Role of Discourse Markers in the Structuring of Discourse: A Study of the Use of the Word alors in the French Language

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Discourse markers are the word insertions that people engage to provide continuity in conversations. Examples of discourse markers in English would include “like”, “you know”, “and” and “uh”. This study examines the use of the discourse marker “alors” in the French language.


“In [this book], Andre Moine, … has insightfully tapped into a strain of pragmatic language analysis largely pioneered by American such as sociologists Erving Goffman, John Gumperz, Del Hymes, Emanuel Schegloff, and Harvey Sacks and sociolinguists like William Labov and Gail Jefferson. Under the sobriquet of discourse analysis, this scholarly trend set itself apart from the linguistic tradition represented by figures like Saussure, Bloomfield, and Chomsky, for whom actual instances of conversation played little or no role in the description of language … This study is useful in the first place because it introduces and skillfully integrates a wide variety of sources. But the work does not simply apply other linguists' concepts to the uses of French alors in a mechanical fashion. Indeed, the book is not most importantly about alors at all; its primary significance lies in the discourse model that evolves from Professor Moine's investigation of the various meanings that attach to alors in the corpus of examples that he examines here. Professor Moine identifies sixteen meanings for alors in the present study and argues that this multiplicity of meanings derives from different areas of meaning, not only from the inherent semantic traits of the word itself, but also from various combinations of characteristics derived from other levels of context, pragmatic and discursive, in which the sample uses occur. He goes on to describe three nested or hierarchical levels of analysis-micro-unit, mid-unit, and macro-unit- to facilitate our understanding of how meanings emerge … the text represents the most useful kind of linguistic scholarship, presenting a strong empirical basis for a creative and compelling theoretical construct. It lays the basis for considerable research to come and for a continued deepening in our understanding about how, in J.L. Austin's phrase, we all "do things with words"-and, as it turns out, with laughter, filled silences, and turn- taking as well.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Dr. John Lawson, Department of Communications, Robert Morris University

“Prof. Moine's book is notable not just for what it tells us about French, but for the approach to the study of discourse markers that he proposes and supports. The purpose of his study is "to show that discourse markers not only create cohesion by playing an active role in the structuring of discourse but also that their role is not reducible to the syntactic role of a coordinate clause conjunction" (p.16). In this sense, he builds on work of other discourse analysts such as Schiffrin (1987). His analysis demonstrates that alors is polysemous, but he does not want to represent the variety of meanings in a semantic network, as some have done. Instead, he sees the variety as originating in different areas of meaning (discourse, semantic, pragmatic) … One innovation in Moine's study is his inclusion of non-lexical discourse markers such as discourse reduplication (repetition at the beginning of a clause) laughter, filled pauses, and turn-taking/keeping. In analyzing the meanings and functions of alors, Moine examines its discourse function (whether a pronominal expression or a discourse marker), the semantic domains it contributes to (temporal relations and logical links, with extended discussion of the variety of logical links that can be signaled) and its pragmatic role in regard to a speaker's expectations and speech acts. He details sixteen different possible meanings, each representing a combination of characteristics from each of the various domains: discourse, semantic, and pragmatic. Moine's corpus comes from 100 tokens of alors in oral and written texts of modern French. The texts include recorded interviews and radio talk shows and selections from literary texts. Moine acknowledges the limitations of his study in terms of his data sources, but suggests that his model has been explicated in ways that can be further tested by other discourse analysts. Work on discourse markers continues to make major contributions to our understanding of discourse structuring, and to the interaction of syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic aspects of language use. This work provides concrete examples of the operation of these markers in French discourse, and offers a model of analysis with interesting tools for explication of the meanings and functions they perform.” – Dr. Mary J. Schleppegrell Associate Professor, Linguistics, University of California, Davis

“This is a valuable contribution to the study of discourse markers. The last twenty years has seen an increased focus on defining the function of discourse markers in a range of languages. While several important studies (Fraser 1990, 1998, and Schiffrin 2001 and 1987) have attempted to provide an overarching theory of discourse markers, the field is still young and there is much room for the elaboration and reworking of the models offered thus far. The model that Moine presents is a promising extension of previous work in this area of research. Moine's contribution is two fold. First, he offers an analysis of the range over which discourse markers may operate. Through use of the guise of the micro-unit, mid unit and macro unit, Moine identifies how discourse is structured in a hierarchical fashion. A careful analysis of the internal structure of these units follows and sheds light on processes such as self appropriation, focus-switching and contrasting. The model of discourse that Moine proposes is a significant contribution to the research. Second of all, Moine offers a comprehensive analysis of the discourse marker, alors. He considers this discourse marker as it operates at the levels of discourse structure, semantic structure and pragmatic structure. This interesting approach yields a fruitful explication of 16 different meanings of alors. This discussion provide support for the discourse model proposed and is a promising model for the rigorous study of alors in other than the interview situation and also of other discourse markers in a range of discourse types. Finally, the study offers interesting suggestions for future investigation … the study reads well and makes a valuable contribution to the study of discourse markers.” – Dr. Lourdes Torres , Latin American/Latino Studies Program DePaul University

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