Unit 7: Pragmatic markers

7.1 General extenders (and that sort of thing, or something)

Pragmatic markers are a fuzzy category and we need to distinguish markers which are more or less prototypical. Less prototypical pragmatic markers are, for example, vocatives, interjections and vague expressions.

In this section we will be concerned with a special kind of vague expression referred to as general extenders. General extenders are unusual as pragmatic markers since they consist of many words and can be realized in many different ways. Typical examples are and that sort of thing, or something like that,which are placed at the end of an utterance or a phrase ‘extending’ what is otherwise a complete utterance. They are interesting both because of their formal flexibility and multifunctionality,

Speakers often use vague language in conversation. Their reason for using vague language is not necessarily that they cannot be bothered to be explicit, but rather vagueness can be a way of signalling that the speaker and hearer share knowledge. The speaker therefore does not need to ‘say everything’ but can rely on the hearer to fill in the missing information. An interesting type of vagueness marker is illustrated by so-called general extenders. In the following example from Evison et al. (2007: 138) the speaker uses a ‘general extender’ to refer to members of a category which the hearer is assumed to be able to fill in:

Speaker 1: And what’s he going to be doing in there?
Speaker 2: I think they’re training him as a trainee manager.
Speaker 1: Frying chips?
Speaker 3: You mean he’s frying chips. Basically. <laughs>
Speaker 2: He says ‘I’m going to do everything. Fry chips and wait tables and stuff’.
Speaker 1: ... there’s no way he’ll be able to do that.
(Evison et al. 2007: 138)

And stuff describes a fuzzy category that is created in the communication situation. It refers to activities that are carried out in a fast-food outlet such as frying hamburgers, serving customers, cleaning tables. A speaker who tried to enumerate all the members of the set would be experienced as pedantic and a bore. The hearer understands what is meant on the basis of his or her general knowledge about places selling fast food.

As shown by this example, extenders are placed at the end of the sentence as ‘tails’. Moreover, they occur in a number of different patterns. Most importantly, we can distinguish two different paradigms depending on whether the extenders are introduced by and or by or. Besides and that sort of thing you find and that kind of thing. Instead of thing as a head noun many speakers use stuff. Notice also that there are short and long extenders. You can say both or something like that and or something. Some patterns are illustrated below:

  1. Are you gonna leave your jackets and things in the classroom?
  2. birthdays in the garden and that sort of thing
  3. it’s from a friend it’s sentimental or something
  4. you know it’d be his private plane and all that nonsense.

TASK

General extenders are also important for learners of English to acquire. However, even advanced learners use them differently from native speakers. Both similarities and differences between native and non-native speakers can be illustrated in learner corpora comparing native and non-native speakers. The table below (adapted from De Cock 2004) shows the differences between native speakers and non-native French speakers in a similar situation (an interview with native and non-native speaker students):

Type of extender

Frequency of occurrence
Non-native speaker

Frequency of occurrence
Native speaker

(and er) and so on

33

2

And so on and so on

5

0

And so on and/er/it was

21

0

Et cetera

24

2

(or) something like that

29

22

Or something

14

57

(and) things like that

18

52

Or things like that

4

1

And so forth and so

3

0

Or whatever

9

21

And everything

3

45

(and) that kind of thing

4

9

And things

1

52

And stuff

0

34

And stuff like that

0

17

(and) that sort of thing

0

10

Sort of thing

0

33

Or anything

0

25

And places like that

0

4

All the rest of it

0

3

  • Describe the differences between native and non-native speakers in terms of overuse (non-native speakers use a general extender more than native speakers) or underuse (non-native speakers use a general extender less frequently than native speakers).
  • Should general extenders in your opinion be taught explicitly to foreign learners or are they learnt mainly by immersion in a different culture? Why do you think they should be taught (or why don’t you think so)?

Read more...

  •  De Cock, S.  (2004) ‘Preferred sequences of words in NS and NNS speech’, Belgian Journal of English Language and Literatures (BELL), New Series 2, 225–46
  • Evison, J., M. McCarthy and A. O’Keeffe (2007) ‘“Looking out for love and all the rest of it”: Vague Category Markers as shared social space’. In J. Cutting (ed.) Vague Language Explored, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp138–57
  • Overstreet, M. (1999) Whales, Candlelight and Stuff Like That: General extenders in English discourse. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press

7.2. Now as a pragmatic marker and as a temporal adverb

In computational linguistics now is regarded as a cue phrase that may mark the structure of the utterance. Now can for example mark the introduction of a new subtopic or the return to an earlier one. However, now is potentially ambiguous with regard to its sentential use as a temporal adverb and its discourse use. The two uses are illustrated below (the examples are from Hirschberg and Litman 1993):

The temporal use:
Fred: Yeah I think we’ll look that up and possibly uh after one of your breaks Harry.
Harry: OK we’ll take one now. Just hang on Bill and we’ll be right back with you.

The discourse use:
Harry: Fred whatta you have to say about this IRA problem?
Fred: OK: You see now unfortunately Harry as we alluded to earlier when there is a distribution from an IRA that is taxable ... discussion of caller’s beneficiary status ... Now the five thousand that you’re alluding to uh of the—

Now in this example signals the return to an earlier topic and is clearly a cue phrase or a pragmatic marker. However, there are also examples where the text seems to give insufficient clues about the interpretation of now. The following example (also from Hirschberg and Litman 1993) is ambiguous between the sentential use and the discourse reading:

Now in AI our approach is to look at a knowledge base as a set of symbolic items that represent something.

Now can have a temporal reading (at this moment) but it can also be used as a pragmatic marker introducing a new topic. In this section and in the task you will be asked to consider the problem of how the different uses can be distinguished. The ambiguity of now has also been noted in the linguistic literature (see Aijmer 2002).

TASK

There are both textual and intonational clues that can be used to distinguish between now as a pragmatic marker and a temporal adverb. Initial position can be a signal that now is a pragmatic marker. As suggested by the existence of ambiguous examples, position is not sufficient to distinguish between the different uses. Other indications are, for instance, collocations with other elements. Moreover, the prosody may help the hearer to disambiguate the two uses (e.g. information about pitch accent and about pauses).

In this task we expect you to use the concordance lines with now in the ICE-GB to examine the use of now as a pragmatic marker or a temporal adverb.

  • Are all the examples clear?
  • Are there any examples which only become clear when you listen to them?
  • What differences (if any) in the distribution between now as a temporal adverb or pragmatic marker do you find when you consider different text types?
  • In the examples with now as pragmatic marker what functions can you distinguish?

Read more...

  • Aijmer, K. (2002) ‘The topic-changer now’ in English Discourse Particle: Evidence from a corpus. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins
  • Hirschberg, J. and D. Litman (1993) ‘Empirical studies on disambiguation of cue phrases’, Computational Linguistics 19: 501–30