Discourse markers

A contrastive analysis of English 'now' and German 'nun' in conversation

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

64 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Discourse markers
2.1. Definition and characteristics
2.2. Function

3. Analyses of now and nun
3.1. Now
3.1.1. Criteria for the distinction of propositional and non-propositional meaning
3.1.2. Functions and examples of now in the London-Lund Corpus Now as a temporal adverb Now as a discourse marker
3.2. Nun
3.2.1. Criteria for the distinction of propositional and different non-propositional meanings
3.2.2. Functions and examples of nun in the Freiburg Corpus Nun as a temporal adverb Nun as a modal particle Nun as a discourse marker

4. Conclusion

Appendix 1: description of relevant texts from the Freiburg Corpus
Appendix 2: list of search results for nun in the Freiburg Corpus

1. Introduction

When it comes to spoken interactions between two or more people, it is self-evident that all of them need to cooperate in order to make the conversation successful. For one thing, they must arrange their different turns, i.e. sequence and lengths of the different speakers’ contributions. On the content level, it is essential that speaker and hearer come to a mutual understanding. While the hearer needs to make inferences from the speaker’s utterances and signal his or her understanding or non-understanding accordingly, it lies in the speaker’s responsibility to support the hearer’s process of understanding by giving different kinds of clues to what it is that he or she means to say, so that the hearer can come to an understanding similar to their own. One of the strategies they draw on is concerned with signalling the boundaries and relations between different parts of his discourse. For this purpose, the speaker uses lexical “signposts”, which structure the discourse on a metacommunicative level. One type of these lexical items are discourse markers.

This paper will deal with the English lexical item now and its German counterpart nun.[1] Its aim is to investigate what functions they can perform in spoken discourse classified as conversation, casting light on the ways they can be used to indicate discourse structures, and to work out similarities and differences between these equivalents from the two languages. This work will focus on now and nun as discourse markers, but will not ignore their original (propositional) meaning and – if applicable – non-propositional meanings besides their function as discourse markers. The analysis of the two items will be based on authentic material: for English, the London-Lund Corpus of Spoken English will be used; the source for instances of German nun will be the Freiburg Corpus (Grundstrukturen: Freiburger Korpus). This paper can only draw on parts of the corpora; consequently, the search has been restricted to two parts of the London-Lund Corpus (cf. chapter 3.1.2.) and those elements of the Freiburg Corpus labelled conversation (cf. chapter 3.2.2.). On the grounds that this material is so limited, the investigation into the different uses of now and nun can only be exemplary and by no means exhaustive.

The paper will be structured as follows: the first part is concerned with defining the term discourse marker and classifying discourse marker functions into different types of functions, aiming at a language-independent description. The results will be used as a theoretical basis for the empirical part, which will first deal with English now and then tackle nun. Both of these sections will be organised in the same way: there will first be a language-specific discussion on different (discourse marker and other) functions of the respective lexical item; then criteria for distinguishing the different uses will be established. The second part will briefly demonstrate instances of now / nun carrying their propositional meaning – for nun, there will also be a chapter on its use as a modal particle – before it concentrates on the two items having discourse marker status; in this section, different functions will be discussed and examples will be given from the respective corpus. As already mentioned, this analysis will have to remain of a merely exemplary kind. Finally, the results from these analyses will be contrasted, working out both differences and similarities between the lexical counterparts in the two languages.

2. Discourse markers

The term discourse marker is not, as one might expect, universally acknowledged – there exist a number of competing terms referring to more or less the same phenomena. Nor is there a common agreement on exactly which elements the term encompasses (cf. Jucker/Ziv 1998: 1f). In addition to the terminological diversity, the elements in question also have a multitude of functions, which are paid special attention to according to the specific approach taken: they “include discourse connectors, turn-takers, confirmation-seekers, intimacy signals, topic-switchers, hesitation markers, boundary markers, fillers, prompters, repair markers, attitude markers, and hedging devices” (Jucker/Ziv 1998: 1). There seem to be some features that many of the elements share, although not all of them, and Jucker/Ziv regard discourse markers as a prototypical category with fuzzy boundaries (cf. Jucker/Ziv 1998: 2f).

In order to draw a clear line, I will mainly adopt Lenk’s definition for this paper, although I will also draw on similar approaches. Since discourse markers from two different languages will be contrasted later on, this chapter will deal with them as language-independently as possible[2], so that characteristics applicable only to the discourse marker in one of the languages (e.g. syntactic position) will be neglected in this chapter and tackled in the respective language-specific sections. After defining the term discourse marker and listing its characteristics as given by Lenk, I will discuss different approaches towards a categorisation of the general discourse marker functions. Here again, a more detailed, exemplary discussion of the more specific functions of one particular discourse marker will be found in the language-specific chapters.

2.1. Definition and characteristics

Discourse markers, according to Lenk, are

short lexical items, used with a pragmatic meaning on a metalingual level of discourse in order to signal for the hearer how the speaker intends the present contribution to be related to preceding and/or following parts of the discourse. (Lenk 1998: 52)

As far as their morphological form is concerned, discourse markers are short, consisting of one to three syllables (Lenk 1997: 4). They include items such as you know, well, anyway, I mean, now etc.

The crucial point, however, lies in the fact that they have “lost” their lexical meaning. When an item is used in its discourse marker function, it does not have its lexical, or propositional, meaning, nor does it modify the propositional content of the utterance it occurs with in any way (cf. Lenk 1997: 14). This is often favoured by their syntactic position, which is usually “outside the sentential kernel structure in the pre-front field’” (Aijmer 2002: 29). Lenk puts it similarly: “these lexical items usually occur in certain syntactic positions, often utterance- or intonation-unit initially” (Lenk 1997: 4).

Instead of carrying propositional meaning, discourse markers function on a meta­communicative level, indicating the structural organisation of the discourse. This can for example include topical actions such as changing topics or closing digressions, or floor-holding functions (see chapter 2.2.). In this function, discourse markers thus have a pragmatic meaning, acting on a metalinguistic level. Lenk summarises this under the key words delexicalisation and pragmaticalisation (cf. Lenk 1997: 13).

The same lexical item can (and must be able to; cf. Lenk 1998: 50, Lenk 1997: 4f) function either as discourse marker (carrying pragmatic meaning and functioning on a metalingual level) or be used in its propositional function (functioning on the content level).[3] If used in its propositional meaning, it cannot act as a discourse marker; if it carries pragmatic meaning, it cannot be a proposition marker:

[Pragmatic and lexical meaning of the same item] do not overlap in discourse: where they occur, discourse markers only signal relationships between two or more parts of discourse, they do not express the propositional meaning of their homonyms at the same time. (Lenk 1998: 51)

Lenk argues that propositional and pragmatic meaning are not completely separate from each other but that they are etymologically related and share “some core aspects of meaning” (Lenk 1998: 50). As mentioned above, they must, however, be strictly separated. Clues to distinguish the two uses can be drawn from the syntactic position of the item, its phonological features (e.g. stress, intonation pattern etc.) and also from collocations (cf. Aijmer 2002: 27-37). As these things vary for each discourse marker, the criteria for distinguishing the two discourse markers investigated here will be discussed in the language-specific chapters.

There seems to be a common agreement at least in German literature to make a distinction in terms of membership of different word classes: while used in its propositional meaning, the lexical item in question is classified as e.g. an adverb, it belongs to the word class of particles when it carries a non-propositional function. This class is further divided into Modalpartikeln and Gliederungspartikeln (see chapter 3.2.).

One criterion with which discourse markers can be classified is their scope. In their function to tie together parts of the discourse, they can either act on a local or a more global level, i.e. between “two immediately adjacent utterances” (Lenk 1998: 49) or “discourse segments further apart” (Lenk 1997: 7). Lenk, however, finds in her study that some of the so-called local markers can also relate to “not immediately adjacent” (Lenk 1998: 211) but more distant discourse units and suggests that local and global orientation should be viewed as extreme ends of a continuum:

local discourse markers represent one end of the continuum where utterance relations are marked; and global discourse markers represent the other end of the continuum where textual or topic relations are marked. (Lenk 1997: 10)

Another characteristic feature of discourse markers is the fact that in addition to their scope, they also differ in term of their orientation, i.e. the direction in which they function in the discourse. Retrospective discourse markers, on the one hand, link the utterance they occur in to preceding discourse. Prospective ones, on the other hand, refer to following discourse and can announce “discourse segments intended to follow (e.g. further additions to a list in process, associations that come up in the speaker’s mind and are mentioned as an item that will be treated more extensively later on)” (Lenk 1998: 49). There can also be markers that combine both directions (cf. Lenk 1998: 50).

2.2. Function

After the term discourse marker has been defined, this chapter will deal with the different kinds of functions ascribed to them and try to find a general classification of them on which the instances of English now and German nun can be based later on.

It has already been mentioned that discourse markers can fulfil a multitude of functions. These functions, however, are given different weight by most of the studies, and there seems to be no universal classification.

Lenk treats the issue in the following way: she makes a distinction between pragmatic particles on the one hand and discourse markers on the other. Discourse markers constitute a subgroup of pragmatic particles, being concerned mainly with “indicating various features of discourse structure” (Lenk 1997: 1) and, in general, “with topical actions such as introducing a topic, shifting a topic, returning to a prior topic, opening or closing a digression, closing a topic, or closing the conversation” (Lenk 1997: 14). Pragmatic particles, on the other hand, function in a different way, as they are “involved with matters of politeness [...] or, in more general words, relationship issues between the participants in the conversation” (Lenk 1997: 5). The distinctive line is thus the kind of function they perform: Pragmatic particles carry out an interpersonal function, whereas discourse markers have a textual one.[4]

In addition to the issue that it may be disputable that discourse markers do not have interpersonal meaning[5] – Aijmer, for instance, assigns affective meaning to now (cf. Aijmer 2002: 93f) – Lenk does not take any interest in a possible function with regard to turn-taking. It is only once briefly mentioned that discourse markers can be also concerned with turn-taking and “that self-repairs are often introduced” by them (Lenk 1997: 11), but this aspect is not represented in her categorisation of functions. As mentioned above, her work concentrates on the functions of indicating topical actions.

Another researcher dealing with a categorisation of discourse marker functions[6] is Aijmer (Aijmer 2002). Following Halliday’s distinction of ideational, interpersonal and textual function, she argues that discourse markers do not work on an ideational level, as it is their most important characteristic that they neither have propositional content on their own nor contribute to the proposition of the utterance they occur in (cf. Aijmer 2002: 39). They can, however, function on an interpersonal level; then they “express attitudes, feelings and evaluations” (Aijmer 2002: 39) and also play a role in terms of politeness. On the textual level, discourse markers are “concerned with textual resources the speaker has for creating coherence” (Aijmer 2002: 39). So far, she seems to be in line with Lenk’s distinction, except that her discourse particles can have interpersonal or textual meaning, while Lenk puts up two different categories of lexical items according to their function.

Aijmer then further categorises the two functions (cf. Aijmer 2002: 40-51): she divides the textual function into frame functions and qualifying functions. The frame functions are involved in “draw[ing] the hearer’s attention to a transition or a break in the conversation routine” (Aijmer 2002: 41) and can take the following forms:
1. Marking transitions (e.g. topic shifts, introducing a new aspect of the topic, opening and closing conversation)
2. Introducing a new turn (initiators)
3. Introducing and explanation, justification, background
4. Introducing or closing a digression (push-markers, return-pops)
5. Self-correction
6. Introducing direct speech

(Aijmer 2002: 42, Table 1.11.1.)

The qualifier functions, on the other hand, seem to be concerned with indentifying a discourse unit as a reaction to the immediately preceding one:[7]

In the qualifying function a discourse particle signals that some qualification is needed because the dialogue does not ‘go well’. Discourse particles as qualifiers come at the beginning of a disagreement, in exchanges (e.g. question-answer pairs) or before arguments [...]. In question-answer exchanges it occurs for instance if the answer is defective [...], and in request-exchanges where the requester’s expectations are not met. (Aijmer 2002: 45f)

Whereas the frame function seems to be more or less congruent with what Lenk understands as indicating topical actions, the qualifying function indicates the nature of the following utterance as a reaction to what has been said before.

Aijmer’s phatic function, which she also calls interpersonal, is divided into a function dealing with politeness on the one hand, and floor-holding on the other (cf. Aijmer 2002: 48-51): while issues such as “[f]ace-saving, politeness and indirectness” (Aijmer 2002: 49) are listed among politeness functions, the floor-holding function applies when they play a role in the planning process “especially when they cooccur with pauses or with other particles” (Aijmer 2002: 50).

Aijmer’s notion of discourse markers, thus, is more encompassing than Lenk’s. Not only does she include politeness issues, but she also adds aspects regarding turn-taking and floor-holding to their functions, which are excluded or neglected in Lenk’s approach. One might, however, criticise her joining these two rather different functions under a single heading, for which she uses the terms interpersonal and phatic interchangeably. And although Aijmer’s distinction seems clear at first sight, there are some aspects which seem to be rather ambiguous: self-corrections, which are listed among frame functions because they constitute a “break in the conversation routine” (Aijmer 2002: 41), could also be considered having a phatic function: discourse markers introducing self-corrections also function as floor-holders, signalling that the speaker wants to go on, especially since they usually occur after short pauses (cf. Bußmann 2002: 589). On the other hand, Aijmer lists instances where discourse markers “fill[...] a gap in the conversation while the speaker is looking for the right word” (Aijmer 2002: 50) as belonging to the floor-holders. Yet this is not essentially different from the self-correction situation assigned to the textual function. It is similar with the frame function “Introducing a new turn” (Aijmer 2002: 42, Table 1.11.1.): whenever a new turn is introduced, the item also functions as a turn-taker, signalling the other participants in the conversation that the speaker wants to start a contribution. The most important weakness, however, is that Aijmer does not keep to her distinction in the following chapters on specific discourse markers. She writes, for instance, about now functioning as a turn-taking signal in a chapter dealing with its textual function (cf. Aijmer 2002: 79), so that it becomes hard to follow her initial theoretical categorisation.

The third approach concerning the distinction of functions is Willkop’s. In contrast to Lenk and Aijmer, Willkop is concerned with German discourse markers (Gliederungspartikeln[8] ). She argues that discourse markers all have a basic function of segment discourse into smaller parts (cf. Willkop 1988: 50). The more specific functions are divided into two categories which she names redeorganisierende and argumentationssteuernde Funktion (cf. Willkop 1988: 50-57). With the term Redeorganisation, Willkop refers to the turn-taking system, which includes means to secure that turn-taking does not take place, e.g. floor-holding devices and backchannels:

Unter dem Sprecherwechselsystem soll also nicht nur der tatsächliche Wechsel von Sprecher- und Hörerrolle verstanden werden [sondern auch] Mittel, die einen Sprecherwechsel verhindern und die Sprecherrolle absichern oder bestätigen[.] (Willkop 1988: 51)

Argumentationssteuerung, on the other hand, follows Lenk’s and Aijmer’s textual function, with the possible modification that Willkop also includes communication control signals and similar means:

Eine argumentationssteuernder [sic] Funktion im engeren Sinne ist bei allen Verwendungsweisen gegeben, bei denen eine Stellungnahme zu irgendeinem Aspekt des sprachlichen oder nicht-sprachlichen Kontexts festzustellen ist. Ich möchte jedoch zu der argumentationssteuernden Funktion auch die Bereiche der Aufmerksamkeits- und Verständnissicherung rechnen, denn ein Sprecher wird im Normalfall nur auf etwas, das er für bedeutsam hält, die Aufmerksamkeit seines Interaktionspartners lenken oder diesbezüglich das Verstehen überprüfen. Aufmerksamkeits- und Verständnissicherung haben allenfalls sekundär etwas mit der Abfolge der Redebeiträge zu tun. Hauptsächlich geht des jedoch darum, die Existenz eines gemeinsamen Faktenwissens als Basis für den weiteren Gesprächsverlauf zu überprüfen. (Willkop 1988: 54f)

On the basis of these three approaches towards describing discourse marker functions, I will make a basic distinction between three functions:

Firstly, the textual function, as described by Lenk, Aijmer and Willkop, is concerned with topic- and content-related issues such as changing or introducing topics, introducing direct speech etc. Following Willkop, it also encompasses the function of directing the hearer’s attention to a specific part of the discourse. The second function that discourse markers can have is concerned with the sequence of turns and corresponds to Willkop’s redeorganisierende Funktion and includes Aijmer’s floor-holding function. This function, in order to avoid Willkop’s German term, will be called turn-taking function. Thirdly, there is also a modal component. It applies whenever attitudes and evaluations, or modifications of the illocutionary force of an utterance are concerned. With respect to this function, there seems to be a basic difference between German and English discourse markers: whereas for English, it is debatable whether it applies to discourse markers, depending on how they are defined (see above), it is common practice in German to distinguish a class of modal particles and a class of discourse markers (cf. Duden 2006: 597ff, 601ff, Schwitalla 2006: 153ff, 156ff), so that discourse markers are not concerned with modal meaning. This paper will deal specifically with the discourse markers now and nun. Since Aijmer argues that “now [has] no connection with evidentiality[9] although [it] may have affective meanings” (Aijmer 2002: 48), I will neglect the modal function in my analysis of English now. For the German modal particle nun, I will compile and discuss some examples from the corpus in a short chapter.

This categorisation of discourse marker functions leads to a slightly different, possibly wider notion of discourse markers than Lenk has: it includes the turn-taking function and does not categorically exclude a modal function, although this component will not play a significant role in the following analysis.

A last point on the functions in general that must be mentioned is the fact that the single functions cannot be clearly separated when it comes to analysing occurrences of discourse markers. Very often more than one function applies – and it is only a question of which of the functions is more dominant. This is expressed by Aijmer in the following way:

The interpersonal and textual domains are not mutually exclusive categories but the textual and the interpersonal function should be seen as potential meanings of the particles, which can co-occur in the same discourse[.] (Aijmer 2002: 39)

After the term discourse marker has been defined and a categorisation of discourse marker functions has been established, they will now be applied to authentic occurrences from two corpora of spoken language. The analysis will be restricted to English now and German nun, which will be dealt with in the following chapters and then contrasted with each other.

3. Analyses of now and nun

This chapter will deal with the two lexical items as follows: there will first be a chapter each on now and nun; both will first tackle the language-specific criteria for distinguishing their discourse marker use from the propositional one. For German, there will be a third type, namely the modal particle. The item in its propositional use (and for nun in its modal use) will be presented only briefly, as the focus of this paper is on the textual and the turn-taking function of discourse markers. This chapter then will give examples of the specific functions and try to sort them according to which of the functions is the more dominant. The English examples will be taken from the London-Lund Corpus of Spoken English (LLC) and German ones from the Freiburg Corpus (Grundstrukturen: Freiburger Korpus; FR).

3.1. Now

3.1.1. Criteria for the distinction of propositional and non-propositional meaning

Now can have two different uses: it can either function as a temporal adverb in its propositional meaning or as a discourse marker with a metalinguistic function, which has lost the temporal component. In order to distinguish these two instances, it has already been mentioned that there exist a number of clues. Yet, as Aijmer writes, “there seems to be no single [formal or functional] property or set of properties univocally defining this class [i.e. discourse marker]” (Aijmer 2002: 28).

First of all, it is it naturally of importance which verb form now occurs with: in its use as an adverb, now is restricted to the present tense, whereas its discourse marker counterpart “combines freely with the present and past tenses” (Aijmer 2002: 58). Secondly, the syntactic position of the item plays a significant role: now as a discourse marker is usually “outside the sentential kernel structure in the ‘pre-front field’” (Aijmer 2002: 29), i.e. it must occur sentence-initially; “when now is placed sentence-internally it is never a discourse particle” (Aijmer 2002: 29). In terms of prosodic position, now as a discourse marker often constitutes a tone unit of its own, while the temporal adverb does not (cf. Aijmer 2002: 32f). However, the discourse marker can also be part of a larger tone unit, but then, Aijmer claims, it still has to be in a phrase-initial position (cf. Aijmer 2002: 62). It is normally unstressed or reduced; the temporal adverb is “non-reduced by default” (Aijmer 2002: 66). Pauses in combination with now also are of importance, since they indicate discourse boundaries (cf. Aijmer 2002: 67f). Still these prosodic criteria only function as hints, since “[t]he exact relationship between now and prosody is unclear” (Aijmer 2002: 66f). A lexical condition for analysing now as a discourse marker is its collocating with other markers, preferably well or then (well now, now then) (cf. Aijmer 2002: 30, 62). Building on all these characteristics, Aijmer establishes a set of criteria with which she distinguishes discourse marker and temporal adverb:

[A] necessary but not sufficient condition for particle status is that now is initial in the phrase [...]

- now as a separate tone unit (prosodic phrase) has been regarded as the discourse particle
- now when deaccentuated has been regarded as the discourse particle also when the ‘time criterion’ is not unambiguous
- now when stressed without a following tone unit boundary has been analysed as the time adjunct
- now with a lexical collocate (well now, now then) has discourse function

(Aijmer 2002: 62)

For my analysis, I will adopt this distinction. First, however, I will demonstrate some points in this choice of criteria are debatable, which can be illustrated by means of a few examples:

(1) B but ^there is a :b\ook that# .

B that ^one would !find ((it)) ex!tremely

B "!{d\ifficult} to :talk a'bout "!!cr\itically# .

B but ex^tremely . ch\/allenging and# .

B ^\interesting 'to . :{talk a'bout cr\itically#}# .

B "^[@:m] - -

C *^what*

B *well* ^certain n/ineteenth !c\entury **. -

B {^\authors#}#**

C **^what about !R\uskin ' now #** .

C ^R\uskin# .

B *((1 to 2 sylls))*

C *what ^status* 'has what ^status 'would you as:sign

C to 'say . [@:] . Prae_t\eri'ta# .

C or ^Stones of !V\enice# - -

C ((I ^mean)) - ^are there !any c/ategories#

C into ^which we can f/it these# - .

(LLC 3.6 752-765)

According to Aijmer’s classification, this would be an instance of now as a temporal adverb: it is not phrase-initial, although stressed and immediately followed by a tone unit boundary. It does not make sense, however, to assign a temporal meaning to this item; it is more likely to be used as a discourse marker, signalling a topic shift in the conversation from the general difficulties of criticism to criticising Ruskin in particular.

Very similar to this example is the next one. A (apparently a primary school teacher) tells B how she teaches her Indian and Pakistani children the English custom of being visited by the tooth fairy when they lose a tooth. Here, now occurs phrase-finally and thus cannot qualify as a discourse marker as Aijmer sees them. Still it obviously carries no temporal meaning. Instead, it marks a boundary in the discourse, as A continues her narration after a short evaluative comment. It might also signal the beginning of direct speech, although it occurs in the preceding tone unit.

(2) A well ^I said 'two and a 'half :\p#

A but ^that 'sounds a bit !!cr\ude *for a f/airy

A 'doesn`t it#

A ( . laughs)

B *^y=es#

B ( - laughs) ^oh no !ours ((4 sylls)) give f\ive#

B ^[\m]#*

A ^five -* ^y\eah#

A ^five p\ence# .

A ^and it`s !so f\unny you 'see#

A ^and I !s\ay now #

A you ^must ex_plain !pr\/operly#

A to your ^mummy and !d\addy# -

A ^what this !c\ustom 'is#

A ^\/in 'England you 'see#

(LLC 4.3 1123-1137)

An instance which exemplifies what Aijmer means with “now when deaccentuated has been regarded as the discourse particle even when the ‘time criterion’ is not unambiguous” (Aijmer 2002: 62, my emphasis) can be found in LLC 4.5 477. Here, it cannot be denied that now in this case has a temporal component, especially since it occurs in combination with the key word since and a verb in the present tense:

(3) a ^[=m]# - - -

a ^[/\m]# .

a since the ^Cambridge !r\apist# .

a ^ now all the g=irls#

a have to ^carry +these ^little !{p/ocket} [@:m]+

c +^[=m]# -

c well ^I ^I+ used to 'go and :walk *'round*

a *a:l/arms#*

c the . the !c\ommon#

c at [?] with a ^pepper 'pot in my p/ocket#

(LLC 4.5 474-481)

From these examples it can be illustrated that, as clear-cut as Aijmer’s catalogue criteria for the discourse marker function of now seems to be, there remain some difficulties. For simplicity’s sake, however, I will adopt her criteria for the analysis of now in the next chapter.

3.1.2. Functions and examples of now in the L ondon-Lund Corpus

My analysis draws on examples from LLC 3 and 4, since both constitute excerpts from unplanned conversations - LLC 3 contains “Conversations between disparates” and LLC 4 “Conversations or discussions between equals” (cf. Greenbaum/Svartvik 1990: 24-27). I will first give a few examples for now as a temporal adverb and then concentrate on its functions as a discourse marker. Now as a temporal adverb

Now as a temporal adverb “refers to the time of speaking” (Aijmer 2002: 58).[10] This condition is unambiguously given in cases like these:

(4) c +^oh they !left+ last w/\eek#

c *^[=m]#*

B *they`ve* ^b\oth re'tired n/ow 'and [@m]#

A *((^g\osh#))*

B +they`ve ^bought a !b\ungalow#+

(LLC 4.3 448-452)

(5) A ^and they`d 'had a !{d\ish*'washing}* mach\ine#

A ^since -

D *((well we))*

A ^I don`t 'know for y/ears#

A and +^I`m+ !{ now l\ooking}

B +^[\m]#+

A !!d\esperately {^round my :k\itchen#}#

(LLC 4.3 203-206)

(6) B ( - - . laughs) ^how h\ungry are you K/en# .

B ( . laughs)

A ^[\m]#

A ^I can . ^I could !eat n/ow #

A or ^I could !manage to w\ait#

A ^I`m !qu\ite 'flexible#

(LLC 3.7 1006-1010)

It can be seen from these examples that temporal now is syntactically integrated in the sentence. It may or may not carry stress – the first and third example are unstressed while the second is boosted (marked by an exclamation mark, cf. Lenk 1999: 9. Table 2); indeed it has to be a temporal adverb when it is stressed and the tone unit boundary does not follow immediately (cf. Aijmer 2002: 62). It has been mentioned before (chapter 3.1.1.) that it can only occur with verbs in the present tense. It does, however, not automatically have to be in the middle or at the end of a phrase, but can also stand at the beginning – if it is accentuated (cf. Aijmer 2002: 62). Now is also used in its temporal meaning when it occurs in fixed expressions such as every now and then:

(7) A ^these m/\ews are f/ascinating# .

A ^every 'now and 'then you :see the ":wide

A \entrance#

A which was the ^c\oach house +_entrance#+

(LLC 4.4 689-691)

The last example for now in its propositional function shows that the mere collocation with another lexical item with potential discourse marker function (well) is not enough to make it a discourse marker:[11]

(8) A I was ^not w\/alking very 'well then#

A ^and I don`t 'walk very 'well n\ow #

(LLC 4.4 1535-1536) Now as a discourse marker

Now as a discourse marker occurs at discourse unit boundaries, where it connects the two parts:

The discourse particle now functions as a connective between elements in the topic structure when there is a break in coherence, e.g. because there is a topic change or a major boundary between discourse units. (Aijmer 2002: 62)


[1] For German, there exists a second equivalent to English now, namely jetzt. This item, however, will be neglected, on the grounds that the analysis of a third item would go beyond the scope of this paper.

[2] Lenk’s definition, although her work is concerned with English discourse markers, claims to give “general characteristics and (possibly universal) functions of discourse markers” (Lenk 1997: 3), based on the assumption that “characteristics which have been described for English discourse markers also apply to discourse markers in other languages [although] each language has developed a system of discourse markers of its own” (Lenk 1997: 3).

[3] With this explanation, Lenk explicitly excludes morphologically longer structuring items such as to return to my point or summing up from her notion of discourse markers, although they are often included in other studies. Since their propositional meaning, in fact, corresponds to their pragmatic (discourse-structuring) one, they do not function in any other way, i.e. they cannot be used as either discourse markers or propositional items (cf. Lenk 1998: 50, 204 and Lenk 1997: 3).

[4] These terms are taken from Halliday’s differentiation of three general functions of language: the ideational function is concerned with its ability to describe the world; the interpersonal function relates to speaker- and hearer-related functions, expressing attitudes and judgements and characterising the relationship between them (cf. Halliday 2004: 29f, Halliday/Hasan 1976: 26f); and finally, the textual function is concerned with the “construction of text", the ability “to build up sequences of discourse, organizing the discoursive flow and creating cohesion and continuity as it moves along” (Halliday 2004: 30).

[5] Lenk does mention the discussion about German modal particles having a discourse-structuring function next to their modal (interpersonal) one (cf. Lenk 1998: 46). However, she does not say anything about discourse markers in general in this respect.

[6] Aijmer uses the term discourse particle, but the concept is very similar to Lenk’s.

[7] The qualifier functions include “[i]ndicating agreement / disagreement”, “[r]esponse to a question (or request)”, “[i]ndicating comparison or contrast” and “[l]isting” (Aijmer 2002: 46, Table 1.11.2.).

[8] In literature on the German system, there is usually a distinction between Gliederungspartikeln (or the slightly more general term Gesprächspartikeln) (discourse markers) and Abtönungspartikeln / Modalpartikeln (modal particles) (cf. Duden 2006: 597-603). Gliederungspartikeln can take textual functions and functions relating to turn-taking (cf. Duden 2006: 601), whereas the meaning of the modal particles is concerned with the speaker’s stance, attitudes and expectations or emphasise or attenuate the illocutionary force of speech acts (cf. Duden 2006: 597, Schwitalla 2006: 153). For this reason, modal meaning (or interpersonal meaning in the sense of Aijmers politeness function) is neglected in Willkop’s notion of discourse markers, a stance which is similar to Lenk’s approach.

[9] Evidentiality deals with the sources from which the speaker has his knowledge. This influences the degree of certainty with which he can relate this information (cf. Bußmann 2002: 206). Items with evidential meaning can attenuate or boost the illocutionary force of an utterance (cf. Aijmer 2002: 48), which constitutes a modal function as it is described for German modal particles (cf. Schwitalla 2006: 153). Evidentiality is treated as the principal aspect of the politeness function in Aijmer 2002.

[10] It can also refer to past time, given that now occurs in narrations set in the present tense (cf. Aijmer 2002: 58).

[11] The same applies for the collocation well then (LLC 4.4 1535).

Excerpt out of 64 pages


Discourse markers
A contrastive analysis of English 'now' and German 'nun' in conversation
University of Augsburg  (Lehrstuhl für Englische Sprachwissenschaft)
Pragmatics and Understanding
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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832 KB
Discourse markers, nun, now, conversation analysis, deutsch, englisch
Quote paper
Elisabeth Fritz (Author), 2007, Discourse markers, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/136240


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