Little Words: Their History, Phonology, Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics, and Acquisition

By Ronald P. Leow; Héctor Campos et al. | Go to book overview

14
The Pragmatics of the French Discourse
Markers donc and alors

STÉPHANIE PELLET

Wake Forest University

SPOKEN FRENCH relies heavily on a vast array of discourse markers, small words that help speakers in situating discourse at the referential, structural, interpersonal, and cognitive levels (Maschler 1998) and illustrating the import of pragmatics in interactions. This study focuses on the two French discourse markers donc and alors (both equivalent to the English so in some contexts) in native speaker conversations. Highly frequent in spontaneous speech, donc and alors represent important means of managing conversation. While several studies have shown that donc and alors express various discourse functions, the underlying assumption has been that they both broadly express consequence (i.e., conclusions and results), as in (1):

(1)[nf1speaks about her lack of experience with the American way of life]1
NF1:J'suis pas là d'puis longtemps alors / donc y'a des choses
NF1:I've not been here for very long, so. there are things

In this utterance, taken from the native corpus used for the study, there is no way of saying, from the outset, that either discourse marker is preferable. In fact, past research emphasizes the functional overlap between alors and donc. According to Hansen (1997), the fact that the two markers may occur together indicates “partially overlapping distributions” (162). Barnes (1998) also sees common discourse functions between alors and donc. In her second language (L2) study, she asserts that “donc and alors mark a relation of consequence or a discourse transition” (193); specifically, “both alors and donc may mark a shift from one level of the discourse to another, for example, from descriptive background or commentary to the main story line” (193). For Barnes, donc and alors are so functionally identical that, at least in this second language acquisition (SLA) research, she collapses them into one category: marking consequence and transition. Finally, in a Canadian French L2 study, Rehner (2002) grouped together donc, alors, ça fait que (an expression typical of this variety of French), and so, suggesting that they are form-function equivalents. In fact, she assigns the same function labels to donc and alors (organizational/transitional, clarification/expansion, turn-yielding signal, emphasizer, and punctor).

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