On discourse particles and their status in the English language

"Actually, you know, I am just like so there"

Bachelor Thesis, 2017

45 Pages, Grade: 2,7

Anonym (Author)


Table of Contents
Introduction ... 1
How to call them and where to place them ... 4
1.1) Terminology ... 4
1.1.2) Terminology used for German words like wohl ... 4
1.1.2) Terminology used for English words like actually ... 4
1.2) Classification ... 5
1.2.1) Classification of German modal particles ... 5
1.2.2) Classification of English discourse markers ... 8
1.3) Comparison ...12
How to identify them ...15
2.1) Morphologic characteristics ...15
2.1.1) Morphologic features of German modal particles ...15
2.1.2) Morphologic features of English discourse markers ...15
2.2) Semanticpragmatic characteristics ...16
2.2.1) Semanticpragmatic features of German modal particles ...16
2.2.2) Semanticpragmatic functions of German modal particles ...17
2.2.3) Semanticpragmatic features of English discourse markers ...18
2.2.4) Semanticpragmatic functions of English discourse markers ...19
2.2.5) How to account for their multifunctionality ...21
2.3) Syntactic characteristics ...23
2.3.1) Syntactic features of German modal particles ...23
2.3.2) Syntactic features of English discourse markers ...26
How to understand them by tracing back their origins ...27
3.1.) Historical development of English discourse markers ...27
3.1.1) Propositional function of actually ...28
3.1.2) Textual function of actually ...29
3.1.3) Interpersonal function of actually ...30
3.2) Historical development of German modal particles ...31
3.3) How can their difference be explained? ...33
3.4) Where are they heading to? ...34
Are there also English modal particles and German discourse markers? ...35
Conclusion ...37
Bibliography ...40

The Canadian linguist Sali Tagliamonte recently did some research on discourse markers
in Toronto youth language. Her great corpus of words she worked with also contained the
following example:
I am just like so there, you know? (Tagliamonte 2005:1897, emphases taken from the original)
This English sentence not only, according to Tagliamonte contains three discourse markers
(cf. 2005:1897), but also summarizes their status in the beginning of their studies. In early history
of linguistics, scholars were confronted with the problem that various words exist in language
that cannot be assigned to the already established common word classes. Thus, for instance, just,
like or so as they are used in (1) can be neither assigned to the class of verbs, nouns, adjectives or
adverbs and therefore cannot be described with traditional linguistic analysis.
Mainly concentrating on written language, these words did not play a role in research until
after the communicativepragmatic turn taking place in the early 1970´s, when linguists also
turned their attention towards oral communication and more colloquial and less formal forms of
language use. Thus, these indefinable linguistic items were treated with indifference during the
first decades of linguistic research and it took until 1969, when German linguist Harald Weydt first
wrote about so called "Abtönungspartikel". Researchers from various languages were confronted
with the same problem, several contributions for in many languages. Concerning the English
speaking research community it took relatively long, till this phenomenon was taken up and
looked into. In the beginning, discourse markers such as like, just and so were seen as little,
inconspicuous words, barely worth mentioning. In 1976 Robert E. Longacre first dealt with a
bunch of words he called "mystery particles" (1976:468), that for him on the one hand seemed
to add spice to the language, but also seemed optional, since they were not carrying any
grammatical or semantical functions. Longacre was also the first who recognized, "that the
mysteriousness might be resolved when going beyond the level of the sentence and using a
discourselevel approach" (Lutzky 2012:9). Other scholars approached these words from other
perspectives, leading to a broad umbrella of terms and perspectives on these linguistic items. As
a result, a veritable run on particles followed and in research today discourse particles are not

only in English, but in all languages seen as parts of language "serving important pragmatic
functions" (Lutzky 2012:9).
Nevertheless, the multiplicity of research also lead to the fact, that the phenomenon of
these words that are amongst others called discourse particles still seems to be blurry in linguistic
research (cf. Lutzky 2012:9). But, in contrary to 1976, this now can be explained with difficulties
in linguistic research to agree on one term and one definition for the phenomenon of discourse
markers. Recently, for instance, despite all the articles published on the phenomenon of English
discourse particles German linguistic Malte Zimmermann claimed, that in English there exist only
evidential markers and no discourse particles. He states, that there are also languages like English,
where discourse particles as such do not exist lexically, but their meaning is expressed with the
help of "alternative grammatical means", for example by "intonation" or "sentencefinal tags"
Weydt, one of the first scholars discussing particles with discursive function already
claimed modal particles to be particular of the German language in 1969. In a later study, in his
translation of his German sentences in English, however he often makes use of the before
mentioned other means, but surprisingly, as Foolen detected (1997:3) also includes English
examples with lexical representations of discourse particles.
Er kommt doch heute? (Weydt 1989:285)
He is coming today, isn't he?
Anyway, we´ll try it for a few minutes. (Weydt 1989:612)
Bublitz (1978), as pointed out by Wauchope (cf. 1992:381) in his book on expressing speaker
attitude in German and English as well includes five English particles that he believes to be
carrying modal particle function in the English language then, why, well, ever and just. However,
he still states "Im Englischen gibt es keine MPn [Modalpartikeln]" (1978:138).
Is it true, that Modern English does not have any "discourse particles" or similar idioms,
expressions or items that lexically express this subjective kind of speaker comments? Or how
could Zimmermann's claim, which is supported by Bublitz and Weydt amongst others, be
explained? The present paper takes this question and the article of Zimmermann this quote is

taken from as a starting point to explore and compare the representations of "discourse particles"
in the German and English language.
In order to do so, in the first part of this study Zimmermann´s definition of the German
"discourse particles" is outlined and complemented with results from studies by Thurmair (1989),
Bublitz (1978), Waltereit (2001) and others that also worked on German discourse particles and
put in contrast to concepts of words carrying discourse function in the English language. The study
thereby focuses on the prototypical group of words that assume discourse function in the two
languages, German modal particles and English discourse markers and illustrates its findings with
two of their most prototypical representatives, German wohl and English actually. Both groups
are compared in terminology, categorisation and in their morphological, semantic, pragmatic, and
syntactic features. Switching from synchronic to diachronic perspective, the study also traces
their historical development and it is shown, how these functions developed. In course of this
study, it is briefly referred to less prototypical ways of expressing discourse function and it is
detected, that there are German particles, that seem to resemble English discourse markers and
vice versa. Furthermore, it is touched upon the semanticpragmatic dispute on how to detect
their meaning and it is referred to their role out of a sociolinguistic perspective.
Accommodating the fact, that most of the literature on English "discourse particles" listed
above deals with discourse particles located in a prefrontfield position and sometimes also occur
in rightfield, the author, in order to depict "discourse particles" in all of its common positions
and functions, ventured to add another "discourse particle" and slightly changed Tagliamonte´s
example used in the introduction:
Actually, I am just like so there.
Comparing the German and the English concept of "discourse particles", the study
is interested in prototypical behaviour and therefore chooses the most common approaches and
terminology. Later on in the study, in chapter 2.3.3, it also takes into account less common uses.

1) How to call them and where to place them
1.1) Terminology
1.1.2) Terminology used for German words like wohl
In literature on German "discourse particles" most scholars do not use the term discourse
particle like Zimmermann. Weydts proposal Abtönungspartikel is not used either. In literature on
German particles like wohl, eben and ja, the words Zimmermann used as examples in his study,
there is another term that is predominant in research. Zimmermann himself states that they are
"sometimes also called modal particles" (2011:2013). Thurmair, in her comprehensive study on
German modal particles (1989), amongst others (Hartmann (1998); Waltereit (2001)), uses this
term to describe German discourse particles and explicitly lists the particles wohl, doch and ja,
that Zimmermann uses as examples in her elaboration on modal particles:
"Dies werde ich zunächst an den Partikeln erläutern, die im Allgemeinen, zu den Modalpartikeln
gerechnet werden: aber, auch, bloß, denn, doch, eben, eigentlich, einfach, etwa, halt, ja, mal, nur, ruhig,
schon, vielleicht und wohl." (Thurmair 1989:21, emphasizes by the author)
Due to its frequent use in literature on German discourse particles and in order to not confuse
the reader, it was decided to adopt Thurmair´s terminology and work with the term modal particle
to describe German words like wohl. Furthermore, it was decided to use Thurmair´s more detailed
concept to complement Zimmermann´s approach. In the following, with the help of these two
authors, the concept of German modal particles is outlined.
1.1.2) Terminology used for English words like actually
In research on the English words at issue scholars not only use the term discourse particles
like Tagliamonte, but a lot of other terms are used to describe the phenomenon
(cf. Lutzky 2012:9f). Thus, in literature on English discourse particles the term of modal particles
is not used. Instead, German researchers use terms like discourse particle like Tagliamonte and a
magnitude of other names to describe the respective word forms. In the following, the group of
words denoted with these terms and its role in language should first be shortly introduced to the

reader and a suitable terminology will be chosen out of the variety of terms proposed by literature
for the words at issue that will be used in this study.
1.2) Classification
In research on English discourse particles, as well as in research on German discourse
particles the outlined variety of terms used "reflect a variation in approaches in viewpoints which
makes it difficult to compare and evaluate the different results of research" (Foolen 1997:5). The
observed inconsistency of terminology and approaches might be explained by the extraordinary
nature of the group that will be shown in the following.
1.2.1) Classification of German modal particles
Having a look at the German words at issue from a morphological perspective, it can be
detected that they do not belong to the common word classes. In contrast to emphasized words
belonging to the common word classes like verbs (a) nouns (b) and adjectives (c) particles like
wohl (d) cannot be inflected:
(4) a) Er konnte niemanden sehen.
b) Sie gingen in Monikas Lieblingsrestaurant.
Das Restaurant war nobler als sie erwartet hatten.
d) Alle warteten aber ihr Onkel hatte den Termin wohl vergessen.
e) * Alle warteten aber ihr Onkel hatte den Termin wohler vergessen.
German linguists therefore created a word class for these words that cannot be inflected and
called them particles, referring to Latin particular, little parts. However, like the bold words in (5)
show, there exist many words in the German language that cannot be assigned to a certain word
class and therefore belong to the class particles.
(5) a) Hans kommt wohl nicht mehr.
b) Er hat eben keine Zeit.
Er hat ja vor zwei Wochen einen neuen Job angefangen.
d) Er hat sich bisher immer sehr schnell in neue Aufgaben eingearbeitet.
Wahrscheinlich hat er bald wieder Zeit.

How, then, can modal particles like wohl, eben, ja be differentiated to the other inflected words
like sehr or wahrscheinlich? What characteristics do they carry that enables us to distinguish them
to other word classes?
When looking at the examples of discourse particles in detail, additionally to their inability
to inflect, it can also be detected, that they in contrast to other particles occur in various contexts
carrying various meanings and functions:
(6) a) Fühlt ihr euch wohl in eurem neuen Zuhause?
b) Ihr habt euch wohl noch nicht auf die neue Umgebung eingelassen.
Wohl, wir haben schon beide Nachbarsfamilien zum Abendessen eingeladen.
Wohl can positively connote a state, doubt a fact or be used in a contradiction, as will be explained
in detail at the end of this chapter. This leads to yet another question: How can we define modal
particles like wohl and find a concept that enables us to differentiate between the different
functions they carry, but also accounts for their relatedness? These questions will guide us when
approaching the phenomenon of German discourse particles.
Being confronted with these challenges scholars admit, that it is difficult to set these
words apart from other linguistic items that are also inflected because it is difficult to find a
common function and meaning due to their polysemous and polyfunctional nature and according
to the fact, that they seem to belong to several linguistic classes and take on various functions
(cf. Thurmair 1989:7f; Zimmermann 2011:2014).
In literature, there exist several concepts of how to further subdivide the group of the
inflected and differentiate between the various items it contains. Most of them have in common,
that they distinguish between a narrow and broad concept. Zimmermann, for example
distinguishes between particles of general discourse structuring function existing in all languages
and discourse particles in a narrow sense, we called them modal particles, that by carrying certain
characteristics set themselves apart and form a subcategory. His main interest lies in discourse
particles in a narrow sense, particles that, as he claims, do only exist in some languages like
German and do not occur in the English language. He defines them as particles that secure
discourse coherence, by showing the epistemic state of its participants, either addresser,

addressee or both, towards the proposition (cf. Zimmermann 2011:2013ff). More details on this
will be given in chapter 2. Thurmair as well argues for a concept that contains particles as head
category for all inflected lexical items. She describes their members in more in detail. According
to her, this head category not only includes prepositions, negotiationparticles like nicht, scalar
particles like sehr, focus particles like nur, Gliederungspartikel like nun, interjections like ah and
modal particles like eben, but also prepositions, conjunctions, adverbs as well as sentential
adverbs that by some scholar were excluded from the group of particles (cf. Thurmair 1989:8f).
This study, however, focuses on particles belonging to the narrow class of particles defined by
Zimmermann. A more detailed analysis of the broad concept therefore falls outside the frame of
this study.
Thurmair stresses in her article, that the mentioned subcategories do not represent
certain groups of words and their characteristics, but certain functions discourse particles occur
in and therefore differentiate themselves from the common word classes (cf. 1989:9). Like
Zimmermann, most scholars not only follow Thurmair´s suggestion to distinguish between a
broad and narrow class of particles, but also perceive the latter one not as a class of inflected
words but as a group of inflected words that sometimes carry a common function. Following this
functional categorization wohl, for instance, can be shown to occur in four different functions:
(7) a) Ich fühle mich wohl an meinem neuen Arbeitsplatz, ich fühle mich sogar wohler als zu Hause.
b) Das trifft wohl zu, aber kannst du denn dort überhaupt mit den Messgeräten umgehen?
Deine Aufgaben sind dort wohl etwas komplizierter als in deiner alten Firma.
d) Das kannst du eh nicht. Wohl, darauf kannst du dich verlassen.
Wohl kann ich das, was denkst du denn, das ist überhaupt kein Problem für mich.
Wohl used as adjective (a) distinguished itself from its other uses by the fact, that it can be
inflected as shown in the subordinate clause. In contrast, wohl occurring as a particle cannot be
inflected (bd). In its occurrence as particle it can carry various functions: Wohl as particle assumes
concessive function (b), assumptive function (c) as well as adversative function (d).
The next part of this study that follows after the introduction to the English particles,
outlines the characteristics of inflected sentence internal wohl, as in (b) and (c) and thereby
focuses on functions of the German group of words that Zimmermann calls discourse particles

and Thurmair modal particles. However, to better understand wohl in its synchronic state, the
study also takes into account its historical development and in order to do so the other uses of
wohl are also shortly investigated into. Furthermore, being interested in similarities and
differences of German modal particles and English discourse markers, adversative wohl, that
sometimes occur in sentenceinitial position and therefore shows parallels to German modal
particles is also especially examined in chapter 2.3.3.
1.2.2) Classification of English discourse markers
Having a look at actually and the English words at issue from a morphological perspective,
they, like the German modal particles, also "tend[s] to escape the net of the grammarian and the
lexicographer" (Brown & Levinson: 1987:273) and cannot be assigned to one of the traditional
word classes (cf. Müller 2005:27). Thus, in contrast to words that are counted to the common
word classes like verbs (a), nouns (b), or adjectives (c) actually, for instance, also cannot be
inflected and therefore resembles German wohl.
(8) a) It was very cold at Christmas
b) My aunt´s daughter looked gorgeous.
c) She is even more beautiful than her older sister.
d) Actually, I went to the store. *More actually, I went home.
However, English uninflected words can be distinguished from their German counterparts in
quality and quantity. English in comparison to German is considered a weakly inflecting language
and therefore contains much more of this uninflected items than German. Furthermore, looking
at words like that are commonly listed as discourse markers in literature from a formal
perspective, they seem very different in their forms. Thus, the group of English discourse markers
contain linguistic elements of various lengths, ranging from monosyllabic items like well to
question tags like eh and whole phrases like I mean. Schiffrin, therefore describes them as an
"extremely diversified set of expressions" (1987:328). This stays in stark contrast to the German
modal particles, which are, as it was outlined, commonly short and unisyllabic. But what other
characteristics do English pragmatic particles carry that enables us to distinguish them from other
word classes?
Excerpt out of 45 pages


On discourse particles and their status in the English language
"Actually, you know, I am just like so there"
University of Göttingen
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Anonym (Author), 2017, On discourse particles and their status in the English language, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/376362


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