English placeholders as manifestations of vague language : their role in social interaction

Source document: Brno studies in English. 2019, vol. 45, iss. 2, pp. [201]-216
Extent
[201]-216
  • ISSN
    0524-6881 (print)
    1805-0867 (online)
Type: Article
Language
English
Abstract(s)
The present paper is a sketch of a larger project focusing on overt manifestations of vague language (as understood and classified by Channell 1994) and on communicative strategies underlying both intentional and unintentional vagueness in our everyday encounters. Vagueness is not approached here as a deviation from expected precision and clarity but as a relevant contribution to naturalness and the informal tenor of our everyday talks. The focus is on relatively peripheral, yet communicatively relevant means of vague language, i.e. placeholders (PHs), with restriction to Noun PHs, such as Mr Thingy, John Whatsisname, whatchamacallit or whatsit, their forms, functions and distribution in British and American English, as emergent from Mark Davies' BYU suite corpora. Within the theoretical framework of a functional and systemic grammar, the PHs are approached here as systemic parts of vague language network, as pro-forms referring to yet-to-be-specified referents, delayed due to word-formulating difficulties, which are caused by temporarily forgotten, difficult-to-pronounce, or deliberately withhold naming units. In the analytical part, two types of relations will be activated to taxonomize the results: the paradigmatic relation of alternations (Thingy/Whatsisname/So and so), and the syntagmatic relation of cooccurrence. These will be used to project the PHs into the surrounding contexts in order to verify the following research tasks: Do the PHs represent a close set or are they open to innovations? Are the corpus data sufficient for grasping the spectrum of strategies underlying PHs use? Are there significant differences between the British and American usage? Unlike studies primarily focusing on the "therapeutic" effect of PHs (i.e. a self-repair), this paper, taking into consideration contextual settings of the analyzed corpus data, enriches the existing taxonomies by no less important "diplomatic" use of PHs, in which the PHs are used as a "bluff", a diplomatic withdrawal of the referent. Having quantified and qualified the two basic uses of PHs, i.e. therapeutic and diplomatic, the author identifies five communicative strategies prototypically associated with the use of PHs in general and nominal PHs in particular. All are associated with Goffman's (1955) notion of facework and its elaboration in Brown and Levinson's (1987) Politeness Theory and hence their presence in discourse is pragmatically motivated.
Document
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