had previously been regarded as unworthy of close attention. Research on DMs has expanded continually throughout the 1980s and 1990s because it was found that they have prominent role, not only in pragmatic and discourse analytic research but also in studies of language acquisition and language pedagogy, and in research on sociolinguistic topics. Within the past ten years or so there has been an increasing interest in the theoretical status of DMs, focusing on what they are, what they mean, and what functions they have.

The analysis of discourse markers is part of the more general analysis of discourse coherence-how speakers and hearers jointly integrate forms, meaning, and actions to make overall sense out of what is said. (Schiffrin, 1987: 49)

Innovation in language affects all areas of society. A case in point is a number of discourse/pragmatic markers in the English language which have gained considerable attention in recent years, from the media, educationalists and linguists alike.

1.1 Similar Terminologies

There are different terminologies including discourse connectives (Blakemore, 1987, 1992), discourse operators (Redeker, 1990, 1991), discourse particles (Schorup, 1985), discourse signaling devices (Polanyi and Scha, 1983), phatic connectives (Bazanella, 1990), pragmatic connectives (van Dijk, 1979; Stubbs, 1983), pragmatic expressions (Erman, 1992), pragmatic formatives (Fraser, 1987), pragmatic markers (Fraser, 1988, 1990; Schiffrin, 1987), pragmatic operators (Ariel, 1994), pragmatic particles (Ostman, 1995), semantic conjuncts (Quirk et al., 1985), sentence connectives (Halliday and Hasan, 1976). (As cited in Fraster, 1999)

Despite the quantity of research in this area, however, no consensus has emerged regarding fundamental issues of terminology and classification. The term DM used in this paper is the most popular of all those terms used. Brinton (1996) lists more than twenty such terms. A close second in frequency of occurrence is the term discourse particle (DP) which predominated until the mid 1980s, but in this paper discourse marker is preferable.

1.2 Discourse markers

Many language learners' primary goal of language learning experiences is 'grammatical' language, which is the accurate usage of syntax, phonology, morphology, and semantics. As Svartik notes, language learners may be corrected for using non-standard morphology but will not be corrected for using a discourse marker in an inappropriate place, even if the lack of that marker taints the learner's talk as somehow deficient (1980, in Muller, 2004; cf. …

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