A socio-pragmatic study of discourse features in a Northern English dialect

Heike Pichler

Centre for Linguistic Research, University of Aberdeen, UK

TP143: Pragmatic variation: the interplay of micro-social and macro-social factors

A growing number of sociolinguistic studies suggest that variable surface realizations of syntactic and discourse features are motivated by discourse function (see, for example, Tottie 1991, Ford 1993, Stenström 1998, Cheshire 1981, 1999, 2003, Scheibman 2000, Tao 2001, Snell 2007). This paper contributes to the existing literature on functionally-conditioned variation in English dialects and argues that a close pragmatic analysis of linguistic variables can account for social patterns of variation in their surface forms.

The analysis is based on approximately 35 hours of tape-recorded interview data from Berwick-upon-Tweed, England's northernmost town. The data are drawn from a sample of 36 speakers from both genders and three age groups to allow for apparent-time analysis. The linguistic analysis focuses on the discourse marker (DM) I DON'T KNOW and negative polarity tag questions. With regard to the former, it is shown that the dramatic increase in the use of the localised non-standard variant I divn't knaa among a subsample of young males can be accounted for in part by an extension in the use of this variant to new levels of discourse, i.e., subjective and subjective-textual (examples (1) and (2) below), amongst these speakers.

(1) Luke: For the kids that are on drugs I blame the parents me. @

HP: Why.

Luke: I divn't knaa I think they're just (?) they're no looking after their kids properly or they just (.) just letting them get away wi it.

(2) Luke: I think if you did that, right. That'd cause (.) e:h (.) a bit of (..) I divn't knaa, I divn't think Berwick would get on as well.

Based on these findings, the paper then investigates whether the conditioning effect of function also applies to negative polarity tag questions. A qualitative analysis of this variable is undertaken to reveal whether the concentration of paradigmatic and particularly non-paradigmatic uses of innit (examples (3) and (4) below) among men and the overall dearth of other non-standard variants, including in't-tags and tags formed with the non-standard localised forms divn't and no (for standard English don't and not) (examples (5) to (7) below), are functionally conditioned.

(3) It's too congested, innit?

(4) Oh, they was pleased as punch, innit?

(5) I think it's cos we're coming into a different era, in't we?

(6) You get drugs everywhere, divn't you?

(7) Kecks really is underpants, is it no?

The paper thus investigates whether the variation in the surface form of discourse features can be explained in terms of their functions in discourse. It is argued that in some cases at least a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods of data analysis contributes to our understanding of the trajectories of change of these linguistic features.

Session: Themed Panel (part 2)
Pragmatic variation: The interplay of micro-social and macro-social factors
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 15