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  • The evolution of pragmatic markers in English: Pathways of change by Laurel J. Brinton
  • Karin Aijmer
The evolution of pragmatic markers in English: Pathways of change. By Laurel J. Brinton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp 344. ISBN 9781107129054. $110 (Hb).

Laurel Brinton’s book The evolution of pragmatic markers in English: Pathways of change is the latest addition to her illustrious monographs on the history of pragmatic markers in English. B’s research deals with the syntactic and semantic developments of pragmatic markers in the history of English within the grammaticalization framework. The new book, keeping up this tradition, begins with an overview chapter, which discusses the state of art in the study of pragmatic markers in historical pragmatics and functions as a stepping-stone to the discussion in the following chapters. Chs. 2–9 contain studies of individual pragmatic markers. The chapters are revised and updated versions of previously published articles as well as new research (Ch. 8). Ch. 10 wraps up the results from the discussion in the case studies.

Let us look at the chapters in more detail. The introductory chapter defines pragmatic markers (the term B prefers to ‘discourse marker’) by enumerating their phonological, syntactic, semantic, functional, sociolinguistic, and stylistic characteristics. The pragmatic markers dealt with range from hwæt in Old English (OE) to whatever in present-day American English (PDE). The study is based on present-day and historical corpora, the latter using speech-based sources such as dialogue from drama, trials, parliamentary proceedings, and so forth.

The major themes of the introductory chapter relate to the sources of pragmatic markers and their diachronic syntactic and semantic pathways. Semantically, pragmatic markers are assumed to develop procedural meanings from content meanings, change from nonsubjective to more subjective (and intersubjective) meaning, and broaden their scope from a lexical item to the whole proposition. Another issue is how the processes of change undergone by pragmatic markers should be analyzed. Pragmatic markers can be described with reference to Hopper’s (1991) principles of grammaticalization and to the parameters suggested by Lehmann (2002). But in some respects, they ‘do not seem to acquire the prototypical grammatical qualities that we expect in a fully grammaticalized inflection or clitic’ (29) associated with grammaticalization. They are not integrated into the sentence as might be expected, and they have discourse or pragmatic functions. It has therefore been suggested that the process involved in their development should be described as pragmaticalization. B argues, following Elizabeth Closs Traugott, that aspects of discourse pragmatics can be understood within a broad conception of grammar that encompasses discourse functions (35).

The remainder of the book is divided into two parts, based on whether the developmental source of the pragmatic marker is a lexical item or a clause. Part I (Chs. 2–4) focuses on pragmatic markers that developed via ‘clear unilinear paths’ from adverbs to pragmatic markers. Ch. 2 is concerned with what B describes as the exclamatory OE hwæt (traditionally regarded as an interjection). The chapter argues that, based on the contexts where it occurs, hwæt should be regarded as a pragmatic marker that is close in function to PDE you know in its function of expressing shared knowledge. It is distinguished from hwæt þa ‘what then’, which expresses foregrounded events in sequential plot development and is similar to PDE so. The exclamatory what is also used in the post-OE period as a marker of surprise (often followed by a question) (65), as an attention-calling marker (what ho) (68), and as a parenthetical before numerals (68). Given this multifunctionality, the derivation of the different functions of hwæt ‘must be taken as, in part, speculative’ (69). However, the developments are consonant with syntactic and semantic changes during grammaticalization. Syntactically, hwæt undergoes decategorialization to a pragmatic marker, and, semantically, the developments coincide with increased subjective and intersubjective meanings. [End Page 976]

Ch. 3 argues, on the basis of the historical corpora, that whilom has undergone more complex pathways of change than while. It is shown that whilom was common in OE and Middle English as an adverb meaning ‘at times, sometimes’ but that its frequency drops around...


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