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The Use of Modal Particles in Netherlandic and Belgian Dutch Imperatives

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 November 2019

Carol Fehringer*
Newcastle University
Leonie Cornips*
Meertens Instituut & Maastricht University
School of Modern Languages Newcastle UniversityNewcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RUUK []
Meertens Instituut Oudezijds Achterburgwal185 1012 DK AmsterdamThe Netherlands []


This paper investigates the use of modal particles in spoken Dutch imperatives. Two types of particles are differentiated: mitigating, which are often used as a politeness strategy, and reinforcing, which add extra force to the utterance (Vismans 1994). Our findings show that in Netherlandic Dutch, the use of mitigating particles is determined by the type of occupation that the speaker has: Speakers in service-oriented occupations use mitigating particles significantly more often than speakers in nonservice-oriented occupations, and it is argued that this is a function of their need to be more polite in their role as a service provider. Since the data do not come from the speakers’ workplace interactions but from informal conversations with friends and family, it is suggested that speech patterns of speakers’ professional and private language practices influence each other. The effect of occupation is not observed in Belgian Dutch, however, where mitigating particles are significantly less frequent. Moreover, an important methodological consideration arises from this analysis: There is the need for researchers to examine the data beyond the standard sociolinguistic categorizations made available by large corpora.

© Society for Germanic Linguistics 2019 

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We are extremely grateful to Ton van der Wouden of the Meertens Instituut Amsterdam and Leiden University for his substantial contribution to this paper. We would also like to thank Angela Medendorp and Elijne van der Starre for their valuable input, and also the two anonymous reviewers of this paper.



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