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Deconstructing variation in pragmatic function: A transdisciplinary case study

  • Martina Wiltschko (a1), Derek Denis (a2) and Alexandra D'Arcy (a3)
Abstract

Despite recent advances (e.g. Cheshire 2007; Pichler 2010; Denis 2015), discourse-pragmatic variables continue to challenge variationist theory and methods. An overarching dilemma concerns multifunctionality, raising difficulties for semantic equivalency and the circumscription of the variable context. In this article we present a case study to illustrate that deconstructing a discourse-pragmatic marker into its composite parts reveals clear criteria for disambiguating its principal function and its contextually derived functions. The discussion centres on the pragmatic marker eh in Canadian English. We illustrate that its multifunctionality is derivable from four parts: principal function, syntactic context, prosodic context, and discourse context. Our deconstruction uses a two-pronged methodology, drawing on storyboard elicitation and sociolinguistic interview data, which mutually reinforce our theoretical arguments. Under this transdisciplinary lens, the exponents of form and function become predictable, constrainable, and systematically derivable for probabilistic modelling within and across speech communities. (Confirmationals, multifunctionality, pragmatic markers, eh, speech acts)*

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Copyright
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Martina Wiltschko Department of Linguistics, University of British Columbia, Totem Field Studios 2613, West Mall, Vancouver BC V6 T 1Z4, CanadaMartina.Wiltschko@ubc.ca
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*

We acknowledge the Salish and Coast Salish peoples on whose traditional territories the Universities of British Columbia and Victoria stand and the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, and Wendat peoples on whose historical and current territories the University of Toronto Mississauga stands, paying special recognition to the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. This work was supported by SSHRC grants to Wiltschko (2013–2018) and D'Arcy (2011–2014), and a SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship to Denis (2015–2017). We thank Sali Tagliamonte for access to the Toronto English Archive and audience members at NWAV 44 and DiPVaC 3 for valuable questions and feedback. We also wish to thank Jenny Cheshire for her incisive editorial comments and suggestions, and two anonymous referees for their critical and constructive reviews.

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