It’s like, why fictive interaction? On the multifunctionality of direct speech in spoken English and languages without writing

Esther Pascual, Lourens de Vries

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

WS146: New Perspectives on New (and old) Quotatives

This paper focuses on the multifunctional use of direct speech as in the ‘like’ construction in English (“I was like Oh God!”), compared to the grammar of direct speech in Kombai, an aboriginal Papuan language without a writing system. We argue that the pragmatics of English and the grammar of Kombai equally allow for the use of direct speech to (re)present speech, thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and intentions. Indeed, it has been widely accepted that the pragmatic marker like’ is often used to preface direct speech to refer to non-genuine quotations. Similarly, in Kombai grammar direct speech is obligatory after any speech act verb; it is the only way to report thoughts, beliefs, and emotions; and it constitutes the unmarked way to express intentions. Thus, what is a pragmatic feature in English is part of the grammar in Kombai.

We further concentrate on the similarities between the functions of direct speech in the English 'like' construction and direct speech in other grammatical contexts. We suggest that the English like construction –just as multifunctional direct speech in general– is not restricted to one sociolinguistic group or language genre. We show that it occurs in as diverse settings as the speech of a priest and the written report of a criminal lawyer. We argue that the multifunctionality of the like construction merely echoes the pragmatics of its direct speech constituent and hence that the construction does not use direct speech in a particularly novel manner. More specifically, we regard instances of the like construction –as well as similar direct speech constructions in English and Kombai– as involving fictive interaction (Pascual 2002, 2006), namely the use of a non-genuine communicative exchange, typically not involving a literal or loose quotation.

The data on English was mostly gathered through fieldwork in legal and other settings in California (Pascual 2002); the data on Kombai was gathered through extensive ethnography in Papua New Guinea (de Vries 1993, 2003). The findings on Kombai are discussed together with findings on other Papuan languages as well as other languages without a writing system, as discussed in the literature.

Quoted works

Pascual, Esther. 2002. Imaginary Trialogues: Conceptual Blending and Fictive Interaction in Criminal Courts. Utrecht: LOT Dissertation Series 68.

Pascual, Esther. 2006. Fictive interaction within the sentence: A communicative type of fictivity in grammar. Cognitive Linguistics 17(2): 245-267.

Vries, Lourens J. de. 1993. Direct quotations and Kombai grammar. In: Forms and Functions in Kombai, an Awyu language of Irian Jaya. Pacific Linguistics Series B, 108. Australian National University Press, Canberra, pp. 91–130.

Vries, Lourens J. de. 2003. New Guinea communities without writing and views of primary orality. Anthropos 98, 397–405.

Session: Workshop (part 2)
New Perspectives on New (and old) Quotatives
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 02