(no subject)

Elisabeth Degand degand at lige.ucl.ac.be
Mon Aug 16 13:12:17 UTC 2010

This is a call for abstracts for a panel on “Modal particles and discourse
markers: two sides of a same coin?” which will be organized during the
12th International Pragmatics conference in Manchester (July, 3rd – 8th,

Convenors: Bert Cornillie (Leuven), Liesbeth Degand (Louvain-la-Neuve) and
Paola Pietrandrea (Rome);

Discussant: Elizabeth Traugott (Stanford)

The aim of the panel is to define the class of modal particles and to set
up a classification of its members. Therefore, we will investigate the
intersection between modal particles and discourse markers (i.e. including
relational markers on a local level and structure markers on a macro
level) and discuss whether or not it is possible to draw a line between
these two types of linguistic expressions.

The definition we want to propose as the starting point for the
discussions during the workshop is the following : a modal particle has
scope over the whole utterance, is intersubjectively motivated and can
appear in sentence-initial, sentence-medial and sentence-final position.
Examples are English right and well. In this context the question arises
whether  German modal particles such as aber, ja, doch are a
language-specific phenomenon with hardly any equivalents in other
languages? If there are equivalents, what features do they have to share
with the German modal particles ? That is, how far do we go to open the

Are modal particles a subtype of discourse markers, or should both be seen
as subcategories of the more encompassing pragmatic markers (Fraser 1996),
or discourse particles (Fischer 2006)? If the latter is the case, what is
it that distinguishes discourse markers from modal particles? Clearly,
both linguistic expressions are multifunctional and “function in
cognitive, expressive, social, and textual domains” (Schiffrin 2001: 54). 
But modal particles have often been described in a more restricted sense,
i.e. as specifying “the relationship between speaker and hearer” (Hansen
1998: 42) or “to signal one’s understanding of what the situation is all
about with respect to the argumentative relations built up in the current
situation.” (Fischer 2007: 47). On the other hand, discourse markers too
“are related to the speech situation [and] (…) express attitudes and
emotions” (Bazzanella 2006: 449). “The study of discourse markers is
therefore a part of the study of modal and metatextual comment” (Lewis
2006, 43).  Distinctions between modal particles and discourse markers
thus become hard to maintain. As noted by Traugott (2007: 141), “One
approach is to distinguish sharply between discourse markers and modal
particles on both formal and discourse functional grounds (…). Another is
to make no difference between the terms, apparently on discourse pragmatic
grounds, while recognizing that “formally” clause-internal position is the
modal particle position.”

Clearly, in some cases, macrostructural functions and modal functions can
be combined.  This seems the case with German modal particles (Fischer
2000). Interestingly, Fischer (2000:27) mentions that English tag
questions have been found to be used as translation equivalents for German
modal particles (Kohler 1978, Fillmore 1981, Nehls 1989). Waltereit (2001)
indeed shows that there are other modalization forms carrying out a
function analogous to modal particles.

The panel aims at disentangling the functions of modal particles and
discourse markers, both in synchrony and diachrony, in speech and writing,
and cross-linguistically. We envisage a one day workshop with 5 to 8 paper
slots of 30 minutes and a discussion slot lead by Elizabeth Traugott
(Stanford). Presentations are invited on the following topics/questions:

Can MPs be seen as a subclass of DMs?
Are modal particles language-specific, and if so, what are their
functional and formal equivalents in “modal particle free” languages?
If they are completely different, what makes them different?
Where does the modal content of MPs come from, and how is it expressed in
Is there a division of labor between MPs and DMs?
Is there any interaction between MPs and DMs?
Is it possible to maintain a cross-linguistic distinction between modal
particles and discourse markers, both on a formal and on a function level?
Do MPs and DMs show similar or diverging paths of diachronic evolution?

Important dates:

October 1st, 2010      send abstracts (500 words) to
liesbeth.degand at uclouvain.be

Oct. 15, 2010        notification of acceptance/rejection

Oct. 29, 2010      authors must have submitted their abstracts to IPrA
(n.b.: IPrA membership required!)

July 3-8, 2011     IPrA Conference, Manchester


Fillmore, Charles J. (1981). Pragmatics and the Description of Discourse.
In Peter Cole (ed.) Radical Pragmatics. New York etc: Academic Press,
Fischer, Kerstin (2000). From Cognitive Semantics to Lexical Pragmatics.
The functional Polysemy of Discourse Particles. Berlin/New York: Mouton de
Fischer, Kerstin (ed.) (2006). Approaches to discourse particles, [Studies
in Pragmatics 1]. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.
Fischer, Kerstin (2007). Grounding and common ground: Modal particles and
their translation equivalents. In Anita Fetzer and Kerstin Fischer (eds),
Lexical Markers of Common Grounds [Studies in Pragmatics 3]. Amsterdam:
Elsevier, 47-65.
Fraser, Bruce (1999). What are discourse markers? Journal of Pragmatics 31
(7), 931-952.
Hansen, Maj-Britt Mosegaard (1998). The semantic status of discourse
markers, Lingua 104 (3-4), 235-260.
Kohler, Klaus (1978). Englische “Question Tags" und ihre deutschen
Entsprechungen. Arbeitsberichte des Instituts für Phonetik der Universität
Kill (10): 61-77.
Nehls, Dietmar (1989). German Modal Particles Rendered by English
Auxiliary Verbs. In Harald Weydt (ed.). Sprechen mit Partikeln. Berlin/New
York: de Gruyter, 282-292.
Schiffrin, Deborah (2001). “Discourse markers, meaning, and context”. In:
Schiffrin, Deborah; Tannen, Deborah; Hamilton, Heidi E. (eds.). The
Handbook of Discourse Analysis (Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics).
Oxford/Maldon, MA: Blackwell,
pp. 54-75.
Traugott, Elizabeth Closs (2007). Discourse markers, modal particles, and
contrastive analysis, synchronic and diachronic,” Catalan Journal of
Linguistics 6, 139-157.
Waltereit, Richard (2001). Modal particles and their functional
equivalents: a speech-act-theoretic approach,” Journal of Pragmatics 33
(9), 1391-1417.

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