LingLang Lunch (3/4/2015): Tania Rojas-Esponda (Stanford University)

Discourse particles and focus effects in a question-under-discussion framework

Discourse particles provide important signals in conversation, by helping speakers and hearers coordinate on the course of an interaction. Therefore, a precise understanding of discourse particles will provide new insights into the pragmatics of conversation. I will present a framework based on questions under discussion that allows us to capture the key information-theoretic structures in conversation that seem to affect the use of discourse particles: the presence or absence of presuppositions, the issues guiding a conversation, and how interlocutors move between these issues. In this talk, I will present two case studies of German discourse particles that highlight central aspects of the QUD framework: ‘überhaupt’ and ‘doch.’ These raise a challenge found in particle systems in many languages: lexicalized focus. Many languages possess particles that can occur with or without focus, and the meanings associated with the unfocused and focused variants are often very different. Since intonation can have discourse-managing functions similar to that of discourse particles, the effect of having or lacking focus marking directly *on* a particle is different from the effect of focus on regular content words. I will identify patterns that allow us to systematically distinguish the meanings of focused and unfocused particles in a focused/unfocused pair. This serves as a stepping stone towards understanding the interplay of grammar, intonation, and interaction.