Combining corpus and experimental methods to study dialogic engagement in spoken discourse: an analysis of complement-taking predicates

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The main objective of this paper is to challenge the treatment of first-person epistemic and evidential complement-taking predicates (CTPs) in Martin and White’s (2005) APPRAISAL theory, and to offer suggestions for improving the model. Based on the combined results of a corpus-based analysis of CTPs and of a psycholinguistic experiment, we demonstrate that several co-textual and situational factors play a significant role in speakers’ interpretation of the dialogic function of CTPs. We argue that a flexible approach is necessary to account for the multifunctional nature of CTPs in discourse, and that co-text and context need to be taken into account for an accurate analysis of these expressions.According to Martin and White (2005), CTPs such as I think and I believe are used by speakers and writers to signal that they take into consideration the possible existence of alternative viewpoints, and to make dialogic space for possible subsequent arguments. These predicates are classified as instances of dialogic expansion within the authors’ APPRAISAL framework (Martin & White, 2005: 98). They are set in contrast to expressions of dialogic contraction (e.g. obviously, however, but), which are used in discourse to challenge, resist or reject alternative value positions. In spoken discourse, however, CTPs do not appear to always perform an expanding function. In (1), for example, I think co-occurs with the dialogically contractive obviously, which seems to override the functional content of the CTP, making the turn as a whole relatively contractive.(1) B: I think he was \obviously trying to steer us in that direction [əә] and sort ofA: yesB: dropping hintsMartin and White (2005: 103) recognize that the function of ENGAGEMENT expressions “may vary systematically under the influence of different co-textualconditions, and across registers, genres and discourse domains.” These conditions, however, are not discussed in detail by the authors, nor have they been systematically investigated in the literature. In this study, we combine corpus- based and psycholinguistic methods to investigate the effect of different contextual factors on the dialogic function of CTPs.The study is conducted in two phases. First, an exploratory qualitative analysis of CTPs in the London-Lund Corpus (LLC) of spoken British English is carried out. The aim of the analysis is to identify some factors that may play a role in determining the dialogic force of CTPs, and generate hypotheses about their effects. In the second phase, a psycholinguistic experiment is conducted to test the effect of three of these factors on speakers’ interpretation of utterances containing CTPs. The results indicate that CTPs not only serve to expand the dialogic context in which they occur, but may also function to inhibit dialogue. Participant status, intonation contour and the co-occurrence of a contractive marker are shown to have a significant effect on the function of CTPs.This study contributes to our understanding of the pragmatic functions of CTPs. It also offers suggestions for the development of the APPRAISAL model and concrete guidelines for implementing the model in corpus analyses of spoken discourse. Finally, it demonstrates the usefulness of complementing corpus and experimental techniques to gain better insights into linguistic phenomena.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventICAME 37 - Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China, Hong Kong
Duration: 2016 May 252016 May 29


ConferenceICAME 37
Country/TerritoryHong Kong
CityHong Kong, China
Internet address

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Specific Languages

Free keywords

  • Stance
  • discourse analysis
  • Experiment
  • corpus linguistics
  • epistemic stance
  • English Linguistics


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