Alternative Histories of English

By Richard Watts; Peter Trudgill | Go to book overview

11

Discourse markers in EarlyModern English

Andreas H. Jucker

Introduction

1

The following extract is taken from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor (MWW):

(11.1)

Evans:

But that is not the question: the question is concerning your marriage.

Shallow:

Ay, there's the point, sir.

Evans:

Marry, is it; the very point of it - to Mistress Anne Page.

Slender:

Why, if it be so, I will marry her upon any reasonable demands.

(MWW I.i.220-226) 2

Words such as marry and why at the beginning of the third and fourth utterance, in the way they are used here, are discourse markers. It is difficult to say what exactly they mean, and it is difficult to translate them into other languages. They are part of the interaction between the two speakers. In some sense they convey the speaker's attitude towards what is going on at the moment. Marry is a mild oath; it emphasises the utterance in which it occurs. And why conveys the speaker's surprise at the previous utterance.

There is extensive research literature on discourse markers in Present Day English, but so far only a few studies have been devoted to their historical development. This has several reasons. Such elements are typical of the spoken rather than the written language. As such they are less likely to occur in historical data. Moreover, research into the history of English has tended to focus on pronunciation, the structure of words and the structure of sentences, but not on the communicative aspects of the language and on the interaction between speakers of the language.

However, many discourse markers are regularly attested in several types of historical data. In the Early Modern English period, they are particularly common in plays, fiction and trial records. These genres have in common that they represent spoken language in a written form. Plays consist entirely or almost entirely of dialogues to be spoken by actors. In fiction, authors

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