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Review of  Pragmatic Markers in Oral Narrative

Reviewer: Annamaria Cacchione
Book Title: Pragmatic Markers in Oral Narrative
Book Author: Montserrat González
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): Catalan-Valencian-Balear
Book Announcement: 16.2153

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Date: Sat, 2 Jul 2005 19:48:56 +0200
From: Annamaria Cacchione <>
Subject: Pragmatic Markers in Oral Narrative: The case of English and

AUTHOR: Gonzàlez, Montserrat
TITLE: Pragmatic Markers in Oral Narrative
SUBTITLE: The case of English and Catalan
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Annamaria Cacchione, Dipartimento di Studi Filologici Linguistici e
Letterari, Università di Roma "La Sapienza"

The book "Pragmatic Markers in Oral Narrative" is the account of an
experimental research about the actual use of the most common pragmatic
markers (henceforth PM) made by native speakers of English and Catalan in
their oral narratives of personal experience. Its point of interest comes
from the fact that it represents a good example of meeting between
theoretical issues, field research and methodological problems, making the
book interesting even for scholars and researcher not directly involved in
the specific themes carried out by the author.

The book is divided in two main parts: the former deals with the most
important theoretical features of the issue -- like definitions, the
relationship with the previous literature, the most suitable models to
make reference to, the practical means by which the analysis is carried
out -- in order to set up the proper theoretical framework and deal with
the research provided with all the needed instruments; the latter shows
the research findings, analysing them and coming to conclusions.

After a brief introduction that summarises the aims and the main
hypothesis of the work, the author opens the book with the second chapter,
in which defines the theoretical approach to discourse -- "at the
interface between pragmatic functions of discourse markers and their
repercussion in narrative discourse structure, so it [the study] takes
both a functional and a formal approach" (p. 38) -- and presents the
theoretical framework of the study, that is Labov's narrative model. The
main aim of the study is to prove that PM have a very important role in
the textual organisation of oral narratives, fixing a precise relationship
between text genre and function, that are not generic but text-genre
specific. But we have to consider that the study deals with a very
particular kind of text, i. e. oral narrative of personal experience,
representing both one of the most common type of oral texts and one of the
most complex and interesting. According to Labov claims (see in particular
Labov 1972 and Labov and Waletzky 1967, that are the main reference points
of the study), PM play an essential role in presenting events, not
because they have any important referential meaning but because they fill
one of the most important narrative functions: proving that the event is
worth telling (and listening to) and showing the hearer that the narrator
was really in that situation. The author comes after to define some kind
of narrative elements that are particularly important for the study. The
most important category, introduced by Labov, is that of intensifiers,
evaluative means used by narrators to show their perspective: the author
proposes that some PM act as lexical intensifiers, "by selecting an event
and highlighting its force" (p. 118).

In the third chapter PM are related with the notion of source of coherence
and with the illocutionary potential force of the segment. Making a useful
review of the main models of PM analysis -- made, more or less directly,
by authors like Schiffrin, Redeker, Grosz and Sidner, Sperber and Wilson,
Roulet -- it comes out that PM have the essential functions to organise
and structure the developing of narratives, and are necessary for the
correct interpretation of what is narrated. So the author identify 23
different functions of PM grouped under 4 discourse components: rhetorical
(related to the speaker intentions), sequential (related to structural
features), ideational (related to the ideas of the text) and inferential
(related to the cognitive context).

Chapter four is the hinge between the theoretical part and the
experimental one, and it explains how the research has been made. The
author specifies in fact what she means with oral narrative: while most of
the studies on discourse markers are based on conversational discourse and
text, she worked on monologue discourses, since they are part of a
elicited text with minimum of speaker-hearer interaction, because the
hearer/interviewer does not interrupt the speaker until the narrative is
ended, so what comes out is a long textual piece that can be assimilated
to a monologue discourse. These discourses (40 in all, 20 in English and
20 in Catalan) were elicited following the pattern of sociolinguistic
interview, choosing the Danger of Death question (Labov 1972) in the
form: "Have you ever been in a situation where you thought you were in a
serious danger?". In so doing, the aim is to get over the problems related
to the "principle of formality" and the "observer's paradox", that is
obtaining spontaneous language in spite of the formal context and of the
presence of an observer.

Making a comparison between English and Catalan, the study has a
contrastive approach, related mainly to the lack of data about Catalan
markers, while about English ones there is a wide literature that can help
to enlighten the different aspects of the elements investigated.
Accordingly, the author carefully examines all the aspects related to
these issues, due to their importance in achieving valid and meaningful
findings, but her choice not to give so much importance to the fact that
the interviewers of the English informants were not native speakers of
English, while the ones of the Catalan informants were, is not so
persuasive, since there are many important potential negative effect due
to the foreigner talk that non-native interviewers can generate in their
interviewed/informants, even the author herself pinpoints that there are
no evidence of affecting the structure of the narrative coming from this
kind of interference.

The last part of the chapter shows the transcription system of data, made
in CHAT format provided by the CHILDES project (MacWhinney 1995), by now
the most useful and actually used system of encoding and sharing data. In
order to categorise in the best way the data collected, the author has
utilised several options provided by the system; in particular, she has
coded narrative segments using Labovian labels (e.g. abstract,
orientation, complicating action, evaluation, result, coda) as different
kind of gem, and has introduced 3 dependent tiers: %dia, defining exactly
the narrative segment in which the PM occur, %pra, signalling the
pragmatic function of discourse marker (including 23 codes, corresponding
to the functions defined in chapter 3: e.g. delaying or adding
information, introducing direct speech, reformulating etc.) and %syn, in
order to specify the syntactic position of the PM.

In chapters five, six and seven there are the analysis respectively of the
English, Catalan and contrastive data. The analysis of English data
considers the PM "well, so, then, I mean, you know, anyway" according to
the four discourse components and to narrative segments, and the same
thing is done for Catalan PM "bé, bueno, clar, doncs, llavors, aleshores,
no, eh". The contrastive study shows that the two languages share the same
high concentration of PM in the action and evaluation segments, but
Catalan uses them three time more, probably because of the syntactic-
semantic differences between the languages. So there are several
differences also in the distribution of PM: both English and Catalan PM
belong most of all to the rhetorical and the sequential component, but for
Catalan follow inferential and ideational ones, while for English the
order is inverted. The author ends up the book setting the new hypothesis
that this last mentioned difference means a clear relationship between
ideational structure and referential meaning of PM, and that Catalan PM
have undergone a longer grammaticalization process, becoming more
semantically opaque than the English ones.

Apart from the last considerations, which certainly need more
investigation, the main results of the study is that of clearly showing
the real nature of PM. Far from being mere fillers without any specific
meaning, usable in each part of each text genre, the research has in fact
proved that they are polyfunctional elements highly specialised in some
dominant functions, that they are deeply context-dependent and so, there
is no kind of arbitrary use of markers within a text. We can recognise a
clear tendency of each PM to occur in certain narrative segments and for
certain functions: for example, "so" and "then" are frequent in action
segments while "I mean" in evaluation ones, "bé" and "aleshores" in
sequential units, "you know" works often as inference facilitator, as
do "no, eh, clar" etc.

As highlighted by the author, the functioning of PM establishes
relationships with several important general issues, from text structure
to pragmatic language use, from lexical analysis to syntactical
consideration, and this is the reason why PM are so interesting. In this
sense, even if there are some passages in the book concerning the
cognitive side of the question, it can be noted that this link is not so
deeply developed as it should be, taking into considerations the many and
rich implications that this kind of study could have, e. g. for language
acquisition and the construction of the point-of-view-system. Since the
study is based on narrative structures, maybe the reference to Bruner
researches could have been more developed, but, anyway, this could be
material for further studies.


Bruner, J. (1986) Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, Harvard
University Press.

Grosz, B. J. and Sidner, C. L. (1986) Attention, intentions, and the
structure of discourse. In "Computational Linguistics" 12 (3).

Labov, W. (1972) The Transformation of Experience in Narrative Syntax. In
Language in the Inner City. Philadelphia, University Of Pennsylvania

Labov, W. and Waletzky, J. (1967) Narrative Analysis: Oral Version of
Personal Experience. In Helm, J. (ed.) Essay on the Verbal and Visual
Arts. Seattle, University of Washington Press.

MacWhinney, B. (1995) The CHILDES Project: Tools for Analizing Talk.
Hillsdale, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Redeker, G. (1990) Ideational and Pragmatic Markers of Discourse
Structure. In "Journal of Pragmatics" 14, pp. 367-381.

Roulet, E. (1997) A modular approach to discourse structures.
In "Pragmatics" 7:2, pp. 125-146.

Schiffrin, D. (1987) Discourse Markers. Cambridge University Press.

Sperber, S. and Wilson, D. (1986) Relevance: Communication and Cognition.
Oxford, Basil Blackwell.


Annamaria Cacchione has obtained the Ph.D. in Linguistics and Second
Language Teaching at the University of Foreigners of Siena (Italy) with a
dissertation about reported speech in spontaneous Italian as L2 speech.
She teaches Technical and Academic Writing at the University of Rome "La
Sapienza". Her research interest are: reported speech, first and second
language acquisition, written and spoken language, theory on mind and