[Ads-l] Meaningless "so" at start of reply sentence

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 12 21:02:55 EST 2017

Googling for "sentence-initial 'so'" yields some familiar faces.

Geoff Nunberg on Fresh Air:

Arnold Zwicky on his blog:

Grant Barrett on A Way With Words:

Mark Liberman on Language Log:

On Sun, Nov 12, 2017 at 5:22 PM, Margaret Winters <mewinters at wayne.edu>

> I've been noticing it for a couple of years at the LSA and other
> conferences - younger speakers particularly tend to start their talks with
> 'so' or 'ok'.  I've been understanding it as a semantic inchoative - 'This
> is an announcement that I am getting going on my talk'.  I once started
> trying to gather data at a conference (approximate age of speaker, gender,
> and first word), but got distracted too many times and gave it up.  I don't
> know of anything has been written on it, but would be interested.
> Margaret
> ----------------------------
> Former Provost
> Professor Emerita - French and Linguistics
> Wayne State University
> Detroit, MI  48202
> mewinters at wayne.edu
> ________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of
> Cohen, Gerald Leonard <gcohen at MST.EDU>
> Sent: Sunday, November 12, 2017 5:12 PM
> Subject: Meaningless "so" at start of reply sentence
> Yesterday a friend asked me about something I've noticed for at least a
> year: On TV and radio I often hear a response to a question begin with the
> meaningless word so.
> E.g.:
> Question: Did the Democrats have a good turnout?
> Answer begins: So let's look at the figures.
> Has this feature been treated yet in any linguistic discussions?  And is
> my impression correct that it is a relatively recent development (the past
> year or two)?

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