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Review of  South Slavic Discourse Particles

Reviewer: Magdalena Nigoevic
Book Title: South Slavic Discourse Particles
Book Author: Mirjana N. Dedaić Mirjana Mišković-Luković
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Language Family(ies): Slavic Subgroup
Issue Number: 22.1413

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EDITORS: Mirjana N. Dedaić and Mirjana Mišković-Luković
TITLE: South Slavic Discourse Particles
SERIES TITLE: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 197
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2010

Magdalena Nigoević, Department of Italian Language and Literature, University of
Split, Croatia


This volume is a collection of papers on discourse particles in South Slavic
languages. It contains a preface, seven chapters (an introduction and six
papers), followed by a note on the contributors and an index. In the
introductory chapter, the editors outline the concept of the book, exposing
crucial issues for better understanding of individual studies in this volume.
Each of the six chapters is allotted to one of the South Slavic languages --
Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian and Slovenian -- and each
paper presents the results of the research on discourse particle(s) of the
respective language. Papers are primarily descriptive in nature, synchronically
oriented and based on authoritative data. The predominant research method used
to analyze data is Relevance Theory. Some contributors also employed the
argumentative theory and coherence based approach. The volume provides an
innovative contribution to the study of discourse particles in (South) Slavic

Chapter 1: Mirjana Mišković-Luković and Mirjana N. Dedaić: South Slavic
discourse particles: Introduction (pp. 1-22)

In a comprehensive and well-balanced introduction, the editors explain the focal
points of this volume. The issues 'discourse particles' and 'South Slavic
languages' are given special treatment in order to explain the title selection.

In a brief discussion about previous research on the term 'discourse/pragmatic
particles/markers', the editors present arguments for the selection of the term
'discourse particles'. Regarding the 'discourse/pragmatic' distinction, they opt
to use the modifier 'discourse' simply because they believe they ''do not run the
risk of evoking unintended connotations'' (Andersen and Fretheim 2000:3). As for
the terminological dilemma concerning 'marker/particle', the editors choose the
head 'particle' because ''this term predates the term marker and is more typical
of the South Slavic linguistic tradition'' (p. 7). Additional motivation lies in
the predominant use of the term 'particle' in the Relevance Theory literature,
which is relevant as most papers in this volume are couched within that
framework. Since there is no generally accepted term to denote these linguistic
items or a single definition that would unambiguously describe them, the lack of
consensus is typical of every discussion relating to them. On the other hand,
the assertion about their discourse-pragmatic status as a group of linguistic
entities that share similar functional properties and facilitate the process of
understanding appears to be almost unequivocally supported. In accordance with
this complex and controversial issue, the contributors themselves refer to
various objects of their study interchangeably as discourse/pragmatic

The editors' decision to describe discourse particles from the South Slavic
languages is based on the status of the particles as a neglected linguistic
phenomenon within these languages. According to them, the absence of research on
discourse particles in the South Slavic languages is due to the predilection for
written text over spoken discourse as well as the traditionally predominant
grammatical approaches. In addition, the editors address another significant
topic, the linguistic area known as the 'South Slavic dialectical continuum',
and offer short surveys of the sociolinguistic situation. By cautiously
demonstrating the linguistic and socio-political status of the Bulgarian,
Macedonian, Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian and Slovenian languages, they highlight
the current linguistic view on the socio-political boundaries that define these

The editors also include a short overview of Relevance Theory in a clear and
concise manner in order ''to avoid unnecessary repetitions in the succeeding
chapters'' (p. 9). Their aim is to provide readers with a helpful overview, given
that most contributors apply that particular theoretical approach.

Having situated this volume's work within the broader theoretical,
methodological and sociolinguistic contexts, the editors conclude the
Introduction with a short description of the six papers comprising the remainder
of the book.

Chapter 2: Grace E. Fielder: Ama, a Bulgarian adversative connective (pp. 23-44)

Integrating Relevance Theory and discourse analysis approaches, this paper aims
to account for the different functions of the Bulgarian adversative connective
'ama' ('but'). The analysis is based on data taken from two text corpora:
Bulgarian spoken discourse collected in the 1990s and a late nineteenth-century
comic novel. The author notes that the second source is a very particular kind
of text that employs various stylistic registers and is used for comparison with
contemporary data. Despite the problems with this comparison, due to the
temporally distant nature of the data and the different registers employed in
them, it allows the author to make some valid comparisons about the use of
'ama', in relation to another Bulgarian adversative conjunction 'no', which has
the same semantic meanings, and concerning the possible changes in its function
over time. By using quantitative analysis of frequency and distribution of the
two conjunctions in both corpora, she demonstrates that 'ama' is more frequent
in colloquial discourse and, thus, more suitable for use as a discourse marker
due to reasons of register. In contemporary literary language, 'ama' is used
both as an adversative conjunction and as a discourse marker, while the author
highlights the loss of the particle's marked cultural status in current
colloquial Bulgarian and its communicative use by all of the informants. After
presenting a very clear description of the functions of 'ama' as a discourse
marker, the author suggests that it is used primarily as an interactional marker
expressing opposition or contrast. 'Ama' can connect in an adversative relation
on a local level or on a larger, more global level. Thus, the adversity of 'ama'
is to be associated not to the implied proposition or assumption, but rather to
one that may be inferred from the context. It is also used to initiate a turn
exchange, particularly frequent in questions where the speaker is trying to get
more information from the hearer. She concludes that 'ama' ''may express the
speaker's adversative reaction or relationship with either the preceding
discourse or some other element in the extralinguistic context'' (p. 42).

Chapter 3: Alexandre Sévigny: Kamo, an attitudinal pragmatic marker of
Macedonian (pp. 45-63)

The author describes the Macedonian discourse marker 'kamo' in six types of
linguistic structures within the relevance-theoretic framework as a means to
demonstrate its use as an indicator of the speaker's attitude towards the hearer
and/or the situation of utterance. He uses data collected in the
Egyptian-Macedonian speech community in Canada, which has a unique composition
of immigrants as well as second and third generation Macedonian-Canadians who
have preserved spoken fluency in the Macedonian variant of their parents. As
'kamo' belongs to the set of locative adverbs in Macedonian, the author provides
a short overview of the comparative interrogatives in other South Slavic
languages, pointing out that only 'kamo' permits the speaker to express a series
of affective nuances. He proposes three notions from Relevance Theory as being
of particular use in the analysis of 'kamo', specifically 'interpretive
resemblance', 'metarepresentation' and 'echoic mention'. In terms of
distribution, the pragmatic marker 'kamo' may have six contextual occurrences.
After examining each of these constructions, the author provides a unitary
account of 'kamo' in terms of procedural information: ''its primary purpose is to
indicate that the utterance it introduces is not really a request for
information or a wish, but a case of interpretative use'' (p. 61). He
demonstrates that the pragmatic marker 'kamo' signals certain attitudes of the
speaker toward an attributed utterance, specifically attitudes of disbelief.
Thus, 'kamo' is defined as encoding procedural information and contributing to
the explicit side of communication by signalling the formation of an
interpretive, higher-level explicature.

Chapter 4: Mirjana Mišković-Luković: Markers of conceptual adjustment: Serbian
baš and kao (pp. 65-89)

In this paper, the author examines the semantics and pragmatics of the Serbian
particles 'baš' ('truly', 'just', 'exactly', 'precisely') and 'kao' ('as', 'as
if', 'like'). She argues that these particles contribute to utterance
comprehension, proposing a unified account of their uses. Following the
relevance-theoretic distinction between conceptual and procedural encodings, she
shows that the particles do not make any conceptual contribution, but both serve
as semantic constraints on the explicit content of an utterance in different
ways. As a starting point, previous approaches to the functions of the particles
'baš' and 'kao' are presented. The theoretical background discusses the
relevance-theoretic notion of 'conceptual adjustment', as the author considers
it essential for subsequent analysis. Using both constructed examples and
examples from naturally occurring discourse, she examines the discourse
particles 'baš' and 'kao' as procedural constraints on the pragmatic process of
explicature construction through ad hoc concept formation. Her findings suggest
that the particle 'baš' signals literal resemblance between lexicalized and
communicated concepts and is typically used whenever the speaker wants to make
manifest a single precise proposition or the part of the proposition that comes
under the scope of the particle. Apart from encoding literalness, the particle
'baš' may also signal the relation of less-than-literal resemblance between the
lexical and the resultant ad hoc concept, especially that of pragmatic
strengthening. In both instances, the latter (emphatic 'baš') and the previous
(specificatory 'baš') function as markers of non-loose use. The particle 'kao'
serves as a marker of pragmatic loosening because it reduces the basic
explicature to one of a less-than-literal resemblance marking it as weak. In
addition, the particle 'kao' may be used to signal interpretive language use --
particularly, irony and reporting. The author's results show that the particles
'baš' and 'kao' have the same basic role in utterance understanding, serving as
semantic constraints on explicature, although in opposite directions: a
'baš'-utterance communicates a strong explicature, while a 'kao'-utterance
communicates a weak one. The author also gives a short account of the current
lexical and pragmatic status of the two particles, along with their conceptual
and procedural meaning.

Chapter 5: Aida Premilovac: The Bosnian discourse particle ono (pp. 91-101)

The author investigates the discourse particle 'ono' ('that') and its usage in
Bosnian informal discourse. The author analyses 'ono' in regard to the main
aspects of Relevance Theory: truth-conditionality, the conceptual/procedural
distinction, the explicit/implicit distinction, and the notion of 'loose talk'
through data from conversations among friends, which she recorded in 2001.
Beginning with a concise overview of demonstratives, she focuses on the Bosnian
demonstrative 'ono', particularly on its non-demonstrative uses. She argues that
'ono' is a pragmatic particle of 'loose talk'. The author believes this position
to be consistent with Andersen's (1998:156-157) description of the English
pragmatic marker 'like', which he describes as ''a general marker of loose use of
language which explicitly signals that the utterance in some respect is a
less-than-literal rendering of a speaker's thought''. Accordingly, she proposes a
comparison between Bosnian 'ono' and English 'like'. After considering the
different objects of loose interpretation, which may come under the pragmatic
scope of both particles, she indicates that there is a great deal of resemblance
between them. Her results suggest that 'ono' is a non-truth conditional and
procedural linguistic device, which works at the level of explicatures. In
addition, she advocates further research in order to explain why 'ono' may
freely co-occur with the particle 'kao' ('like') or with the focus particle
'baš' ('exactly'), in the constructions 'kao ono' and 'baš ono'. She intimates
that this may affect its pragmatic function. Finally, the author's analysis of
Bosnian 'ono' inevitably leads to the possible future reassessment of other
Bosnian demonstratives ('ovo, ovaj, ovi') that may develop particle functions in
informal talk.

Chapter 6: Mirjana N. Dedaić: Reformulating and concluding: The pragmatics of
the Croatian discourse marker dakle (pp. 109-131)

The author evaluates the Croatian reformulator 'dakle' ('consequently,
'therefore', 'so', 'in other words') and its potential uniqueness through a
comparison with similar discourse markers in other languages. Working on
collected, authentic data, which includes more than three thousand occurrences,
she uses discourse analysis as her theoretical framework. By observing and
analysing the uses and functions of 'dakle', she demonstrates that it is a
non-conceptual, non-truth-conditional and multifunctional term, thus proving its
status as a discourse marker. 'Dakle' ''makes the causative-resultative
relationship between the preceding and following discourse units/segments
explicit'' (p. 111) and, therefore, it contributes to the inferential processes
involved in utterance understanding. In order to give a unitary pragmatic
account of 'dakle', the author analyses its reformulational, interactional, and
rhetorical functions. Basing her categorization on the collected data, she
proposes two types of reformulation that 'dakle' activates: expansion and
summarization. The majority of examples reformulate the original message by
expanding the semantic content of the utterance using 'dakle'. The remaining
examples, however, usually summarize the original message in a more concise and
clear way, without adding anything to the semantics of the reformulated
utterance. As an interactional device, 'dakle' can function as an indicator of
inferential conclusivity, or it can indicate a return to the previous point of
the speaker's argumentation. It frequently appears as an opening to a rhetorical
question; in this instance, 'dakle' functions as a prompt for a hearer to come
up with a conclusion that is already evident. After summarizing her findings,
the author highlights the comparisons she makes to similar discourse markers
used in other languages, arguing that they relate to each other in certain
contexts, thus underlying the universality of discourse markers.

Chapter 7: Igor Ž. Žagar: Pa, a modifier of connectives: An argumentative
analysis (pp. 133-162)

The author starts from a lexical dictionary definition of the Slovenian
connective 'pa' ('and', 'but') which is, in his words ''one of the (contextually)
most diversified and most widely used lexemes of the Slovenian language, as well
as one of the least researched'' (p. 133). Providing an overview of the general
uses and classification of 'pa' in traditional grammars, the author argues that
'pa' is not just a propositional or grammatical operator as it is often
categorized. Relying on data from contemporary press, and employing the
framework of argumentation theory, the author explores a series of meanings
created by the independent and compound uses of the connective 'pa' ('and',
'but'). His data shows that 'ker' ('because') and 'sicer' ('otherwise'), when
used together with 'pa', significantly change their function and argumentative
orientation. As such, he focuses on the relation to the connectives 'ker' and
'sicer', with which 'pa' forms the compound connectives 'ker pa' ('but since')
and 'sicer pa' ('anyway'). He presents more in-depth discussion of the chosen
theoretical framework, especially of the notions of 'topoi' and 'polyphony' as
employed in the theory of argumentation. To explain the meaning of 'pa' in
compound connectives, and the roles of 'ker' and 'sicer' when used independently
and in concert with 'pa', he uses substitutive analysis. His detailed analysis
reveals the roles that the connective 'pa', as a discursive-argumentative
modifier of the connectives 'ker' and 'sicer', may have. 'Pa' can either
activate contextual knowledge or act as an enabler to reach for common, general
or implicit background knowledge offered by a local discourse, or
extra-discursive context. By exposing the polyphonic structure of a given
discourse segment, 'pa' provides it with interpretive independence and autonomy.
The author proposes meanings of the two compound connectives too: the compound
connective 'ker pa' alludes to some possible previous argument, while 'sicer pa'
primarily invokes possible explanations of what is being related in the ongoing
discourse. As a conclusion, he notes that if 'ker' and 'sicer' are used without
'pa', they do not make such implicit information available.


The editors did an excellent job of reviewing some questions in the introductory
chapter, which undoubtedly helps to enlighten many aspects of the present
volume. It serves as a link between papers, while also providing an average
reader with the necessary contextualization by situating the volume into the
broader theoretical and methodological background, and by examining the
socio-political status of South Slavic languages.

There is a consistency of format in the presentation of the essays. Most papers
begin with a demonstration of existing, mainly non-pragmatic work on particular
linguistic item(s), highlight its/their discursive function within the selected
theoretical framework, use authentic data, and provide a unitary account of the
studied object(s). They have several other features in common. Each author
treats one of the repertory of markers of their respective South Slavic
languages. The essays are predominantly synchronic studies that use a wealth of
naturally-occurring data through similar theoretical approaches. The
presentation of data in each paper is clear and easy to follow. As each of the
papers contains authentic data, the immediate translations in English are always
provided, in order to facilitate the reader's understanding, especially if they
are less familiar with (South) Slavic languages. Their findings prove the
analyzed linguistic items to be context-dependent, polyfunctional elements,
highly specialized in some dominant function(s). Each paper is written in such a
way that they can stand alone for researchers interested in only one particular
language and/or discourse particle, which could easily be seen as an
organizational advantage. There is some overlap in the topics discussed, mostly
concerning the theoretical models which the authors applied. More
cross-referencing among the papers would add to comprehensiveness of each essay
individually, and to the book as a whole.

Returning to the question of the specification of the term 'marker/particle' and
the editors' reasons for the selection of 'particle', I would have preferred
them to have followed another line of thought (Blakemore 2002, Fraser 1999,
Jucker and Ziv 1998, Schiffrin 1987, Schourup 1999) and have selected the
descriptor 'marker'. It seems that 'marker' would have been more appropriate for
several reasons. First, the term 'marker' has become conventional and is used in
a wide range of similar research in many other languages ('segnale' in Italian,
'marcador' in Spanish, 'marqueur' in French, 'Gliederungssignale' in German,
'oznaka' in Croatian, etc.). Furthermore, the term 'particle' has traditionally
been used to indicate a syntactic category and it usually implies short,
inflexible words, especially in the Slavic linguistic tradition. On the other
hand, 'discourse markers', by common consent, have a special status, as they
clearly constitute a functional and non-morphosyntactic category, and can
comprise various linguistic elements. It seems that the selected title might,
for an average (Slavic) language reader, be somewhat confusing and ambiguous.

However, it is never easy to compile a volume on linguistic items for which
there are divergent opinions relating to terminology and methodological
approaches. On the whole, the volume enhances knowledge of the South Slavic
languages by highlighting their discursive aspects through studies of their
respective discourse markers. The present collection certainly opens new
prospects of the development of discursive studies of (South) Slavic languages.
It offers better understanding of discourse strategies and contributes to deeper
comprehension of discourse markers across languages.

The volume is a valuable reference for anyone studying discourse markers,
especially those in South Slavic languages. Some contributors approached their
essay through a systematic theory-supported analysis, while others are more
theoretical and argumentative, hence presupposing that the reader has some
theoretical knowledge. Therefore, the target audience is graduate students and
researchers who may use the book as a tool to identify possible implications for
further research and challenges for carrying out new studies.


Andersen, Gisle (1998). The Pragmatic Marker like from a Relevance-theoretic
Perspective. In: Jucker, Andreas H.; Ziv, Yael (eds.). Discourse Markers.
Descriptions and Theory. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 145-170.

Andersen, Gisle; Fretheim, Thorstein (2000). ''Introduction''. In: Andersen,
Gisle; Fretheim, Thorstein (eds.). Pragmatic Markers and Propositional Attitude.
Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1-16.

Blakemore, Diane (2002). Relevance and Linguistic Meaning. The Semantics and
Pragmatics of Discourse Markers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fraser, Bruce (1999). What are Discourse Markers? Journal of Pragmatics, 31,

Jucker, Andreas H.; Ziv, Yael (eds.) (1998). Discourse Markers. Descriptions and
Theory. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Schiffrin, Deborah (1987). Discourse markers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schourup, Lawrence (1999). Discourse markers. Lingua, 107, 227-265.

Magdalena Nigoević obtained her Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Zadar (Croatia) with a dissertation about discourse markers in Croatian and Italian languages. She teaches at the Department of Italian Language and Literature in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Split (Croatia). Her research interests are semantics, linguistic pragmatics, and sociolinguistics, primarily within the context of contrastive Croatian-Italian studies.