Discourse markers in English: a discourse-pragmatic view

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Discourse markers in English: a discourse-pragmatic view


Diana M. Lewis
0. Introduction
0.1. Approach
A glance at a sample of English spontaneous conversation is likely to find it peppered with expressions such as well, I mean, so, in fact, though, of course, anyway, actually, on the other hand, commonly described as discourse particles or discourse markers.1 Although they have attracted particular attention from linguists working on the spoken language, these and similar expressions permeate written language too.
This chapter takes the view that the discoursal use of the expressions mentioned above is part of the wider phenomenon of speakers' attitudes towards the ideas they express. The study of discourse markers is therefore a part of the study of modal and metatextual comment, and is best approached under the rubric of discourse structure. Our discussion of the meaning of discourse markers will defend a panchronic view of sense spectra; that is, the view that the synchronic senses of a polysemous lexeme map earlier and ongoing functional splits.
The English data are drawn mostly from synchronic and diachronic corpora, with a few constructed examples.
0.2. Problems

The many recent studies of individual discourse-marking expressions, often based on corpus data, have provided valuable insights into the phenomenon. Nonetheless, our understanding of discourse markers is still sketchy. First, the category itself is poorly defined: a plethora of category labels refers to overlapping groups of expressions. Do the sorts of expression that have been dubbed discourse markers form a natural class or are they, rather, a collection of misfits? This problem of definition is addressed in section 1. Second, there has been uncertainty over how to characterize discourse marker meanings, and this has sometimes led to claims that these are purely pragmatic. What, if any, are the semantic values of discourse markers? Why are the forms used for discourse marking so typically polyfunctional? The semantic field of discourse marking and the striking polyfunctionality of many relevant expressions are discussed in section 2. Section 3 argues that discourse markers must be understood in the light of their historical development. There follows an overview of the discourse-pragmatic approach and of the implications of discourse marker studies for the semantics-pragmatics interface.

1. Natural class or misfits?
Definitions of discourse markers have often been couched in negative terms: markers are said to be non-propositional, to contribute nothing to truth-conditional meaning, to have little or no semantic value, to be outside the syntax of the sentence, to be optional elements, etc. Such negative characterizations risk creating a ragbag class of leftovers. Yet there is no reason to suppose that the expressions that typically function as markers are so exceptional.
First, distributional analysis and substitution tests of particular discourse marking expressions clearly reveal that they have conventional meanings that are part of our knowledge of our language. Discourse markers are not devoid of semantic content, if by that we understand conventional or coded meaning.
Second, there is no reason why discourse markers should be exempt from syntactic analysis, as is sometimes suggested. If there appears to be no place for discourse markers in certain syntactic models, this does not mean that they are 'outside' syntactic structure; rather, it means either that they are not a syntactic category, or that our syntactic models are inadequate. English expressions commonly categorized as markers can usually be described as sub-types of sentence adverbial, parentheticals, conjunctions or transparent predicates, all of which must surely be accounted for by any adequate syntactic theory.2

The motivation for bringing syntactically diverse expressions together under the 'discourse marker' label is nevertheless the observation of form-function regularity: similarity of discourse function and similarity of structure. Relevant forms may be used for discourse marking to varying degrees. In English, 'discourse marker' refers to a range of form-function mappings, rather than to a closed set of forms. English 'discourse marker' in the approach described here is a label for an expression that combines the semantics of discourse-relational predications with syntactic dependency on a clausal host and low informational salience. Discourse markers are defined by these discourse-semantic, syntactic and information-structural parameters.

2. The semantics of discourse marking
2.1. Rhetorical management
Examples (1) to (3) illustrate the discourse-marking expressions in fact
, after all, well and anyway.3 Example (1) shows a claim that something was successful, followed by a measure of its success.
(1) The JREI4 .. has proved to be an outstanding success. | In fact, the JREI has been so successful that [...] it is to be an annual event (elaboration)

(Speech by John Battle, British Minister for Science, Energy and Industry, 17 March 1998)


The discourse marker in fact indicates that what follows is an elaboration of the previous idea.
In (2), Moby's limited experience of the outside world is presented as justification for believing that his behaviour is only a phase. In other words, the second argument is presented as justifying the belief expressed in the first segment.6
(2) We're sure Moby's behaviour is simply a phase. | After all, he's only been experiencing the outside world since his vaccination course was completed a few weeks ago (justification)

(Dogs Today, August 1991, BNC5-A17)

The discourse marker after all provides this link from the second segment to the status of the first segment, which in this case is expressed overtly by we're sure. In the justification relation, a belief or a claim is justified by citing an idea that is both strongly compatible with and more certain than that belief. The host of after all must therefore be an assertion,7 while the related segment is acknowledged by the speaker to be questionable: it usually either contains a modal qualification or is evaluative. The speaker's strategy is to bolster the hearer's acceptance of the first idea (or of the right of the speaker to say it) by citing the second: the strong compatibility of the two ideas suggests that if the second is true, the first is probably true too. The nature of the relation thus accounts for constraints on the types of segments that can be related by a particular marker: in this case, a relatively uncertain idea must be followed by a more certain one.

In (3), a similar speaker strategy is at work, but aimed this time at reducing the hearer's belief in the first segment.
(3) yeah .. we allow dogs in here ... | well you've managed to get one in anyway (retreat)

(Dogs Today, August 1991, BNC-A17)


Well, like after all, introduces a compatible idea that is presented as undisputed. But it is either a narrower claim than the first, or a tangential claim. Anyway also emphasizes both the validity of the second idea and its independence from the first claim. The two arguments of the relation are thus a claim followed by a narrower claim in the same field. The relation is described above as a retreat. It might also be labelled a reformulation. Without the markers, the second segment 'you've managed to get one in' might be interpreted as exemplification of or evidence for the allowing of dogs. It does provide evidence, but the discourse markers indicate that the evidence is not conclusive.8 Other expressions that can signal the retreat relation are actually, as in (4) and at least, as in (5):
(4) You may never have heard of the "postmodernist" challenge to history; [...] | but you will surely delight in this exhibition of a superb professional historian seeing it off. | Actually, it is slightly unfair to say that Professor Evans "sees off" postmodernism, ..

(Electronic Telegraph, 27 September 1997)

(5) Many years later they become lovers | - at least, it is dimly possible to construe the text in that way.

(The Sunday Times, 19 October 1997)

The identification of a discourse marker category stems from the intuition that discourse relations such as those above have something in common and that the relational meanings make up a coherent semantic space.
For a relation to work, there must be some common ground or congruence between two ideas, and in the case of rhetorical relations, this level is the status -- the validity, accuracy or strength -- of the related arguments. Rhetorical relations are essentially persuasive and include sequences such as the above claim + elaboration, claim + justification and claim + retreat.
Although any list of relations -- and many have been proposed -- will necessarily be somewhat arbitrary, extensive text analysis can provide a working model of the conceptual space of discourse relations. The approach taken here for the description of relational meanings is based on rhetorical structure theory (RST) (Mann & Thompson 1987). The relevant advantage of RST is that it identifies both signalled and non-signalled relations. It builds its picture of relations not from the semantics of connectives and discourse markers, but from interpretations of whole texts.9 If a text is coherent, its segments will all be related. Moreover, RST is open-ended rather than taxonomic: it allows the relational space to be described in a more finely-grained or more coarsely-grained way. And it allows for embedded relations.

As noted above, the types of arguments that can be related by a particular marker are constrained by the relation associated with that marker, i.e. the marker's semantics. On the other hand, it is the types of arguments that a given expression typically links that allow us to identify the meaning of the marker in the first place. To mitigate this circularity and to appreciate the role of discourse marking in discourse construction and interpretation in general, we need a wider view of the field of discourse relations. A 'bottom-up', or semasiological approach, based on analysis of individual expressions and texts, suggests a range of discourse-relational meanings. An initial description of this range then enables us to take a 'top-down' or onomasiological approach, based on identifying how relations are expressed. Alternating these approaches and working across different languages should enable us to refine our model of the conceptual space of discourse relations. We can then better appreciate differences and similarities among markers, and draw comparisons with other means of expressing discourse relations. For instance, it was seen above that in English the expressions at least, anyway, actually and well have in common that they can express an epistemic retreat. Yet these expressions overlap only partially -- they are far from interchangeable in other contexts.

To test the intuition that inter-ideational relations constitute a coherent area of conceptual space, we need to identify the parameters along which relations vary, and describe the space they occupy.10 Relations seem to describe either a similarity or a dissimilarity between the arguments, i.e. to be either consonant or dissonant. Consonant relations, such as elaboration, evidence, justification, reinforce the status of the related segment based on the presupposition of consonance, or close compatibility of ideas. Dissonant relations, such as contrast, retreat, concession, etc., point to some incompatibility between ideas.

Another parameter may be degree of subjectivity (and intersubjectivity). The opposition set up in example (9) between 'cut and dried .. sorted out, ..' and 'flexible .. spontaneous ..' is somewhat subjective.


(9) now the erm judging people want everything to be .. well they prefer to have everything cut and dried .. sorted out .. closed off .. decided ... they don't like ambiguity or loose ends ... at all ... the perceiving people on the other hand .. want to be flexible .. spontaneous .. and responsive

(Careers guidance seminar, recorded March 1993, BNC-G3Y)


Example (10) involves a much more objective contrast: that between 'dated' and 'up to date .. state of the art'.

(10) so it wouldn't have struck anybody in nineteen thirteen as in any way dated ... on the contrary .. it would've seemed a very very up to date .. state of the art .. kind of book

(Lecture, London School of Economics, recorded December 1993, BNC-HUH)

These are typical contexts for the markers on the other hand and on the contrary respectively. Speakers can exploit the fact that on the other hand encodes a subjective contrast, while on the contrary encodes an objective one.
Degree of speaker commitment is a possible further dimension. It was seen in example (2), for instance, that the justification relation normally involves two claims of differing strengths, and that after all signals strong speaker commitment. Other relations involve different configurations of speaker commitment. The views of discourse-relational space that can be built up in this way allow for cross-linguistic comparisons.
2.2. Information structuring
Most discourse relations involve an asymmetry between the related ideas: one is presented as more salient, more foregrounded, than the other. Discourse markers also therefore often assume an information structuring role. In fact, indicating the information structure is a main function of many markers. The role of discourse markers in foregrounding or backgrounding their host ideas can be seen in the above examples (1-3), repeated here in Figure 1. In each case the discourse marker introduces the less salient idea. (An arrowhead points to a ‘nuclear’ idea, the tail of the arrow a ‘satellite’ idea related to it.)
@@INSERT FIGURE 1 HERE
2.3. The multi-functionality of discourse markers
Example (11) shows just three of the common uses of English anyway.

(11) a. And I was wrong. | Adams's coming to the States did crack the ice floe, | [...], and Protestants and Catholics are talking. | Would they have talked anyway?

(The Irish Times, 7 February 1998)

b. There is an apocryphal saying by an actor. | (I think it's apocryphal; | I've never met him, anyway) (retreat)

(The Irish Times, 9 May 1998)

c. Thoreau's lonely hut was actually in the Emersons' wood-lot. | Anyway, there they all were, | these anti-slavery, pro-simplicity, serious New Englanders (topic resumption)

(The Independent, 24 November 1993)


In (11a), anyway is not speaker-oriented but external. Its interpretation is 'if Adams had not come to the States'. It is a VP adverb in focus. In (11b), anyway is speaker-oriented and relational. It has its own tone group and is sentence-adverbial. It signals an epistemic retreat, in that the anyway segment weakens the status of the previous segments. A claim ('the saying is apocryphal') is followed by a weakened claim (‘I think’) and then by a narrower claim presented as definitely true ('I've never met the person concerned'). The claim 'I've never met him' is only incomplete evidence for the saying being apocryphal (cf. example (3)), therefore the speaker cannot maintain the first claim. In written language, the anyway host often appears in brackets, as here, emphasizing its relatively backgrounded informational status (cf. at least). Anyway in (11c) is also speaker-oriented and relational. But this time it is discourse-organizational and indicates the resumption of the main topic line after a digression.

Many discourse-marking expressions are multi-functional in the same way as anyway. What is the relation between these various meanings? How might the expressions and their semantic values be represented in the mental lexicon? Three main approaches have been suggested: (i) the homonymy approach -- there are two or more quite separate senses; (ii) the pragmatic (or monosemy) approach -- the form has a single core semantics and the different interpretations reflect pragmatic ambiguity that is resolved by the context; (iii) the polysemy approach -- the form has two or more related meanings. I shall argue that this third view is better motivated than the first or second views. However, insights are to be gained from considering all three approaches.
A radical homonymy analysis looks implausible. The types of ambiguity that can arise between, for example, the different uses of so or anyway do not seem comparable with classic homonym ambiguities such as 'She brought me a box' (plant vs. container: the common origin of the two senses in Lat. buxus has long since been obscured). The polyfunctionality of discourse-marking expressions is far from random, as shown by the regularities observable in their development by subjectification from lexemes of certain kinds. The sense distinctions of so, anyway and so on very often have corresponding intonational and/or structural distinctions. They are intuitively more akin to derivational drifts between pairs such as awful-awfully. Yet we cannot rule out homonomy solely on the grounds of semantic overlap and identity of form: from this linguistic evidence we cannot infer a single representation in the mental lexicon. As described below, at some point (for individual speakers) diverging senses can lose their apparent relatedness and become homonyms. But before that point is reached, uses of a form may still be perceived by speakers as related without being necessarily predictable from one another.

The pragmatic (or monosemy) view holds that "a single semantics is pragmatically applied in different ways according to pragmatic context" (Sweetser 1990: 76). It has long been noted that ideas may be related either in the external socio-physical world or by the speaker.11 This is the distinction made in section 1, where discourse markers were defined as speaker-oriented, expressing subjective views on relationships between ideas. A relational expression cannot be used to express simultaneously both external and speaker-oriented relations. The differences are illustrated in (12) (constructed examples):

(12) a. It's not green, but red.

[external relation based on real-world incompatibility: red implies not green]


b. I like red, | but my sister likes blue.

[speaker-defined relation based on presupposed incongruity between two ideas]


c. J's going away next month, | but you probably knew that.

[speaker-defined relation based on presupposed incongruity between informing

hearer of X and hearer knowing X already]
Whereas in (12a) the object cannot be both red and green, there is no inherent incompatibility in (12b) or (12c). The 'single sense, pragmatic ambiguity' view suggests that but retains the same core sense of contrast or adversativity in all three instances and is correctly interpreted in each case by pragmatic inference from the context.
While this analysis appears to work well for these but examples, problems arise for some expressions. One problem is the way meanings are realized across the domains. Although it implies a pragmatic paradigm, the pragmatic view does not explain the gaps in the paradigm. Some expressions can be used only to signal a speaker-oriented relation. For instance, after all can only introduce a reason for a speaker's stance and cannot indicate an external causal link (13a), while because/'cos can do either (13a,b). Where there may be ambiguity, both can occur (13c).
(13) a. then when they got older .. me dad sort of took our John on .. because our John were more mechanical minded .. and our Colin got pushed out a bit .. 'cos/*after all our Colin weren't interested in cars

(Conversation, recorded February 1992, BNC-KB1)

b. I think the Queen's done an excellent job … | 'cos/after all she was put in that job when she was only a young girl (justification) (‘cos in original)

(Television discussion: 'The Royals', BNC-FLE)

c. I gave mum thirty five pound because after all you know .. I think she needs it

(Conversation, recorded April 1992, BNC-KDN)

It is not clear why there might be domain-independent senses that were blocked for use in one domain or another. In other words, the 'single core sense' model does not explain why there is no apparent synchronic productivity. It is not rare, cross-linguistically, for the same type of relation in two different domains to be expressed by two different lexemes. All these observations suggest a semantic rather than a pragmatic difference.
Another problem is how to define the core sense of an expression. The pragmatic approach implies that a knowledge of the core sense plus an interpretation of the host discourse segment must be adequate to interpret a discourse marker token. It is relatively easy to posit some core sense for most lexemes used for discourse-marking. Yet the salience of that sense, and the degree to which it would need to be enriched by inferencing in order to interpret particular instances, vary greatly across lexemes. This variation can be illustrated by anyway, at least and in fact.
In the case of anyway (example 11 above), the sense of 'whatever the case / independently / whether or not' is clearly common across the three main uses. The examples can be paraphrased as follows: whether or not Adams had come (11a), whether or not 'it's apocryphal' is true (11b), whether or not I said the foregoing (11c). To arrive at the appropriate interpretation of anyway, the reader need only identify whether the related argument is the external situation described, the epistemic status of a proposition expressed, or a chunk of discourse.
But some forms have far less transparently related uses. An example is at least (14).

(14) a. it goes on until at least nine thirty or ten [external]

(Conversation, recorded April 1992, BNC-KCH)

b. Charles is a stick in the mud | and the other one's the other way .. seems to be the other way inclined | .. at least she won't .. won't be er short of a bob or two will she? [speaker-oriented, evaluative]

(Conversation, recorded March 1992, BNC-KCL)

c. but things seem to be moving a little bit .. | at least we're told they are (retreat) [speaker-oriented, rhetorical]

(Business meeting, recorded January 1994, BNC-JA6)

The examples in (14) may all be perceived as scalar, as 'this much and perhaps more'. But it is hard to describe a 'core' semantic value for at least that would be rich enough to allow the hearer to compute the relevant interpretations for (14b) and (14c) from contextual clues.12 It seems more plausible that the positive evaluation notion of (14b) and the retreat notion of (14c) are semanticized and non-defeasible in present-day English. In other words, that at least is polysemous, with three related but distinct conventional senses (also differing in intonation and structure).
Some expressions recruited for discourse marking appear to have split to the point of having almost opposite meanings. An example is in fact, which can be used either to introduce a reinforcement of an idea (15a), or to introduce a refutation of an idea (15b).

(15) a. | he's not (...) nice looking | in fact he's (...) nothing .. you know .. nice looking at all | but he's a nice bloke (elaboration)

(Conversation, recorded January 1992, BNC-KCA)
b. The river just to the east of Tarsus is marked as the Goksu River; in fact, it is the Seyhan River. (antithesis)

(Times Higher Education Supplement, 1 May 1998)

While both uses share the notion of epistemic certainty, inherited from the PP in fact used as a VP adverbial, this notion is not always sufficient to compute adequate interpretations in context. The split between the two uses is reflected in their different prosodic contours, and in their different information structural properties: in fact[elaborative] backgrounds its host, while in fact[contrastive] foregrounds its. Contrastive in fact always implies an erroneous claim in the related segment (in this example, 'is [erroneously] marked as'). By contrast, there are few constraints on the use of Elaborative in fact: it is compatible with a wide range of contexts, and in present-day British English it is extending beyond elaboration and evolving into an additive marker with even fewer contextual constraints.

Anyway, at least and in fact exhibit different degrees of divergence among their various uses. Some polyfunctional discourse-marking expressions, then, have two or more clearly related and mutually predictable meanings; others have clearly related but non-predictable ones (i.e. have different conventionalized senses which must be learnt). As Croft points out, "there is no a priori reason to think that speakers always recognize identity of form in linguistic units and then construct a semantic relationship between uses" (1998: 157). A panchronic polysemy analysis accounts for transparent relatedness of meanings while allowing for lack of predictability. It thus caters for degrees of relatedness and for the observation from corpus studies that tokens cluster into sub-senses, some of which seem closer and more transparently related than others. Evidence from psycholinguistic experiment into the processing of polysemous adjectives, nouns and verbs suggests that mental representations may include both schematic, semantically-underspecified entries in the mental lexicon and more fully specified sub-senses (Brisand et al. 2001). This type of representation is plausible for discourse marking expressions too. The polysemy analysis reflects, in the synchronic sub-senses, the diachronic 'layering' that has given rise to them.13 This brings us to the question of the diachronic development of discourse markers.
3. The development of discourse markers

In English, as in many other languages, discourse markers develop largely through internal lexical semantic change, and this is the source of the multifunctionality of the lexemes (Traugott 1995, 2003a; Traugott and Dasher 2002). Discourse-marking senses tend to arise from repeated usage of a lexeme in particular context types, leading eventually to functional split. While the split is little advanced, the incipient new sense is transparently related to the old one and the new interpretation is predictable. When the split is more advanced, there may be no perceived relation between the senses (again, with variation across speakers).

Several studies have examined the historical background to some common Present-day English discourse markers and have traced the functional splits that took place one or more centuries ago (e.g. Jucker 1997, Lewis 2002, Powell 1992, Traugott 1997). The histories of some Old English and Middle English markers are traced in Brinton (1996). Here we shall look briefly at an expression of Modern English -- of course -- which acquired a relational sense and then lost it, and which in Present-day English displays further signs of splitting (Lewis 2003).
How did of course acquire its current identity as a marker of speaker commitment?14 The usage of of course seems to have shifted from mainly PP to mainly lexicalized adverbial around the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Of course of the period displays two main, closely-related sub-senses: 'naturally', i.e. due to the way the natural world works (16), and 'normally', i.e. due to established human conventions and norms (17).
(16) it was impossible, that the Dirt, wherewith I was so freely and bountifully bespatter'd, should stick long upon me, that a little Time would of course dry it off

(1692, Letter from Mr Humphry Hody to a friend, Lampeter Corpus)


(17) ... the Articles to be Engrost & they will be sent up to the Lds on satureday next When the Lds have Recd & Read the same then of Course they will give the Lds Impeached A Certaine day to put In their Answer & then things will goe Currantly on In order to A speedy triall

(Newsletter, 3 April 1679, Newdigate Corpus)

In the early 18th century, of course is found in two common context types.15 The first is causal contexts (18) :

(18) they learn Love-Songs, [...] This of course makes them wanton, and so they think of Husbands, before they are capable to choose for themselves

(1729, Sermon, Lampeter Corpus)

The implicatures picked up by of course in such contexts may account for the emergence, probably in the early-mid 18th century, of the usage of of course in a relational sense akin to 'thereby' or 'therefore' (19). For the fourth edition of his dictionary (1773), Johnson amends his entry for course, and enters the expression of course with the sense 'by consequence'. This relational of course expresses a non-volitional result which may be an objective consequence, as in (19a), or a more subjective one, as in (19b).
(19) a. My malt ... does not shrink so much when it comes to be laid on the kiln; of course it measures to more advantage

(1765, Museum Rusticum et commerciale: or Select papers on agriculture, III. 222 , OED)


b. Surely of all human characters a fanatic philosopher is the most incongruous, and of course the most truly ludicrous

(1788, Horace Walpole, Walpoliana, Fr. Philos. 50, OED)


The second common early 18th contexts of of course are epistemic: the speaker deduces some conclusion (20):
(20) As Homer is the Author nearest to those, his Style must of course bear a greater Resemblance to the sacred Books than that of any other Writer

(Alexander Pope's preface to his translation of Homer's Iliad, 1715).

This type of context is likely to have given rise to the epistemic usage of of course, which is attested at least from the turn of the 19th century (21).

(21) An aristocracy, of course, is naturally the first form of government.

(1792, Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women)


For both these developments a discoursal motive is likely. If it is reported that one event occurs and then that a second event occurs 'naturally, as a matter of course', it will easily be inferred that the second event follows logically from the occurrence of the first. This can be exploited by speakers. Depending on the degree to which the second situation is known or said to be the case, the pragmatic force of the sequence will be either that the second event was a result of the first, or that the occurrence of the second event can be logically deduced from the report of the first plus knowledge of the world. In either case, the speaker's warrant for the assertion is thus strengthened.

An analysis of present-day English of course reveals two related discrete uses with corresponding intonation contours: an 'emphatic yes' use, and a use that is often glossed as 'as expected' or 'naturally'. There is a clear unity of sense across tokens of the latter type of of course. It acts as a relevance hedge, in that the speaker/writer anticipates the hearer/reader's expectations. In other words, it has become a marker of intersubjectivity, lending support to Traugott's (2003b) argument that there is a tendency for unidirectional semantic change towards greater subjectivity and intersubjectivity of meaning. This interpersonal role is much exploited by orators: of course is extremely common in conversation and argumentation, and is especially frequent in political speeches.16 Yet the distribution of of course is not as random as this rather general sense of 'naturally' would suggest. In fact there are at least four regular contexts of use, with corresponding nuances of interpretation, or 'contextual modulations' (Cruse 1986: 52-3). These contexts, i.e. the roles played by the host of of course, include: concession (22a), background in narrative (22b and example 6), topic shift (22c), and end of list (22d).

(22) a. Of course, the Sereny-Bell version may be the truth, | but we cannot, on the basis of this book, make that assumption

The Sunday Times, 10 May 1998
b. A: oh we did that a few times | when the .. the borders were closed with ( *** ) | came across the pontoon through .. | of course it's a much more e- .. elaborate pontoon now than it was then

B: I'm sure

A: that was er

B: oh it wasn't very elaborate

(Conversation, recorded March 1992, BNC-KB0)
c. [current topic = NATO] ... | because creating a relationship of trust with those outside NATO is just as important as enlarging NATO. [new topic heading 'The EU dimension'] | Of course change in NATO is only part of the story of change in Europe.

(Speech by Malcolm Rifkind, UK Foreign Secretary, 10 March 1997)


d. We are already working with you ... on measures to counter the drugs threat. | We also want to work towards a satisfactory banana regime ... | And of course we are at one with you in resisting the objectionable extra-territorial effects of the Helms-Burton legislation.

(Speech by Baroness Symons, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State,



UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 10 October 1997)

In a corpus of political speeches, three quarters of the tokens of of course are accounted for by the above four contexts (37% concession, 6% background, 21% topic shift, 9% end-of-list; n=668). Each regular context imbues of course with a salient implicature. In concessive contexts like (22a), of course implies 'I grant that'; in narrative contexts like (22b), 'bear in mind that'. In (22c) and (22d) the discourse-organizational function is more salient. In concession, backgrounding and topic-shifting contexts of course carries a contrastive implicature.

Since the 17th century, then, the sense of of course has been shifting and broadening by degrees. Over a relatively brief period of time, it has lost its external use altogether (this sense can now only be expressed by the phrase as a matter of course). It has acquired and then lost a causal relational sense as it has undergone increasing subjectification and intersubjectification. It has greatly increased its frequency of occurrence during its short life so far, and now displays the kind of regular contextual modulation that could herald further functional splitting. These modulations result from the co-occurrence of of course with particular discourse constructions: familiar constructions acquire default implicatures in addition to their compositional meanings. The evidence from of course thus lends support to Levinson's (1995, 2000) proposal for a 'third' level of meaning between the semantic and the pragmatic: the 'utterance-type meaning'. These intermediate meanings are stable default interpretations that accrue to a construction and then extend to a component expression through typical use. Of course may not be a fully-fledged discourse marker by the definition of discourse marking given above; it does, however, regularly carry discourse-marking implicatures.

If we assume that semantic shift is likely to occur across conceptually contiguous relational meanings, we can make use of diachronic evidence, such as condition > concession shifts, to help build a picture of discourse-relational concepts. Relations of condition, contrast and concession are known to be close and to interact in interesting ways (König and Siemund 2000). Synchronically, the occurrence of a discourse marker with different relations may reflect the conceptual closeness of those relations. As seen above, for instance, reformulation and retreat seem similar. And for example not only occurs with the elaboration relation, but can also be used to introduce evidence, suggesting that these relations are close too, or that one is a sub-type of the other. Sometimes, however, one form can indicate seemingly opposite types of relation. These observations highlight the need to account for the polyfunctionality of discourse markers in a panchronic perspective which recognizes discourse pragmatics as the source of discourse markers, and, more generally, language use as the motor of language change.

4. The discourse-pragmatic view
The contribution of discourse markers to discourse in this approach is discourse-semantic and information structural, as has been seen.
On the discourse-semantic level, discourse marking status is attributed to those tokens of a lexical or quasi-lexical expression that describe a speaker-determined relation between two discourse segments17 (as opposed to a real-world relation between two events, states or individuals). The token acts as a predicate with two arguments. Discourse markers in this framework, then, are discourse-relational and speaker-oriented. They are distinguished from non-relational speaker evaluations such as unfortunately, and from relational, non-speaker-oriented connectives such as because or then as used to describe real-world (external) causal or temporal relations.18 On the informational level, discourse relations themselves are typically backgrounded. Discourse markers are often realised as parentheticals. Non-parenthetical markers tend to occur early in the host clause. Moreover, the discourse marker, together with the relation it expresses, frequently helps to define the informational relation (relative salience) between the host segment and the related discourse segment(s). Markers are described above as 'lexical or quasi-lexical'. Each discourse marking expression has a syntactic host such that the host and the marker can be identified in the linguistic structure. The marker has scope over the host. Markers are thus distinguished from self-standing comments such as those expressed in independent finite clauses, and from interjections. This formal constraint reflects how discourse marking is typically realized in English; for other languages, other formal boundaries may be appropriate.

The proposed discourse marker category attempts to capture the co-occurrence of certain types of speaker-attitudinal, relational meaning with certain types of coding. Whether this is the most useful place to draw a category boundary remains to be shown by further research. It corresponds to an intuition that inter-ideational relations, such as contrast or elaboration, form some conceptual paradigm: some coherent area of conceptual space. The relational meanings may well be universal, whereas the means of expressing them are language-specific. The definition here is based on English data and aims to cater for both typical instances of discourse marking and more marginal ones. The term is not exclusive, since it applies to expressions having simultaneous non-relational properties too: in English at least, discourse markers reveal much change in progress, with certain lexemes slowly acquiring relational senses.

The semanticist's view of discourse markers has been remarkably different from that of the pragmaticist. The conventional (coded) meanings of discourse markers, not contributing to truth-conditional meaning, have been allocated to the category of conventional implicature and largely ignored by semanticists. But, as Lyons points out, "the lexical and grammatical resources of a particular language can be adapted and exploited to propositionalize what is not of its nature propositional" (1995: 274). Discourse-relational meanings can be easily propositionalized, and according to some semanticists may even be analysed truth-conditionally: "perhaps conventional implications do make a contribution to truth conditions of a special context-dependent kind that reflects only the speaker's attitudes in a way analogous to certain uses of modals" (Chierchia and McConnell-Ginet 1990: 284).

Within pragmatics, by contrast, discourse markers have been a focus of attention. Valuable qualitative work on individual expressions is being followed up by quantiative analyses that can throw new light on the semantics/pragmatics interface. The distribution of discourse-marking expressions reveals several regularities which any model of the semantics/pragmatics interface should take account of. First, many -- though not all -- the forms used for discourse marking have an external use as well as one or more speaker-oriented uses. While some of these expressions plausibly have a single semantics in the mental lexicon, for others it is hard to imagine a single sense rich enough to produce adequate interpretations in context. This is explained by the diachronic development of markers being visible in the synchronic state: advanced usage splits are revealed in forms having two apparently unrelated or tenuously related senses, while incipient splits show up as regular contextual modulation. Semanticization is thus a matter of degree. Instead of choosing between a monosemy and a homonomy approach, we can accept that there are degrees of relatedness, and that these vary across speakers. (The diachronic dimension is, of course, always present across speakers from older and younger generations and across speakers of more conservative and more advanced regional or social varieties.) The degree to which the relational sense of an expression is conventionalized can in principle be measured by standard defeasibility tests. In practice, it is difficult, and perhaps not useful, to establish a boundary. Second, interpretations of discourse marking expressions tend to be influenced by more than one level of the rhetorical hierarchy at a time: that is, by the host unit and the wider rhetorical context. Third, one-to-one mapping between discourse marker and coherence relation is rare: the extensions of markers tend to overlap.

The way a language manages its discourse-marking functions also reveals information structural tendencies. Each segment of a coherent stretch of discourse is related to the rest in such a way that it contributes to the goals of the speaker. The relation may be given a high profile by a clause-level predicate such as I conclude from the foregoing that .. or What I really meant to say was .. . The relation may be signalled less overtly by a conventional discourse marker, such as So .. or I mean .. . In some languages certain relations may be signalled by affixes. A relation may be implicated by a sentential modifier ostensibly indicating time or manner or modality. Finally, it may be left for the hearer to infer a relation from simple juxtaposition and the nature of the arguments. In English discourse, and possibly in that of most languages, a minority of relations is overtly signalled (Mann and Thompson 1987), usually by informationally backgrounded means. The majority of relations are implicated, despite the availability of expressions carrying clearly semanticized relational meanings. Why might speakers prefer to implicate relations rather than use these explicit, fully semanticized expressions?

Several possible explanations suggest themselves. One is politeness (see Fischer this volume, Weydt this volume). The expression of speaker-oriented meanings such as beliefs and evaluations involves face, and one strategy for managing face is to invite inferences rather than be explicit. That is, to exploit relatively stable implicatures which, because they still leave room for a retreat, are ideally suited to avoiding potential conflict. Another possible explanation, related to politeness, is argumentation strategy. A message that induces the hearer to draw his or her own conclusions to match those of the speaker will be more powerful. A third is economy. Most relations need no clarification. Where they do, the preference is for the idea and the comment on it to be accommodated in a single clause, for relational predicates to be collapsed into single lexical items, and so on. Speaker-attitudinal markers in general (discourse markers, hedges, evaluatives and so on) tend to be short forms: adverbs, particles, affixes. These are clearly speculative reasons. But they may in the long term go some way towards explaining quite why discourse relational meanings tend cross-linguistically to adopt the forms they do.

The relational categories we posit, the number of them, and the labels we use for them, are naturally grounded in our interpretations of discourses. Some types of relation seem typically to be overtly marked while others are rarely marked. Some relations can be expressed by a range of forms, while others seem to have only one or two exponents. Many areas of discourse marking remain obscure. There is a pressing need to understand better the various stress and intonation patterns of discourse markers and their hosts. The relatively high turnover rate of discourse markers also merits further investigation, as does the expression of discourse relations between sub-clausal elements and fragments. But by beginning to describe the discourse-relational space we may find clues to these and other discourse-marking puzzles.
Notes
1. The term 'discourse marker' has been preferred to the many other possibilities on the grounds that it has become the most frequently used term in discussions of English data. Moreover, 'particle' implies a grammatical category, and seems at odds with the view taken here that the category of discourse marker is principally defined by discourse function.

2. Discourse markers have suffered until recently from some neglect by syntacticians of sentence-peripheral phenomena. There is distributional and phonological evidence that some markers which do not look morphologically like adverbs have undergone, or are in the course of, reanalysis as sentential adverbs (Thompson and Mulac 1991). There may be grounds for positing a separate syntactic category or sub-category for discourse markers along the lines of 'conjunctive speaker-oriented sentential adverb' (Bellert 1977), but this category has yet to be fully explored. It is ignored, for example, by Cinque’s major study of adverbs (Cinque 1999: 11), though Traugott and Dasher (2002: 187-8) propose extending Cinque's hierarchy of clausal functional projections to include Modal projections for discourse markers (specifically, ModDMhedge, for expressions such as well, and ModDM, for expressions such as then). How far the formal evidence will allow increasingly fine-grained functional projections to be correlated with discourse-semantic distinctions remains to be seen (see also Rizzi 1997). Meanwhile, the syntactic distribution of most of the expressions described in the English discourse marker literature is perhaps best described as that of functional adverbial adjuncts (Ernst 2002: 9).

3. Relevant discourse segment boundaries are marked by |. The examples of spoken language are based on punctuated transcripts. .. replaces a comma, ... a full-stop, and [...] indicates that material is omitted.
4. JREI: ‘Joint Research Equipment Initiative’.
5. BNC = British National Corpus.
6. It is not easy to distinguish between a reference to the epistemic stance and a reference to the illocution itself, i.e. whether it is the belief or the statement of the belief that is being justified. The reference may be to both.
7. This constraint on the status of the after all host reflects Lyons' distinction between objective and subjective epistemic modality (1977: 797-800): compare 'Don't be cross with her for being late. After all, she may have been held up' (objective) with '*After all, perhaps she's been held up?' (subjective).
8. There are many analyses of English well: see, for instance, Aijmer et al (this volume) and Schourup (2001). On anyway, see Ferrara (1997) and Lenk (1995).
9. The relations originally proposed for English by Mann & Thompson (1987) were the outcome of analyses of several hundred written texts by several researchers. The RST claim was that the relations were independent of any overt marking by elements such as discourse markers. However, it seems clear that although much of the time markers can be seen to strengthen an existing inferential relation, they often supply that relation, as shown by the consequences of omitting or changing the markers. Rhetorical relations are defined here more narrowly than in RST, where they include not only speaker-oriented relations and discourse-organizational relations but also non-speaker-oriented relations.

10. Interesting approaches to parameterization include Sanders et al (1992) and Louwerse (2001).

11. These two domains have been variously named in work on coherence, cohesion and conjunction: for instance, external/internal (Halliday & Hasan 1976), propositional/illocutionary (Sanders & Spooren 1999), subject-matter/presentational (Mann & Thompson 1987), semantic/pragmatic (Sanders et al 1992), content vs. epistemic and speech-act domains (Sweetser 1990).
12. See Kay (1992) for a discussion of the non-predictability of senses of at least.
13. The term 'layering' is due to Hopper (1991).
14. This diachronic account is based on an analysis of 20 C17th, 68 C18th and 306 C19th examples of of course.
15. Of course in the 18th century was also used as a VP adverb in the sense of 'by turns'. The dialogic 'emphatic yes' usage seems to have developed in the 19th century.
16. In political speeches of course shows a frequency of 550 per million words, based on a sample of 1.3 million words, compared with around 280 per million words in conversation, based on a sample (the demographically-sampled section of the British National Corpus) of approximately 4 million words
17. A discourse segment is a sequence that expresses an idea unit. Although it often maps to a clause or an intonation unit, it is neither a syntactic nor a prosodic category, but an information structural one. A single NP, for instance, may constitute a discourse segment. On segmentation and idea units, see Chafe (1994), Croft (1995).

18. The distinctions among discourse markers, evaluatives, hedges and connectives are by no means clear-cut. It has been claimed, for instance, that evaluative sentence adverbials can also function as relationals (Thompson and Zhou 2000). Expressions can function simultaneously as discourse marker and hedge; an example is well (see example 3). And while temporal connectivity seems objective enough, some temporal connectives imply causality which arguably involves speaker attitude.

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