LINGUIST List 32.2425

Mon Jul 19 2021

Review: Discourse Analysis; Linguistic Theories; Pragmatics; Semantics; Syntax: Modicom, Duplâtre (2020)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 03-May-2021
From: Viatcheslav Yatsko <>
Subject: Information-Structural Perspectives on Discourse Particles
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Pierre-Yves Modicom
EDITOR: Olivier Duplâtre
TITLE: Information-Structural Perspectives on Discourse Particles
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Language Companion Series 213
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2020

REVIEWER: Viatcheslav Yatsko, Katanov State University of Khakasia


This book is a collection of papers that focus on specific features of modal particles. Their study is of relevance to a number of fields, sentiment analysis, opinion mining, recognition of manipulative and propagandistic strategies, and bilingual translation being among some of them.

The contributions collected in the book go back to the workshop ''Discourse Particles and Information Structure'' held at the 51st meeting of the ''Societas Linguistica Europaea'' in Tallinn, Estonia, in September 2018. The book comprises an Introduction and 11 chapters grouped into three parts: ''The contribution of information structural strategies to the rise of discourse particles'' (Chapters 1-4), ''Information structure as a factor in the interpretation of polysemic and polyfunctional particles'' (Chapters 5-7), and ''The contribution of discourse particles to the information structural characterisation of illocutionary acts'' (Chapters 9-11).

In the Introduction, Pierre-Yves Modicom and Olivier Duplatre introduce their notion of discourse structure distinguishing between its three layers. The first one is characterized by the ''topic'' and ''comment'' notions, the second layer hinges upon new and old information, and the third layer deals with the repartition between focus and background. The authors' differentiation between the three discourse layers is similar to my Integrational Discourse Analysis conception, which distinguishes between semantic, communicative, modal, and relational dimensions of discourse. The conception was presented in a number of papers, a monograph, and my dissertation, the first paper in English being published as long ago as in 1995 [1].

Discourse particles contribute to the three layers, but the book, as the editors claim, focuses on ''other particles than focus particles'' (p. 4). Those ''other'' particles seems to be modal ones that refer to the conversational Common Ground, i. e. knowledge shared by speaker and hearer as in the German ''Aber, Simone, deine Mutter war doch verheiratet'', where ''doch'' particle implies ''You should know that''.

The editors state positively that German and Japanese have played a central role in the research of correlation between discourse particles and information structure [ibid]. I cannot agree with this statement. As Russian has more than 200 particles of various types [2], they have been studied in a great number of works including dozens of monographs and PhD dissertations that investigate the use particles in various genres , perform contrastive analysis of their use in different languages, and discuss translation problems, see, for example, [2, 3].

For me, the Introduction is far from being perfect, the editors present a somewhat chaotic picture of investigations in the field and don't succeed in integrating it into a broader discourse analysis framework.

The first chapter ''Discourse particle position and information structure'' is written by Marianne Mithun who attempts to find dependency between syntactic position of particles in Mohawk and a grammaticalization process. The author argues that the fact that in Mohawk particles occupy the second position in syntactic constructions is the result of development of such processes as topic shift, anti-topicalization, and focusing. The idea itself being interesting, I cannot say the arguments are convincing. Mithun concentrates on the ''kati'' (shortened form is ''ki'') explaining that its English counterparts may be ''so'', ''actually,'' and ''in fact'', but in numerous examples that follow these particles are not translated at all. The reader is very unlikely to have any command of Mohawk and the author's conclusions seem unsubstantiated. Unfortunately, the author doesn't provide information about the sources of the linguistic data, stating that ''all examples here come from unscripted conversations'' (p. 28). Were they recorded by the author or someone else? Or are they included in a corpus? Where can they be found?

The second chapter ''Information-structural properties of IS THAT clause'' is written by Eva-Maria Remberger who in the abstract describes it as an ''article'' rather than a chapter. The example ''It is that he smokes a lot'' (p. 48) cannot be considered adequate, as the phrase is incomplete and requires some context for its interpretation. The author often uses sexist interpretations of the examples she discusses. The phrase ''es que fuma mucho'' (p. 54) is rendered into English ''it's that he smokes a lot'', though the 3d person singular ''fuma'' in this phrase may be associated with feminine subject as well. Diachronic analysis in the third section of the chapter is interesting, the author provided evidence that the ''que'' clause performs the function of the subject while the preceding phrase is a predicate. I don't quite understand the term ''reduced''. In what way does it correlate with such a linguistic phenomenon as ''ellipsis''? What are the reasons for the reduction? The author tries to make her analysis more comprehensive discussing interrogative and negative constructions.

The third chapter (defined as ''paper'' in the abstract) ''Kazakh particle ''goj'' as an existential operator'' written by Nadezda Christopher concentrates on syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic properties of this particle. The investigation was done on the vast data including those obtained during a field research in Kazakstan. The author proves that ''goj'' in imperative sentences is a form of the verb ''qoju'' rather than a particle, as it has been considered by many researchers. Cristopher gives profound analysis of the syntactic distribution of the particle to reveal peculiarities of its use in post-predicative and post-nominal positions. In the next sections Christopher focuses on the Russian ''zhe'' and Yukaghir ''me'' particles that express similar meanings. Section 7.1 that deals with the Russian particle seems to fall out of the chapter's scope because of the lack of contrastive analysis with goj. Analyzing post-predicative uses of goj (p. 83) the author concludes that it cannot appear in wh-questions. But this does not refer to Russian zhe, cf. ''Kuda zhe ty idyosh segodnya?'' (Where are you going today?). The sentence (wh-question) is grammatical as well as many other sentences of this type. I haven't been convinced by the existential interpretation of the particle the author gives in the last section of the chapter. The interpretation implies that the proposition introduced by goj ''exists in CG'' (p. 105). Clearly, the notion of the Common Ground presupposes the existence of some ideas shared by the speaker and hearer, but that doesn't mean that propositions, in which the ideas are expressed, are of existential nature.

Chapter 4 (called a paper by the author) ''From focus marking to illocutionary modification: Functional developments of Italian'' solo'' 'only' '' written by Marco Favoro focuses on connective and illocutive uses of this adverb that haven't been properly investigated yet. The investigation was done on corpus, questionnaire and internet data. In the opening section the author, following Krifka, presents his view of information structure differentiating between CG content and CG management, the latter being associated with pragmatic discourse dimension. The concept of CG management underlies his investigation of ''solo'' in Italian. It functions as an illocutionary operator in directives and assertions to provide emphatic marking of the illocutionary force. Discussing examples (10) ''Stai solo zitto que porti ancora sfiga!!!'' and (11) ''Lascia solo stare, sono piena tutto il giorno'' the author correctly states that ''solo'' gives emphasis to the directive highlighting the contrast between the speech act and belief attributed to the addressee. For me it would have been interesting to study emotive differences between these utterances because (10) expresses a distinctly negative or ironical attitude of the speaker to the interlocutor while (11) expresses regret.

Chapter 5 ''Final or medial: Morphosyntactic and functional divergences in discourse particles of the same historical sources'' written by Mitsuko Narita Izutsu and Katsunobu Izutsu opens the second part of the book. It focuses on information status, addressee directedness, and speaker gender expressed by the final and interjectional particles ''yo,'' ''ne'', and ''sa'' that in Japanese have the same form. The investigation was done on data from corpora as well as on introspection data. The authors analyze positional distribution of the particles across sentences and employ the ''old-new information'' approach to reveal discourse-pragmatic differences between interjectional and final particles. They demonstrate that these types of particles are not used together in the same sentence when they show contrastive or incompatible features.

The main problem with this chapter is lack of contrastive analysis. Discussing the use of the ''-ne'' final particle (pp. 147-148) in sentences like (22) ''Ore asita isogasii-kara yasumu-ne'' (I am not coming because I am busy tomorrow) Izutsu&Isutsu state: ''Unlike information about a past or present situation the speaker's future action does not, in essence, constitute shared knowledge if not uttered''. Clearly, this assertion is an oversimplification. The addressee may have knowledge of the speaker's plans, having been informed by the speaker or someone else earlier, and in this case her/his inquiry about the shared knowledge may result in response with a modal particle, cf. Russian analogue of (22): ''Ya ne pridu, ya ved' zavtra zanyat'' where ved' particle refers the CG to express surprise or irritation.

The chapter's summary is very short.

Chapter 6 (called ''paper'' by the author) ''Types and functions of wa-marked DPs and their structural distribution in a Japanese sentence'' was written by Koichiro Nakamura. I just reproduce the chapter's summary because I failed to grasp its content.

The chapter focuses on the ''wa'' particle and shows that a Japanese sentence has a CP peripheral structure, in which multiple wa-marked phrases can seat. The left peripheral in CP territory includes Topic Phrases that host Thematic Topics in the sentence initial positions or contrastive topics elsewhere. These topics correspond to DPs marked with the particle ''wa''. A Japanese sentence can include multiple wa-marked phrases. The left peripheral structure also includes one Focus Phrase, the locus for Exhaustive Identificational Focus elements. This Focus Phrase is the slot for focally-stressed WA-marked DPs. Unlike wa-marked phrases a Japanese sentence has only one WA-marked phrase.

What is a CP mentioned in the abstract? In the chapter's text it appears only once (p. 172). Maybe it stands for Complementizer Phrase, but I am not sure as the author didn't give any examples of such phrases. What is a DP? Usually it stands for Determiner Phrase, and the examples the author gave show it may be this phrase type. I wish the author had described the structure and distinctive features of DPs in Japanese. What is a ''gerondive form'' referred to on p. 172? Maybe this is a misprint and the correct variant is ''gerundive''?

Nakamura illustrates his conclusions by 29 examples, 9 of them were taken from the works of some other authors and 1 (p. 173) seems to have been provided by some ''anonymous reviewers''. Where were the rest 20 examples taken from? The author doesn't give any information about their sources.

Chaper 7 ''Is the information-structural contribution of modal particles in the syntax, in discourse structure or in both?'' written by Richard Waltereit falls into two parts. The first one deals with the differences between modal and discourse particles. The second part touches upon the French ''quand meme'' particle. Linguistic data in the first part were borrowed from the works of some other authors and in the second part - from the FRANTEXT diachronic corpus. The author distinguishes between the two types of the particle, viz. a backward-looking exhaustive-contrast particle and a forward-looking particle expressing an uncertainty contrast. The first type is close to the adverb and contributes to discourse structuring, while the second type has a strong information-structuring profile that is not limited to a clause and has a variable scope.

My impression is that Waltereit doesn't properly distinguish between particles and adverbs. When discussing differences between discourse particles and modal particles (p. 180) he notes that the latter are restricted in use to certain languages, have a grammatically defined scope and position, and apply to speech acts, while the former are cross-linguistically wide spread, being variable in scope and position, and apply to discourse structure. Actually, Waltereit enumerates general differences between adverbs and particles. I am not sure that the analysis of the example (22) ''Il pouvait me faire tous les discours qu'l voulait, je ne l'ecoutais pas. Mais je l'ai quand meme entendu'' (p. 187) is correct. The author asserts that there is an exhaustive contrast between the propositions expressed by the two sentences that can be gradated from ''listening'' to ''quand meme hearing'' (less stronger than ''listening'') and to ''not hearing'' (less stronger than ''''quand meme hearing''). The point is that ''ne l'ecoutais pas'' means ''not listening'' (to him), and the author didn't include it in his gradational scale.

Chapter 8 ''Discourse particles in thetic judgments, in dependent sentences, and in non-finite phrases'' written by Werner Abraham opens the third part of the book. I just reproduce its summary because I didn't grasp the author's logic.

The author surveys the discourse effects and conditions of selection of the German modal (discourse) particles. Special attention is paid to the dimension of the Common Ground that mediates between the prior context and the current utterance or speaker and addressee and, depending on the individual modal particle morpheme, allows for negotiation of the question under discussion. Special focus is laid on the restrictions under which modal particles appear in dependent sentences.

The scientific community has developed apparent and simple requirements for the introduction of an academic paper. It is supposed to contain information about: significance and aims of the investigation; its logical structure; sources of data. Nothing of the sort can be found in the Introduction to this chapter. Abraham described neither aims of his research, nor its logical structure, nor sources from which the linguistic data were obtained. Moreover, all the examples (69 of them) in the chapter appear without references to their sources. The Introduction section is big, contains many examples in French, German, and Japanese and ends with a list of selective constraints of MPs in German, such as main clause status, speech act autonomous subordinate sentences non-restrictve attributes in DP, autonomous infinitival phrase, etc. The author claims that the constraints represent ''established knowledge'' (p. 198) without giving any references to the scholarly works, in which that knowledge was established.

Chapter 9 ''Information structure, null case particle and sentence final discourse particle'' written by Yoshio Endo focuses on emotive functions of Japanese final particles. The author shows that they can express anger, empathy, worry and other emotions rather than referring to CG or sharing information. Endo attempts to prove that sentence final particles in Japanese trigger the deletion of case particles and create a news discourse related semantic effect of eliminating focus carried by the subject DP.

As a native speaker of Russian I can confirm that the main and much more common function of particles is to express speaker's emotions rather than to refer to Common Ground. Examples of sentences that Endo gives to illustrate emotive functions of participles (9-12) have Russian analogs that feature various particles to express certain emotions. I must note that some linguistic data in the chapter have no references to their sources.

Chapter 10 ''The discourse marker 'hani' in Turkish'' was written by Didar Akar and Balkiz Osturk. The authors attempted to prove that ''hani'' constructions in Turkish are, semantically, in parallel to the inner negation reading of negative polar questions and involve both a covert negation and a question operator. Pragmatically, they differ from negative polar questions as they are used for triggering an account from the hearer, rather than a simple confirmation or rejection.

Discussing approaches to the analysis of inner and outer negation questions the authors give an extensive description of concept postulated by Ladd et al, finally deciding to take as the basis for their research Krifka's conception that has nothing in common with the Ladd's approach. The impression is that they just wanted to make the chapter longer to meet some requirements.

The chapter contains 61 examples, 10 of them were taken from the works of some other authors, 3 examples (22), (26), and (44) are actually not examples but sentences with some meta-information, though they are numbered as examples, and the authors don't give any references to the sources of the other 48 examples.

Chapter 11 ''Modal particles in Basque: Two cases of interaction between 'ote' and information structure'' is authored by Segio Monforte who attempts to prove that in some varieties of Basque the ‘ote’ particle functions as a phrasal element connected with a Focus Phrase though usually modal particles behave as clitic-heads attached to finite verbs and have no interaction with focal constituents. This particle can be combined with a ''wh-word'' to get emphasis for intensity. In the footnote (p. 285) the author indicates that he used data from written sources of the 19th century (without giving any references to those sources) as well as from interviews with native speakers. Examples that appear in the text are unreferenced. Some assertions made by the author need clarification. Analyzing syntactic positioning of modal particles he states: ''Modal particles precede the finite verb and, therefore, occur between the lexical and finite verbs'' (p. 281). To support this assertion he gives example (11)''... erosten (buy. IPFV) omen (P) du (AUX)''. The example clearly shows that particle ''omen'' comes after the finite verb ( not precedes it as the author states), being followed by the auxiliary. Either the example is incorrect or the author's assertion is false.


This book has some drawbacks. 1) Most chapters hinge upon contribution of the particles to Common Ground structure and management, i. e. upon the modal dimension of discourse ignoring its semantic and relational dimensions. The reader cannot find here analysis of discourse structure, semantic types and logical relations between discourse spans typical for the work written within the scope of discourse analysis. The book's title is misleading and doesn't match its content. Limiting the analysis of the particles to the modal dimension of discourse is a methodological error because their role cannot be properly understood without the investigation of their contribution to its other dimensions. 2) The book (except Chapter 9) ignores apparent emotive component associated with the use of the modal particles. I personally use modal particles in everyday communication to express some emotions, and I am sure this is their main function. Analysis of emotive function has practical implications for human and machine translation, but these problems are not even mentioned in the book. 3) The book was carelessly edited. The editors just included in it papers presented at a conference without making any revisions. Many contributors call their works ''papers'', rather than chapters. Abstracts and conclusions are of various sizes, many of them are short and uninformative. The abstract in Chapter 8 has 3 sentences; the Conclusions section in Chapter 9 contains 4 sentences. The authors use lots of abbreviations without explaining some of them. Only Chapter 3 has a list of abbreviations. 4) The book was carelessly edited. I was surprised to see lots of footnotes (e. g. 23 footnotes in Chapter 11), some of them occupying half of the page (see, e. g. p. 283). The footnotes contain references to sources of data and even analysis of examples. An elementary requirement of a linguistic academic paper is the use of reliable and trustworthy sources of linguistic data. Many contributors seem to be unaware of this requirement. They give lots of examples without providing references to their sources. Some examples may be construed, but in this case the author should properly inform the reader explaining why and what for he/she construed the given example. Not a single chapter provides such explanations. I am convinced a linguistic work cannot be accepted for publication if its author doesn't properly specify sources of linguistic data he/she analyzes. Nevertheless, the reviewers recommended the chapters for publication. For the first time in my practice I have read such a poorly edited book.


This review was written thanks to the support from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, grant 20-07-00124


1. Yatsko, V.A. Integrational discourse analysis conception. URL:

2. Mlynarova, B. (2018) The discourse aspect of semantics and functions of Russian particles in modern newspaper articles. PhD thesis. URL:

3. Mazzola, E. (2004) Semantics of Russian modal particles and its rendering in Italian. PhD thesis. URL:


Viatcheslav Yatsko, ScD, full Professor in the Department of Foreign Linguistics and Language Theory at Katanov State University of Khakasia.

Page Updated: 19-Jul-2021