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JefVerschueren, Jan-Ola Ostman, Jan Blommaert & Chris Bulcaen (eds.)

Handbook ofPragmatics 1996 © 1996. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publ. Co


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-1. Introduction


Function andform

Pragmatic particles do not contribute to the propositional content of an utterance. This important (negative) property of pragmatic particles is not sufficient as a defining characteristic, though, because it also holds for a number of focus particles and emotional interjections. A short positive definition of pragmatic particles is, however, not easy to give, because the items involved fulfill a whole array of


they can modify the illocutionary force, indicate the

beginning, continuation and end of a tum, they can indicate a coherence break in the ongoing discourse, or signal the background or foreground status of a stretch of discourse. In general, pragmatic particles help to structure the communication process and to embed utterances into their communicative context. We call the

forms that

embedding and organization 'pragmatic

the function of communicative

particles , because they typically are '

short, monosyllabic, unaccentable point of Zwicky

From a morphological

particles are intermediate between 1985; Leard 1996; van Baar like polysyllabic words

"'"""-''"' fonns





1997: ch. 6). Other types of

(moreover), phrases (you know), tags (isn't can fulfill the


embedding and organization as well. Even suprasegmental, paralinguistic and non-verbal expressive means could be added to this list. The term 'particle' is



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thus used here in a prototypical way. If one wants to avoid the phonological­ morphological association of the term 'pragmatic particle,' one could use the more neutral term 'pragmatic marker' instead (cf. Holker 1990:80; Fraser 1996). See for the use of the term 'particle' in the history of linguistic thought Schenkeveld (1986) and Gully (1995). A linguistic form that can function as a pragmatic particle typically

fulfills other functions as well. English in which case it is parenthetic



function as a 'normal' adverb

say "Form A


(A: What does your daughter in law call

Schiffrin 1987:109), but in other positions it can

Well that's a sore spot,

saying "Form A

can be used as a pragmatic particle,

(I have the feeling that he's- well- not too keen on

or in utterance-initial position

the idea)


(John doesn't feel very well).

Thus, instead of

a pragmatic particle in language X" it is more appropriate to

can function as

a pragmatic particle in language X". If we keep in

mind that..we actually mean 'use as a pragmatic particle', then there is no objection to the term 'pragmatic particle' as a shorthand. It is not always easy to decide whether we should consider a certain use of a form as a pragmatic particle use. Whereas Brausse (1991) argues that the German negation particle examples like


should be considered as a pragmatic particle in

Muflt du nicht gehen?

("Don't you have to go?"), and Wegener

(1989) considers the German pronominals in

mir and dir (known as

Fall mir nicht!( "Don't fall!") as pragmatic particles, Meibauer

'ethical dative') (1994:43) does

not agree with Brausse's and Wegener's view.



Before we continue with a few more introductory remarks, it might be helpful to provide some examples containing pragmatic particles. For ease of reference, the examples


all been chosen from papers in Weydt (1989).


be! (p. 108, Bulgarian)

Sit down Do sit down' (impatient).

Nani iorun What are you saying



121, Japanese) (negative tone)

Pragmatic particles

Er kommt doch heute? (p.





He comes part today 'He is coming today, isn't he?'

A: Est-tu capable de faire r;.a? B: Ah bien moi certain. (p.



Are you able to do that?

Anyway, we'll try it for a few minutes (p.

(5) (6)




part quick also very


rna weri. (p.

594, French).

Me, sure!

612, English).

418, Sissala).

'Moreover, the monkey is also very quick'.




ved' pojde8


s nami.

629, Russian).

You part are coming with us 'You are coming with us, aren't you?'



ton ides

de? (p.

547, Modern Greek)

Where him saw-you part 'Where did you see him?' (dissatisfaction about not giving an answer more quickly)

As these examples show, the pragmatic particles can occur utterance-initially, sentence-internally, and sentence finally. Languages seem to have individual preferences for the placement of pragmatic particles, but these preferences are not absolute. In the Dutch utterance "Overigens is de soep we! beet hoar!" ("By the way, the soup is hot, you hear!"), the beginning, middle and end


contain a pragmatic particle. Vedic Sanskrit puts its pragmatic particles in a second,


position (see Schaufele



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Definitions and terminology

The literature that deals with pragmatic particles is, unfortunately, not very consistent in terminology. The term 'pragmatic particles' is used by, among others, Ostman



(1982, 1995),





and Meyerhoff

(1984:132-133) states that

their role ... is more to 'fit' the context than to communicate new information ... Pragmatic particles ... reflect choices among the numerous ways in which individual utterances can be situated in their discourse context.

Other authors US6 a different term, but the definitions they give are often very similar to that of Fillmore. Hansen


defines what she calls discourse

particles as

non-propositional connective items of variable scope, whose meaning is entirely procedural, and which function


instructions from speaker

to hearer on how to integrate their host unit into a coherent mental representation of the discourse.

With 'variable scope' Hansen means that besides (parts of) individual utterances longer stretches of discourse can be the 'host' of a pragmatic particle. Fernandez (1994:5) uses the term 'particules enonciatives', and her definition is as follows:










propositionnel, qualifier le processus d'enonciation plut6t que la structure des enonces, et ancrer les messages du locuteur dans ses attitudes (/sentiments) de fa

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