Università dell'Insubria, Como (Italy), 16-17 October 2014

International Workshop - Pragmatic Markers, Discourse Markers and Modal Particles: What do we know and where do we go from here?


The workshop aims to contribute to the discussion on the emergence and use of pragmatic markers (PMs), discourse markers (DMs) and modal particles (MPs). Although terminologies and classifications dramatically diverge in this field, for the sake of clarity PMs can be broadly defined as markers of functions belonging to the domains of social cohesion (the hearer-speaker relationship, the social identity of H and S, the type of social act performed; e.g. please, danke, if I may interrupt, etc.), DMs as strategies to ensure textual cohesion (discourse planning, discourse managing, information status; e.g. utterance initial usages of but, anyway, still, etc.), and MPs as signals of personal stance (the speaker’s perspective towards the discourse and the interlocutor; e.g. German ja, eben, doch etc.). In pragmatics and in grammaticalization studies PMs, DMs, and MPs have been the object of extensive investigation. However, their heterogeneous character – along with the fact that they derive from many different sources, and that these items are often multifunctional – has often resulted in fragmentary descriptions that fit well the facts of a given language or group of languages, but may be seriously challenged when one tries to apply the lessons learnt from the analysis of a single language to other languages.

The workshop, organized as part of the Italian National Research Program “Linguistic Representations of Identity. Sociolinguistic Models and Historical Linguistics” (www.mediling.eu), welcomes papers providing new insights into classical issues such as the delimitation and categorization of the three categories of PMs, DMs and MPs, as well as papers exploring other crucial (but somewhat less discussed) issues, such as, for instance, the sociolinguistics of PMs, DMs and MPs. Particularly encouraged are cross-linguistic or contrastive studies that take into account the languages of the Mediterranean area, which are the focus of the Research Program, but contributions on other languages and language families (especially underdescribed ones) are equally welcome. The following is a non-exhaustive list of relevant questions, clustering around a few thematic foci:

(i) Universality vs. language specificity: are PMs, DMs and MPs cross-linguistically relevant (universal) or language-specific categories? If they are universal, which are the criteria for their classification and for distinguishing them? Are these criteria formal or functional in nature? Are they onomasiological or semasiological? Do these criteria apply equally for the three classes? If they are not universal, which approach to grammar is the most suitable to model their behavior (e.g. constructionist approaches)?

(ii) PMs, DMs and MPs and their functional equivalents: some of these categories are particularly easy to recognize in some languages. A case in point are MPs in Germanic languages. In other languages, it is more difficult to single out a class of MPs, DMs and/or PMs. How do these languages perform the functions carried out by MPs, DMs and PMs in other languages? Are there any universal tendencies in the (potentially open-ended) class of functional and formal equivalents of PMs, DMs and MPs?

(iii) The sources of PMs, DMs and MPs: which are the most frequent sources for PMs, DMs and MPs? Are there any regularities across languages in the processes leading from definable sets of source items via comparable stages of development to these three types of markers? Through which path(s) do verbs (e.g. Italian guarda ‘look!’), adverbs (well, eben) and other word classes develop into PMs? What do comparative diachronic data reveal about their emergence? Are their paths of development (partially) parallel, or do they display salient divergences in some cases? Are there any ‘pragmatic cycles’, comparable to Jespersen’s cycles, that can account for the diachronic renewal of PMs, DMs and MPs?

(iv) PMs, DMs and MPs in contact situations: how do these markers behave in contact situations? Are there any borrowability hierarchies among these types of markers? Are more hearer-sided markers (such as e.g. PMs as opposed to MPs) more prone to be borrowed in asymmetric contact situations? Or is borrowability simply a matter of (lack of) syntactic integration?

(v) PMs, DMs and MPs as markers of sociolinguistic identity: to what extent can these markers function as signals of sociolinguistic identity? Is there any other type of social significance attached to variation in the use of PMs, DMs and MPs within a given linguistic community?

(vi) PMs, DMs, and MPs as markers of subjectivity: when and how do they function to express the speaker’s perspective towards the content s/he’s conveying, towards the interlocutor, or towards the communicative situation? What do we know about markers that are used to build, refine, negotiate, compare or express the speaker’s identity in discourse?