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LINGUIST List 21.3570

Wed Sep 08 2010

Diss: Disc Analysis/Pragmatics: Buysse: 'Discourse Marker So in ...'

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        1.    Lieven Buysse, Discourse Marker So in Native and Non-Native Spoken English

Message 1: Discourse Marker So in Native and Non-Native Spoken English
Date: 08-Sep-2010
From: Lieven Buysse <lieven.buyssehubrussel.be>
Subject: Discourse Marker So in Native and Non-Native Spoken English
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Institution: Ghent University
Program: Germanic languages
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2010

Author: Lieven Buysse

Dissertation Title: Discourse Marker So in Native and Non-Native Spoken English

Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director:
Anne-Marie Simon-Vandenbergen

Dissertation Abstract:

In foreign language learning grammar and vocabulary typically take centre
stage, leaving only a marginal position, if any at all, for pragmatic
features. Learners thus appear to be expected to learn a language with
little attention to context and the array of social actions they can
perform with the target language. Among these pragmatic features are
discourse markers, i.e. small words like 'so', 'well', 'you know' and 'I
mean' that do not contribute much to the propositional content of a message
but modify it in various subtle ways. These have been studied extensively
in native speaker discourse over the past few decades, but their use in
non-native spoken language has only recently started to attract some

This doctoral dissertation gauges the extent to which these pragmatic
features, and the discourse marker 'so' in particular, are used (and may
hence be assumed to have been acquired) by Belgian native speakers of Dutch
who have almost reached the end of formal instruction in English. To this
end a corpus of English-spoken interviews has been compiled with learners
of English that exhibit distinct learner profiles. Half of the interviewees
are undergraduates majoring in English Linguistics, and the other half are
undergraduates majoring in Commercial Sciences. Not only is the use of
discourse markers in these two sub-corpora juxtaposed from a quantitative
and a qualitative perspective, the learner corpus is also set off against a
comparable native speaker corpus, drawn from LOCNEC (the native speaker
reference corpus of the LINDSEI project, hosted at the UCLouvain).

The investigation has shown that the language learners exhibit a clear
preference for some English markers, notably those with a more structural
function (so, well), and neglect others, notably those with a more
interpersonal function (you know, I mean, sort of, etc). The differences
between the two learner sub-corpora are often subtle, but in general there
is a tendency for the students of English Linguistics to use these markers
more frequently than the students of Commercial Sciences, and to a richer

'So' is the most frequent discourse marker in all three sub-corpora, and
all interviewees use 'so' as such. 1,258 tokens of 'so' have been
identified as fulfilling a discourse marker function in the corpus,
amounting to some 80 per cent of all attested tokens of the item. These can
be classified into ten categories, and can be recognised as expressing a
relationship that is either ideational, interpersonal or textual. It is
argued that these ten functions are polysemously related to each other and
to a 'resultative' core. The relative distance of these functions to one
another is determined by the intensity with which the following three
characteristics are (saliently) present in each function: a 'result'
meaning, a hypertactic shift and a sense of closure.

Discourse marker 'so' is significantly more frequent in the learner
sub-corpora than in the native sub-corpus, and the students of English
Linguistics use 'so' slightly more often than their peers who study
Commercial Sciences.

The dissertation provides tentative explanations for these findings and
suggests avenues for further research. Its results have important
implications for the study of the discourse marker 'so' as well as for
research on the acquisition of pragmatic devices by foreign language
learners and the development of approaches to the teaching of pragmatics in
the foreign language classroom.

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