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Pragmatic markers in English as a lingua franca: a corpus study


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Reicher, Hermina. (2014). Pragmatic markers in English as a lingua franca: a corpus study. Diploma Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of English Language and Literature. [mentor Stanojević, Mateusz-Milan].

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The analysis of the pragmatic marker like in the VOICE corpus has shown that it is used by a large number of ELF speakers in various contexts. Since these instances of pragmatic marker like are actually hearer-oriented, signalling how the content to which they refer should be interpreted by the addressee, it can be said that they definitely exhibit a certain degree of intersubjectivity. As far as grammaticalization is concerned, Lehmann (2002, 11) emphasized that it is a gradual change of state and possibly an open-ended process. The different pragmatic functions of like found in the corpus, show that like in ELF is undergoing the same process as like in the native English discourse, and a certain degree of grammaticalization of like in ELF is evident. More specifically, the illustrative function of the pragmatic marker like seems to be the closest to the primary meaning of like as a preposition signalling comparison, since it enables the speaker to bring up examples that conform to a standard that is mentioned in the discourse itself. Thus, when the speaker in example 11 mentions "scientific dossier" and "description of the project" as types of "documents", he is actually saying that they conform to the standard of documents. The remaining functions found in the random sample show a clear removal from the primary meaning and are more grammaticalized, as they exhibit a switch from an "objective" comparison (where the two types of content being compared are actually present) to a more "subjective" comparison (where the speaker signals that the expression used with like is comparable to or approximates a certain standard, but without mentioning this standard). These standards may include numbers or imprecise expressions (hedges), or one's thoughts (quotatives). The hedging and quotative functions are more grammatical (i.e. grammaticalized) because they are parallel to expressing grammatical function such as modal certainty. Finally, the category of fillers shows complete grammaticalization, where only the intersubjective content of keepings one's turn remains, and the meaning is almost entirely bleached. It can be concluded that like is used in ELF as a pragmatic marker, and that it indeed also performs a variety of pragmatic functions. In the data analysis I distinguished between five different categories of like: hedges, illustratives, quotatives, fillers and independent. Although they each serve a particular purpose in discourse, these functions can actually be subsumed under one definition, similar to what Andersen (1998) proposed in his study of the pragmatic marker like in native English discourse. All categories share the property of signalling loose and informal talk, decreasing the speaker's responsibility for the spoken content and offering cues to the hearer not to take the spoken content too literally. Those are actually the most salient characteristics of the category of hedges, which was also the most frequent one in my data. It can therefore be concluded that hedging is the most prototypical function of like in ELF, and all the other categories could possibly be understood as subcategories of hedges. Furthermore, I looked into the domains and speech event types where the different categories of like appear most frequently. Although the illustrative and filler categories showed mixed results, it was found that like mostly tends to be used in informal contexts, such as leisure domain and conversations, which was as expected. As for the speakers age, a case of age gradation is noticeable. However, the sample consists of mostly younger speakers, so it is difficult to make any definitive conclusions. Gender distribution analysis also did not reveal any significant patterns. In the data extracted from the corpus, women used like in 64.79%, and men used it in 35.21% of the cases. The number of female speakers was consistently higher than male in each of the categories, so it can be said that there were no major differences in the use between female and male speakers. Similar functions of the pragmatic marker like were found in the native English discourse and the data extracted from the VOICE corpus, which consists of non-native speakers of English with varying degree of language competence and a small number of native speakers (9.36%). So it could also be concluded that the pragmatic use of the marker like is, similar to Mauranen's reflexives, not restricted to native speaker's English discourse, and therefore a “fundamental feature of discourse“ (Mauranen 2010, 24). Regardless of whether these features of like are fundamental or not, they do fulfill important pragmatic functions in discourse. The hedging function is of particular relevance in ELF communication, considering that the speakers may have difficulties building common ground. With its element of looseness and informality and decreasing the speaker's responsibility for the expressed facts while signalling to the hearer how to interpret the spoken content, the pragmatic marker like in its broad hedging function seems to be an important tool in ELF communication.

Item Type: Diploma Thesis
Subjects: English language and literature
Departments: Department of English Language and Literature
Supervisor: Stanojević, Mateusz-Milan
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2015 17:58
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2015 17:58

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