The intersubjective role of I think constructions in conversation: Combining evidence from corpus and experimental techniques

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Combining data from spontaneous face-to-face conversations in the London-Lund Corpus (LLC) of spoken British English and a laboratory experiment, this paper analyses the dynamic nature of I think constructions in dialogue. We make use of the functional category of ENGAGEMENT in APPRAISAL theory as an analytical tool (Martin & White, 2005). More precisely, we examine whether I think constructions are used to open up the dialogic space for new ideas or counterarguments, EXPANSION, or whether they are used to fend off alternative views, CONTRACTION. We explored the conversational corpus data to identify important contextual factors for the functional use of I think in spoken dialogue. The investigation pointed to three factors that are particularly important for the interpretation of I think constructions in conversation. They are: prosodic cues, other stance markers and social factors. On the basis of this information, we were able to formulate three hypotheses for our experiment: • H1. Utterances with I think produced by equal-status speakers are perceived as more expansive than utterances produced by higher-status speakers. • H2. Utterances with I think only are perceived as more expansive than utterances with I think and an additional contractive marker. • H3. Utterances in which I think receives an accent on the verb are perceived as more expansive than utterances with accent on the pronoun, which in turn are perceived as more expansive than utterances with no accent on I think. The contributions of this study are both descriptive and theoretical in nature. It is shown that for an accurate description of ENGAGEMENT expressions in conversation, it is necessary to take the prosodic and socio-cognitive dynamic nature of meanings in language use into account (Cruttenden 1997; Du Bois, 2007; Geeraerts et al., 1994; Kärkkäinen, 2003; Paradis, 2003, 2015). We question the APPRAISAL claim that I think is always expansive and the approach itself because of its conception of meaning in language as fixed and its lack of explanatory tools for poly-functionality and meaning shifts. Our results show that I think constructions invoke both EXPANSION and CONTRACTION, and that the interpersonal force of I think constructions rely both on the meanings contributed by the predicates themselves and on contextual factors. Interactions between interlocutor status, prosodic marking and the co-occurrence of other stance markers are shown to have a significant effect on the function of I think, with interlocutor status having the strongest and most consistent effect. References Cruttenden, A. (1997). Intonation (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Du Bois, J. W. (2007). The stance triangle. In R. Englebretson (Ed.), Stancetaking in discourse: Subjectivity, evaluation, interaction (pp. 139–182). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Geeraerts, D., Grondelaers, S., & Bakema, P. (1994). The structure of lexical variation: Meaning, naming and context. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Oct 26
EventAELCO, Congreso Internacional, 2016 - Alcala de Henares, Madrid, Spain
Duration: 2016 Oct 262016 Oct 28
Conference number: 10


ConferenceAELCO, Congreso Internacional, 2016
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