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14.1. Pragmatic markers

This section discusses a number of prototypical cases of extra-sentential pragmatic markers. We will see that these markers may have a quite different syntactic status: they may be lexical items, phrases and even clauses. These markers do not seem to have clear truth-conditional content but instead perform a wide range of pragmatic functions; they are indexical in that they point to some aspect of the discourse: the addressee, states of affairs occurring during discourse and earlier statements, the speaker’s assumptions, intentions, emotions, etc.
      Pragmatic markers are generally highly conventionalized, as is clear from the fact that Haeseryn et al. (1997:ch.11) provides a long list of such markers with their conventional pragmatic value. Example (8) provides a small selection of these cases; the subsections below will modify the characterization of some of the pragmatic functions given in (8), but this need not concern us here.

Example 8
disapproval – foei !'shame!'; affirmation - ja(wel)'yes'; denial - (wel) nee'no'; doubt – tja'well'; indifference; nou en?'so what?'; agreement – oké'O.K.'; inducement – toe nou!'come on!; curse – ' barst!' 'go to hell!'; request for clarification/repetition – / sorry?; request for confirmation– nietwaar? (with a meaning comparable to English tag questions); salutations: goeiedag/ hoi!'good day/hey!'; apologies – pardon'sorry'; expression of emotion like goddank'thank god' (relief), sjonge'well' (surprise), hoera'hooray' (joy); etc.

We will briefly discuss some of these functions in the following subsection for further clarification. Subsection I starts by discussing pragmatic markers that can be used for addressing some (potential) discourse participant or calling their attention. Subsection II discusses a specific set of pragmatic markers that help to organize the discourse by relating utterances to some earlier or later utterance (or state of affairs), accommodate turn-taking, etc. Subsection III discusses a set of pragmatic markers used for responding to previous utterances, that is, answering, confirming, contradicting. etc. Subsection IV concludes with a discussion of pragmatic markers that are used for expressing the speaker’s emotions.

[+]  I.  Addressing and drawing attention

Proper names such as Jan are typically used for addressing people, but the same holds for nouns indicating kinship relations or professions; see Section N5.1.2.2 for details. The examples in (9) show that such vocatives do not have to precede the sentence, but can also follow it.

Example 9
a. Jan, kan je me even helpen?
  Jan  can  you  me a.moment  help
  'Jan, can you help me a moment. please?'
a'. Kan je me even helpen, Jan?
b. Papa/Dokter, wilt u een koekje?
  daddy/doctor  want  you  a biscuit
  'Daddy/Doctor, would you like a biscuit.'
b'. Wilt u een koekje, Papa/dokter?

There is no immediate reason for assuming that vocatives are syntactically connected to the sentence, as they can also be used as independent utterances, e.g., when they are used to call someone: Jan! That vocatives are not syntactically connected to the sentence is also clear from the fact that they cannot bind reflexive pronouns, which must have an antecedent within their minimal clause.

Example 10
* Jani, ik heb zichzelfi gezien.
  Jan  have  himself  seen

In this respect they are similar to salutations ( hoi'hi'), interjections ( hé!'hey!') and hesitation markers ( eh'er'), which can likewise be used as independent utterances. It should be noted, however, that there is a word order restriction regarding interjections and vocatives in that the former must precede the latter. It is not clear whether this shows that vocatives are more intimately related to the following sentence, as the independent uses of Hey, Jan! and Eh, Jan? exhibit a similar word order restriction.

Example 11
a. Hé, Jan, kan je me even helpen?
  hey  Jan  can  you  me a.moment  help
  'Hey, Jan, can you help me a moment?'
b. Eh, Jan, kan je me even helpen?
  er  Jan  can  you  me a.moment  help
  'Er, Jan, can you help me a moment, please?'

It is not the case that vocatives are always closest to the following sentence; the examples in (12) show that they can be preceded or followed by phrases such as zeg/kijk (eens), which are likewise used for drawing attention.

Example 12
a. Zeg (eens), Jan, kan je me even helpen?
  say   prt Jan  can  you  me a.moment  help
  'Hey, Jan, can you help me a moment?'
a'. Jan, zeg (eens), kan je me even helpen?
b. Kijk (eens), Jan, daar loopt een eekhoorn!
  look   prt  Jan there  walks  a squirrel
  'Look, Jan, there is a squirrel over there!'
b'. Jan, kijk (eens), daar loopt een eekhoorn!

It should be pointed out, however, that the structure of the examples in (12) is not very clear. First, note that zeg/kijk (eens) appears to be a regular imperative clause, which is clear from the fact that at least kijk (eens) can also be used as an independent utterance: this suggests that we might be dealing with two juxtaposed clauses. If so, the vocatives in the primed examples may belong to the imperative, as is in fact also suggested by the acceptability of Jan, kijk eens!. It is therefore not so obvious that the primed examples show that vocatives can be separated from their associate sentences by other extra-sentential elements. The primeless examples are potentially ambiguous for the same reason, as the vocatives can be construed either with the preceding imperative or with the following interrogative/declarative clause.
      The discussion above has shown that elements used for addressing and drawing attention can often be used independently. Despite the orthographic convention of using a comma, we might therefore be dealing with separate utterances or, alternatively, with some sort of juxtaposition.

[+]  II.  Organization of the discourse

One of the prototypical functions of sentence-external pragmatic markers is that they help in organizing the discourse by pointing to some earlier statement or some state of affairs. Diewald (2009) distinguishes two different kinds, which she refers to as text-connective and discourse markers, respectively.

[+]  A.  Text-connective markers

Coordinating conjunctions like en'and', maar'but', and dus'therefore' can be used as text-connective markers. These elements are quite common in the initial position of an utterance but it is questionable that they are really sentence-external: we may simply be dealing with a coordinate structure, with the first conjunct left implicit: [[Ø] conjunction [clause]]. The speaker may leave the first conjunct implicit for reasons of economy, as the implication is that the hearer is able to provide a reasonable interpretation of the first conjunct. Examples such as given in (13) are typically used to express that the speaker has a specific attitude towards the truth of the proposition expressed by the second conjunct: (13a) expresses that the speaker is uncertain about the truth value of this proposition, (13b) that he has reasons to believe that it is true, and (13c) that he has reasons to conclude that it is true. The question intonation of these sentences conveys that the speaker requests further information about the actual truth value of the proposition.

Example 13
a. En heb je het boek gekocht?
  and  have  you  the book  bought
  'And did you buy the book?'
b. Maar jij komt toch ook?
  but  you  come  prt  too
  'But you're coming too, aren't you?'
c. Dus Peter is boos vertrokken?
  so  Peter  is angry  left
  'So, Peter has left angry?'

Foolen & Van der Wouden (2011) claim that coordinating conjunctions are only used in the coda of an utterance if they are followed by a hesitation marker. In many cases, we can see the use of this marker as an invitation by the speaker to the addressee to complete the missing part.

Example 14
a. Peter is erg knap, maar uh.
  Peter is very handsome  but  er
b. Mijn ouders zijn weg, dus uh.
  my parents  are  out  so  er

The hearer may use conjunctions in order to ask for more information (A: Peter is ziek'Peter is ill' B: En?'And what does that mean for us?'), further explication (A: Ik heb geen tijd'Iʼve got no time' B: Dus?'So what now?'), or to express that he has the feeling that some assertion has a negative implication (A: Jan is erg knap'Jan is very handsome'. B: Maar?'But is there some downside perhaps?').

[+]  B.  Discourse markers

While text-connective markers can be considered to be syntactically incorporated, namely in a coordinate structure, this does not hold for discourse markers, which are often prosodically separated from the following sentence by a distinct intonation break. The markers echter'however' and immers'after all' in (15) sound somewhat formal and bookish; the former implies a contrast while the latter introduces a sentence that provides a motivation for an earlier utterance; these markers are given here in utterance-initial position but they can also occur in final position. Note that these elements may also occur in clause-internal position, but in such cases they can be analyzed as clause adverbials; cf. Section 8.2.2.

Example 15
a. Ik wil wel komen. Echter, ik weet niet of ik kan.
  want  prt  come  However  know  not  whether  can
  'I do want to come. However, I donʼt know whether I can.'
b. Jan helpt je wel. Immers, hij is thuis.
  Jan  helps  you  prt  after all he is home
  'Jan will help you. He is at home, after all.'

The initial markers trouwens'by the way/incidentally' and overigens'for that matter' are quite common in colloquial speech: they indicate that the proposition in the accompanying sentence involves a side issue. In (16), the marker trouwens is given the utterance-initial position but it can also be used in medial and final position.

Example 16
Peter komt niet. Trouwens, dat is niet de eerste keer.
  Peter comes  not  by.the.way  that is not the first time
'Peter wonʼt come. Thatʼs not the first time, by the way.'

Discourse markers like ik bedoel'I mean', kortom'in short' and eerlijk gezegd'frankly' indicate that the sentence following it is of a special nature: the sentence intends to clarify or to summarize the earlier discourse, or is of a confidential nature.

Example 17
Kortom: Ik doe het niet.
  in.short do  it  not
'In short, I wonʼt do it.'

Interjections like tja and aha may express a certain opinion of a preceding utterance or some state of affairs occurring at speech time: tja indicates that it is an unexpected or unwanted but open-and-shut case, while aha indicates that it is illuminating in one way or another.

Example 18
a. Marie is niet hier. Tja, dan ga ik maar naar huis
  Marie is not  here  well  then  go  prt  to home
  'Marie isnʼt here. Well, then I'd better go home.'
b. Marie is niet hier. Aha, dan zit ze bij Peter.
  Marie is not  here  Ah   then  sits  she  with Peter
  'Marie isnʼt here. Ah, then sheʼll be at Peters place.'

Discourse markers having the word order of an interrogative clause such as Weet je'you know' or an imperative such as Luister eens!'Listen!' are often used to introduce a new discourse topic.

Example 19
a. Weet je: Ik moet straks weg en ...
  know you  I must  later  away  and
  'You know, I have to leave soon and ...'
b. Luister eens: Peter komt straks en ...
  listen  prt  Peter comes  later
  'Listen, Peter will come soon and ...'

Discourse markers at the end of the utterance often have a special status in that they facilitate turn-taking. Discourse markers like toch or niet ( waar ) elicitate a reply from the hearer and thus invite him to take the next turn: Peter is al vertrokken, toch/niet(waar)?'Peter has already left, hasnʼt he?' The next subsection will discuss discourse markers that may show up in the new turn.

[+]  III.  Responding

The polar elements ja'yes' and nee'no' are prototypically used as answers to yes/no-questions. This is illustrated in the (a)-examples in (20): the polar elements indicate whether or not the open proposition expressed by the question is applicable to the domain of discourse. Such polar phrases can, however, also be used to affirm or to contradict propositions given earlier in the discourse: the (b)-examples provide an instance in which affirmation/contradiction is consciously elicitated by the first speaker by virtue of the discourse marker toch. The polar phrases ja/nee in (20) can be used as independent utterances but they can also be followed by a clause expressing the propositional content of the reply in full.

Example 20
a. Is Peter al vertrokken?
  Is Peter already  left
  'Has Peter left already?'
b. Peter is al vertrokken, toch?
  Peter is already  left  prt
  'Peter has already left, hasnʼt he?'
a'. Ja, hij is al vertrokken.
  yes  he  is  already  left
b'. Ja, hij is al vertrokken.
  yes  he  is  already  left
a''. Nee, hij is nog niet vertrokken.
  no  he  is yet  not  left
b''. Nee, hij is nog niet vertrokken.
  no  he  is yet  not  left

It is not easy to determine the precise meaning contribution of ja and nee in examples like those in (20). It seems too simple to say that ja expresses confirmation and nee expresses denial of some presupposition held by the speaker. This is clear from the fact that the negative counterparts of the examples in (20a&b), which suggest the opposite presuppositions, may trigger exactly the same answers. We ignore the fact that jawel may be preferred to ja in (21b'); we return to this in our discussion of (26).

Example 21
a. Is Peter nog niet vertrokken?
  Is Peter yet  not left
  'Hasnʼt Peter left yet?'
b. Peter is nog niet vertrokken, toch?
  Peter is yet  not   left  prt
  'Peter hasnʼt already left, has he?'
a'. Ja, hij is al vertrokken.
  yes  he  is  already  left
b'. Ja(wel), hij is al vertrokken.
  yes  he  is  already  left
a''. Nee, hij is nog niet vertrokken.
  no  he  is yet  not  left
b''. Nee, hij is nog niet vertrokken.
  no  he  is yet  not  left

The fact that the sentences in the primed examples above can be omitted without a clear change of meaning suggests that ja and nee are in a sense shorthand for, respectively, the positive and the negative sentences following them. One way of formally accounting for this is by saying that these sentences are syntactically present but elided if these polar elements are used independently; See Van Craenenbroeck (2010:ch.15) for related discussion. There are other reasons for assuming this. First, the examples in (22) show that polar ja and nee can easily be coordinated with full sentences; this would immediately follow if the polar elements are followed by phonetically empty sentences.

Example 22
a. Is Peter al vertrokken?
  Is Peter already  left
  'Has Peter left already?'
b. Ja, maar hij komt zo terug.
  yes  but he  comes  soon  back
  'Yes, but heʼll be back soon.'
b'. Nee, maar hij heeft wel zijn jas al aan.
  no  but  he  has  prt  his coat  already  on
  'No, but heʼs put his coat on already.'

Secondly, polar ja and nee can also be combined with a non-main clause, as shown by the answers to the question in (23a); this again follows if they are followed by phonetically empty sentences.

Example 23
a. Ben je morgen hier?
  are  you  tomorrow  here
  'Will you be here tomorrow?'
b. Ja, omdat ik mijn werk wil afmaken.
  yes  because  my work  want  prt.-finish
  'Yes, because I want to finish my work.'
b'. Nee, tenzij je dat wil.
  no  unless  you  that  want
  'No, unless you want me to.'

Thirdly, if we are indeed dealing with ellipsis, we would expect it to be subject to the recoverability condition on deletion: elements that cannot be recovered from the context must be overtly expressed. The examples in (24) suggest that this is indeed the case; see Pope (1971) for a larger sample of English examples. Note in passing that there is little or no reason for assuming that waarschijnlijk morgen and natuurlijk niet are constituents, which gives the ellipsis analysis even greater credibility.

Example 24
a. Ben je deze week hier?
  are  you  this week  here
  'Will you be here this week?'
b. Ja, waarschijnlijk ben ik morgen hier.
  yes  probably  am  I tomorrow  here
  'Yes, probably tomorrow.'
b'. Nee, natuurlijk ben ik deze week hier niet: het is Kerstmis.
  no  of.course  am  this week  here  not it  is Christmas
  'No, of course not: itʼs Christmas.'

Note that the overtly expressed remnant need not be a clausal constituent. The second sentence in (25a) shows that it can also be a complementizer: as is shown by the near paraphrase in (25b), polar ja corresponds to the italicized part of the conditional clause introduced by the complementizer indien'if'.

Example 25
a. Ben je geïnteresseerd? Indien ja, stuur dan het formulier in.
  are you interested  if  so  send  then  the form  in
  'Are you interested? If so, please return the form.'
b. Indien je geïnteresseerd bent, stuur dan het formulier in.
  if  you  interested  are send  then  the form  in
  'If you are interested, please return the form.'

Finally, the hypothesis of ellipsis may also account for the fact that the preferred answer to the negative question in (26a') is jawel: denying a negative proposition generally favors the presence of the affirmative marker wel. As contradicting a negative presupposition also favors the presence of wel, ellipsis would also account for the use of jawel in (26b').

Example 26
a. Ben je deze week niet hier?
  are  you  this week  not  here
  'Wonʼt you be here this week?'
b. Je bent deze week niet hier, toch?
  you  are  this week  not  here  prt
  'You wonʼt be here this week, will you?'
b. Ja, ik ben deze week wel hier.
  yes  am  this week  aff here
  'Yes, I will be here this week.'
b'. Ja, ik ben deze week wel hier.
  yes  am  this week  aff  here
  'Yes, I will be here this week.'

      This discussion has shown that polar ja and nee are not primarily used to affirm or to deny a presupposition, but “agree” with a (possibly elided) positive or negative clause following it. This makes it understandable that these elements can also be used in contexts like (27), in which the hearer simply accepts the truth of the (negative/positive) propositions in the primeless examples.

Example 27
a. Jan komt morgen.
  Jan  comes  tomorrow
  'Jan will come tomorrow.'
b. Jan komt morgen niet.
  Jan  comes  tomorrow   not
  'Jan wonʼt come tomorrow.'
a'. Ja, dat wist ik al.
  yes  that  knew  I already
  'Yes, I knew that already.'
b'. Ja, dat wist ik al.
  yes  that  knew  I already
  'Yes, I knew that already.'
a''. Nee, dat wist ik niet.
  no  that  knew  not
  'No, I didnʼt know that.'
b''. Nee, dat wist ik niet.
  no  that  knew  not
  'No, I didnʼt know that.'

Our brief (and incomplete) discussion of the use of the polar elements ja'yes' and nee'no' shows that they have the hallmark of pragmatic markers in that they do not carry truth-conditional content: they simply indicate that the (possible phonetically empty) clauses they are associated with are positive or negative. In this respect they differ from the polar elements welles and nietes in (28), which are typically used to contradict or refute a proposition in the immediate preceding discourse.

Example 28
a. Ik kom morgen niet. Welles, want het is veel te leuk.
  come  tomorrow  not  Yes because  it  is much  too nice
  'I wonʼt come tomorrow. Yes, you will, because it will be very nice.'
b. Ik kom morgen. Nietes, (want) je moet naar de dokter.
  come  tomorrow  No because  you  must  to the doctor
  'Iʼll come tomorrow. No, you wonʼt, because you have to see the doctor.'

Like polar ja and nee, welles and nietes seem to have the status of a full clause: this is clear from the fact illustrated in the mini-dialogue in (28) that they can be in a coordinate structure with another clause. It is, however, not clear whether these elements are associated with an elided clause as this clause cannot be made explicit. Furthermore the examples in (29) show that it is not possible to combine these elements with embedded clauses. Note in passing that welles and nietes also differ in this respect from the affirmative marker wel and the negative adverb niet'not' in the two mini-dialogues in (29); this is not surprising as we are probably dealing with reduced clauses in that case: Jij komt wel/niet'you will/wonʼt'.

Example 29
a. Ik kom morgen niet. Wel/*Welles als Marie het vraagt.
  come  tomorrow  not   aff/yes  if  Marie  it  requests
  Intended reading: 'I wonʼt come tomorrow. You will when Marie requests it.'
b. Ik kom morgen. Niet/*Nietes als het regent.
  come  tomorrow  no/No  if  it  rains
  Intended reading: 'I will come tomorrow. You won't when it rains.'

The discussion above has shown that the polar elements ja and nee are pragmatic markers: they do not have truth-conditional content. We also noted that this is less clear in the case of the polar elements welles and ni etes.

[+]  IV.  Expressing emotional involvement

Discourse particle are sometimes claimed to express the speaker’s emotional attitude towards some discourse aspect. Curses, for example, can be used to indicate what the speaker’s feelings are toward a specific state of affairs (Verdomme, wat een regen!'Damn! It's pouring!) or a specific behavior of the addressee (Jezus, man, dat pik ik niet van je!'Jesus, man, I wonʼt take that from you'). Many pragmatic markers have an additional emotional value. In answering a question such as Kom je morgen? in (30a), modal adverbs like natuurlijk'of course' and vanzelfsprek end'obviously' also have a certain emotional load in addition to expressing mere confirmation. However, it should be noted that the same emotional load is present in sentences such as Natuurlijk kom ik morgen'Of course I will come tomorrow', which can also be used as answers to this question. If the discourse particle natuurlijk is actually a reduced clause, its emotional load need not surprise us. A similar analysis may be given for speaker-oriented adverbs such as helaas in (30b).

Example 30
a. Kom je morgen? Natuurlijk kom ik morgen!
  come  you  tomorrow  of.course come I tomorrow
  'Are you coming tomorrow! Of course!'
b. Ben je hier morgen? Helaas ben ik hier morgen niet/wel.
  are  you  here  tomorrow  regrettably  am  here  tomorrow  not/aff
  'Will you be here tomorrow? Regrettably, no/yes.'
[+]  V.  Conclusion

This section has discussed the use of a set of sentence-external pragmatic markers, which have received a lot of attention since Schiffrin (1987) in, especially, the pragmatic literature. These markers are characterized by the fact that they often do not have clear truth-conditional content but instead perform a wide range of pragmatic functions; they are indexical in that they point to some aspect of the discourse: discourse participants, state of affairs holding at speech time, earlier statements, etc. Discourse markers may have various shapes: they can simply be sounds like mmm, mhm and ooo, lexical elements such as the interjection , phrasal expressions like mijn god'my god', or (reduced) conventional stock clauses like Ik bedoel'I mean'. Furthermore, we have seen that certain pragmatic markers like the polar element ja and nee may be inherently associated with a (potentially elided) sentence. Other pragmatic markers may be part of partially elided clauses, e.g. Dat is goed: ik kom morgen'O.K., Iʼll come tomorrow'. The examples above show that many pragmatic markers have arisen as a result of grammaticalization; this also seems to hold for a set of markers that can also be used as adverbial phrases such as helaas'unfortunately'. As a result of this, we find cases like dus'so' and toch'all the same' with a less clear status; see, e.g., Aijmer (2002) and Diewald (2009) on grammaticalization, and Evers-Vermeul (2005/2010) and Degand (2011) for specific case studies of Dutch. As pragmatic markers are characteristic of discourse and thus not part of syntax in the restricted sense defined in Section IV of the preface, we will not digress any further here.

  • Aijmer, Karin2002English Discourse Particles. Evidence from a corpusAmsterdam/PhiladelphiaJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
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  • Diewald, Gabriele2009"Same same but different" – Modal particles, discourse markers and the art (and purpose) of categorizationDegand, Liesbeth, Cornillie, Bert & Pietrandrea, Paola (eds.)Discourse Markers and Modal Particles. Categorization and descriptionAmsterdam/PhiladelphiaJohn Benjamins Publishing Company19-45
  • Diewald, Gabriele2009"Same same but different" – Modal particles, discourse markers and the art (and purpose) of categorizationDegand, Liesbeth, Cornillie, Bert & Pietrandrea, Paola (eds.)Discourse Markers and Modal Particles. Categorization and descriptionAmsterdam/PhiladelphiaJohn Benjamins Publishing Company19-45
  • Evers-Vermeul2005The development of Dutch connectivesUniversity of UtrechtThesis
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  • Pope, Emily1971Answers to Yes-No questionsLinguistic Inquiry269-82
  • Schiffrin, Deborah1987Discourse MarkersCambridgeCambridge University Press
  • Van Craenenbroeck, Jeroen2010The Syntax of Ellipsis. Evidence from Dutch DialectsOxford/New YorkOxford University Press
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