34th conference of the International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English - ICAME 2013

Aktivität: Wissenschaftliche und künstlerische VeranstaltungenKonferenzenForschung

Irina Pandarova - Sprecher*in

The discourse marker and emphasizer sure across varieties of English

My PhD project investigates pragmatic variation in the use of the discourse marker and emphasizer sure, which has received very little attention so far. Sure is known as a backchannel and an agreement marker similar to yes (Tottie 1991). It has also been cited as a marker of Americanness in its emphasizer function in lexical bundles of the type ‘(NP) sure + AUX’, as in He sure is an odd fellow (Tottie 2002: 169; Aijmer 2009). A different type of sure, usually in utterance-initial and -final position, has been attested for Irish English (Walshe 2009; Amador-Moreno 2006). The aim of my project is to build on the existing research on sure and carry out the first systematic synchronic, comparative analysis of its formal and functional characteristics in Irish, British and American English in order to fully understand its versatility and multifunctionality. My approach is both corpus-based and corpus-driven in that I attempt to identify and quantify both attested and unattested features in the use of sure across the three varieties.

The focus of the proposed work-in-progress report falls on the formal characteristics of sure in the spoken components of ICE Ireland and ICE Great Britain, as well as the Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English. The analysis seeks to characterise sure in terms of syntactic position, scope and level of utterance integration. This is done by considering features at the morpho-syntactic level, contextual cues and editorial comments provided in the corpora (e.g. pauses and restarts). Crucially, the audio recordings on which the corpus transcriptions are based will be studied as well in order to determine the phonetic realisations of sure, different intonation patterns associated with it and its relationship to the preceding or following utterance, which cannot always be reconstructed only by relying on the transcriptions.

Unsurprisingly, the results obtained in this study show that sure is overwhelmingly a feature of informal spoken interaction. However, there are highly significant differences in the distribution of sure across the three varieties, with sure most frequent in Irish English and least frequent in British English. There are also considerable formal differences across the three varieties. In Irish English, sure is predominantly initial, with scope over the following utterance and integrated prosodically into it. Interestingly, it can introduce interrogatives and a particular type of tag clause (e.g. He’s not at home, sure he’s not). It can also be tagged to the end of an utterance. In British English, sure is usually a backchannel or marker of agreement. This is typical for American English as well but here sure is also very common in medial, usually pre-finite position as an emphasizer.


Aijmer, Karin (2009). ‘The Pragmatics of Adverbs’. One Language, Two Grammars?: Differences between British and American English. Günther Rohdenburg and Julia Schlüter (Eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 324-340.

Amador Moreno, Carolina P. (2006). The use of Hiberno-English in Patrick MacGill’s Early Novels: Bilingualism and Language Shift from Irish to English in County Donegal. Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press.

Tottie, Gunnel (2002). An Introduction to American English. Oxford and Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.

Tottie, Gunnel (1991). "Conversational Style in British and American English: The Case of Backchannels." In: Karin Aijmer and Bengt Altenberg (ed.). English Corpus Linguistics. London: Longman, 254-271.

Walshe, Shane (2009). Irish English as Represented in Film. Frankfurt am Main: Lang.
34th conference of the International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English - ICAME 2013


34th conference of the International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English - ICAME 2013: English corpus linguistics on the move: Applications and implications


Santiago de Compostela, Spanien

Veranstaltung: Konferenz