Discourse particles in an intercultural corpus of spoken English

Student thesis: PhD


Based on a large number of authentic examples from an intercultural corpus of spoken English, the present study investigates the relationship between the use of discourse particles and various linguistic, sociolinguistic and contextual factors. Variables such as the collocational pattern of particles, their positional distribution in an utterance, as well as the linguistic background and gender of speakers are examined. The systematic analysis of the intonational pattern of discourse particles, in particular, is made possible by the prosodic transcription of the corpus. The wide range of text types in the data also presents an opportunity to look at the distribution of frequency rates and discourse functions of particles across different contextual settings. In order to study the influence of linguistic background of speakers in greater detail, and to verify the core findings generated from the intercultural corpus, a customised subset of texts from a reference corpus of British English is consulted. Conclusions drawn from these two corpora are then contrasted with the descriptions and presentations of discourse particles in English textbooks to determine to what extent the teaching of discourse particles in textbooks reflects real-world usage.
Two of the most frequently occurring English discourse particles in the spoken language, namely well and so, are analysed in the present study. Results from the intercultural corpus show that the two discourse particles under investigation serve a variety of discourse functions in the textual, interpersonal and interactional domains. In terms of first language and gender influence, the two particles display varying degrees of sociolinguistic variation. The research also demonstrates the importance of taking into account a range of linguistic and contextual features in the interpretation of discourse particles. These core findings as regards the pragmatic functions of particles and the effect of first language of speakers are largely substantiated by the customised British corpus. In reference to the pedagogical aspect of the present study, the fact that a wide discrepancy is observed between textbooks and naturally-occurring data in the use of discourse particles has significant implications for the improvement of teaching materials for spoken English.
Date of Award2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
SupervisorWai Lin Leung (Chief supervisor)

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