The communication of certainty and uncertainty: linguistic, psychological, philosophical aspects 2012

Aktivität: Wissenschaftliche und künstlerische VeranstaltungenKonferenzenForschung

Irina Pandarova - Sprecher*in

Epistemic adverbs and pragmatic variation across varieties of English

There is a growing awareness nowadays that epistemic modal devices are not solely concerned with commenting on the truth value of propositions. Recent research has moved beyond purely typological and semantic treatments of modality and has shown that epistemic modals have a strong pragmatic effect in communication as well. As Capone (2001: 17) argues, ‘‘the use of a more prolix, marked expression when a corresponding unmarked (simpler, less ‘effortful’) alternate expression is available tends to be interpreted as conveying a marked message (one which the unmarked alternative would not or could not have conveyed)’’. Because communicating always has a purpose, modalisation can be seen as having a “rhetorical or argumentative function” (34). Additionally, it has been shown that notions such as Certainty and Uncertainty cannot be associated firmly with any one communicative purpose, i.e. modal devices are multifunctional and context-dependent (e.g. Caffi 1999).
It is these aspects of epistemic modality that my dissertation project sets out to investigate further with regard to the morpho-syntactic category of adverbs. The study makes use of the integrated model adopted by Simon-Vandenbergen and Aijmer (2007), in which adverbs of Certainty are not only indicators of epistemic stance but can also index social, cultural, situational and textual dimensions of communication.
For example, in the exchange below, sure expresses not only Certainty but also acceptance of an alternative argument which precedes it from the point of view of discourse organisation. It also prepares the ground for a counter-argument and is typically associated with informal, spoken language.
A: Oh but that’s too expensive.
B: Sure it costs a lot but that doesn’t matter.

While this perspective is highly illuminating, little attention has been paid to the possibility that there may be pragmatic variation in the use of epistemic adverbs across different varieties of English due to characteristic socio-cultural realities and linguistic histories (cf. Aijmer 2009). Thus, the aim of this paper is to address this possibility and to compare Irish, British and American English systematically with respect to one particular adverb, sure.
My approach is mainly corpus-based but spoken data (and possibly focus interviews) will be utilised where corpus transcriptions are inconclusive. So far, the analysis has uncovered significant differences in terms of frequencies, with sure being much more common in Irish and American English than in British English. Moreover, sure appears to be mainly a feature of spoken, dialogic language. Several typical pragmatic functions can be distinguished as well, for instance concession, persuasion, confirmation, challenge and contrast. Interestingly, these can be linked to different stress and intonation patterns. Finally, a closer look at the data will reveal that the three varieties, as well as individual registers within them may be associated with typical discourse-structuring and pragmatic effects of epistemic sure.
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.
Caffi, Claudia (1999). ‘On Mitigation’. Journal of pragmatics, 31: 881-909.
Capone, Alessandro (2001). Modal Adverbs and Discourse: Two Essays. Progetti Linguistici 14. Edizione ETS, Pisa.
Simon-Vanderbergen, Anne-Marie, and Karin Aijmer (2007). The Semantic Field of Modal Certainty: A Corpus-Based Study of English Adverbs. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
The communication of certainty and uncertainty: linguistic, psychological, philosophical aspects 2012


The communication of certainty and uncertainty: linguistic, psychological, philosophical aspects 2012


Macerata, Italien

Veranstaltung: Konferenz