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Tag Questions in English

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  1. Tag Questions in English Dr. Veronica Bonsignori A/A 2006-2007 University of Pisa

  2. Some preliminary considerations • Oral communication Speaking is basically interactional, i.e. its principal aim is ‘to express personal feelings, to establish, reaffirm or maintain interpersonal relationships’ (Biber, 1988) • Several factors intervene to build up a communicative situation, contributing to the utterance meaning and enriching the talk-exchange: • Prosodic features • Paralanguage • Linguistic strategies It is important to take account not only of what is said but also of how it is said

  3. Task… • Define Tag Questions • Classification of the syntactic types • Functions • Syntax • Pragmatics • Varieties of English • Intonation • Examples taken from Films

  4. General definition • Tag Question • analytic and complex syntactic structure, typical of the English language • It’s a linguistic phenomenon pertaining to orality • It entails a declarative sentence to which a shortened form of question is appended

  5. Main features It’s a nice day, isn’t it? • TQs are characterized by a syntactic dependence on the preceding main sentence – operator & subject pronoun • The operator of the tag is the same as the one present in the preceding statement; but if the main clause has no operator, the dummy operator do is used in the tag. • The subject of the tag must be a pronoun which repeats or is in coreference with the subject in the main clause, and it agrees with it in number, person and gender. • As regards polarity, if the main clause is positive, the tag is negative and vice versa.

  6. Syntactic types of TQs 1 • The ‘regular type’ • Reversed Polarity TQs(most frequent type) • (+ / -) • WILL: There. You think you look cool, don’t you?(About A Boy) Case of negative tag with the 1stperson singular pronoun and be as the operator • DAVE: Look, I’ll help, all right? I’m running, aren’t I?(The Full Monty) AREN’T I?

  7. Case of negative tag with ain’t: functioning as BE or HAVE • Roxanne: He’s busy, ain’t he?(Secrets & Lies) • Cynthia: You've got a bed-sit, ain't you, Paul? (Secrets & Lies) a non-standard contraction, typical of AmE and it is part of the traditional dialect system of the Southeast of England,BUT completely absent in IrE and ScE • (- / +) • DANIEL : Listen, you don't know where the loos are here, do you?(Bridget Jones’s Diary) • WILL: Look, I never said he was my son, did I?(About A Boy) AIN’T

  8. Syntactic types of TQs 2 • The ‘anomalous type’ • Constant Polarity TQs • (+ / +) • FIONA: So that’s it, is it?(About A Boy) • CYNTHIA: Oh, you've got one each, have you?(Secrets & Lies) • (- / -) • So he doesn’t like his job, doesn’t he? Negative CP tags are extremely rare

  9. Dialects… • The double negative tag This structure occurs only when the main sentence preceding the tag is negative • Edinburgh Scots: • Your name’s no Willie, isn’t it no? • She didnae like him, didn’t she no? • Tyneside Dialect – i.e. Geordie • You can’t do it, can’t you not?

  10. Invariant Tags • Non-standard variants consisting in structures that are independent of that of the main sentence and are expressed by single lexical items. • Invariant tags may be adverbial or interjectional particles. Okay? / yeah? / no? / right? / all right? / eh? • WILL: Look, mate, nothing you do can make your mum happy, all right? I mean, not in the long term. She has to do that for herself.(About A Boy) • The treatment of invariant tags is generally carried out within sociolinguistics(Stenström, 1997; Stenström, Andersen & Hasund, 2002), taking into consideration regional varieties of English, since both the form and the pronunciation may vary.

  11. English Varieties… 1 • Eh?different phonological forms according to the varieties of English Australia, Scotland America New Zealand, Parts of Canada Canada, England • [ei] [e] • No syntactic restrictions It can occur only after a positive sentence, having a negative connotation • NELLIE: Now, if it's anything to do with the money, I've already told you, it doesn't matter any more, eh?(Eastenders) • JAMES: Oh, oh. Ah, Beatles’ lyrics, e?(Sliding Doors) Hunh? Eh? E?

  12. English Varieties … 2 • Innit Typical of London area • The major users are the various ethnic minorities (West-Indian, Jamaican) who live in London, who then have influenced the standard variety • It can function either as a real TQ or Invariant Tag • MEL: It’s a bit backward, innit.(Bend it like Beckham) • HORTENSE: That's all that matters, then, innit.(Secrets & Lies) • PINKY: (on the phone) Yeah? Mum! No, no, nothing. I’m just at work, innit. Yeah, I know Polly’s coming to do the suits. So Jess can get the tube, innit. Yeah, all right, all right. I’ll pick her up. (Bend it like Beckham) • INDIAN man: [E] Time I got married, innit.(Secrets & Lies)

  13. Particular syntactic structures and Tags • Imperatives • Exhortatives • Ellipsis • Change of auxiliary in the Tag • Change of subject in the Tag

  14. Imperatives and Tags Imperative +will you? • Positive Imperatives can either be followed by a positive or a negative tag • use of a wide range of auxiliaries in the tag • frequent use of Invariant Tags DANIEL: Just give me a minute, will you, Simon? Thanks.(Bridget Jones’s Diary) HELEN: Yes, it is, so just bear that in mind in the future, would you?I’m getting over a major break-up.(Sliding Doors) MARCUS: Just shut up, right?(About A Boy) • Negative Imperatives are hardly ever followed by TQs. More often they are followed by invariant tags • Don’t make a noise, will you? • DAVE: Don’t ever call me a fat bastard, all right? All right? (The Full Monty)

  15. Exhortatives and Tags • Exhortative a type of Imperative construction, involving the 1st person plural • BRIDGET: Let's see, shall we?(Bridget Jones’s Diary) • LET-construction + Invariant Tags • SHARON: Well, look. Uh.. let's forget it for now, eh? I don't wanna waste my time on him.(Eastenders) • SANJAY: If we're gonna spend Christmas together, let'sdo it properly, yeah?(Eastenders) LET-construction + SHALL WE?

  16. Ellipsis + TQs • Cases of TQs appended to elliptical sentences TQs are important for the recoveryof omitted items in the main sentence – i.e. Subj. and V • Ellipsis of Subj. + Lexical Verb • PAMELA: [E] A bit snowy, isn’t it?(Bridget Jones’s Diary) • Operator Ellipsis • IAN: Well, if not, [E] just have to struggle on, won’t we?(Eastenders) • CINDY: Ah... [E]Been counting, have you?Anyway, I been busy. [E]Helpin' my husband open his business, haven’t I? • Ellipsis of the Subject • GAZ: We do. [E]Don’t get your clothes dirty, do you?(The Full Monty)

  17. Change of Aux. Or Subj. • Change of Aux./ Tense • SONIA: It'd be a bit squashed , won't it? (Eastenders) • BIANCA: Uh, I can't believe this. We can't win, couldn't we? • Change of Subject • TOM: I think that deserves a toast, don't you? To Bridget... who cannot cook, but who we love... just as she is. (Bridget Jones’s Diary) • WILL: Marcuswouldn’t kill a duck, would you, Marcus? (About A Boy) Elliptical Questions or Tag Questions?

  18. Prosody of TQs • TQs can have either a rising or falling tone • Positive CP Tagsoften have a rising tone • He likes his job, doesn’t he? Rising • He likes his job, doesn’t he.  Falling • On the basis of their intonational contour, TQs perform different functions • Various functions may coexist in the same tagged utterance Multifunctionality of TQs

  19. Falling You didn’t mind me sitting there, did ya. Quiet, ain’t ya? Rising

  20. 1. Informational Function • When the speaker entertains some doubts about the certainty or truth of the proposition in the main sentence  verification-seeking function • The speaker is open to any kind of response from the addressee • Generally, risingTQs • NATHE: I don’t like Chinese. GAZ: ‘Course you do, … don’t ya? (FM) • HELEN: Off the top of my head, you could have told them you’d run out. It’s, it’s popular stuff. Bullshit,bullshit, bullshit… We are in PR. That’s what we do, isn’t it? [Pause] But you didn’t do that, did you, Paul? [Pause] No. [Pause] So I’m out, am I ? (SD) • [At Cynthia’s. On the phone with Hortense] CYNTHIA: Yes, what is it you want, darling? Hello? Did you want Roxanne? She's gone out. HORTENSE: No. CYNTHIA: She ain't in any trouble, is she?  HORTENSE: No, it's about Elizabeth.(SL)

  21. 2. Confirmatory Function • Tags are used with statements whose truth the addressee is thought to accept. The Speaker is certain of the truth of the proposition and simply asks for confirmation • Generally, falling TQs • NATHE: (walking on wooden stick on water) Can’t we do normal things sometimes? GAZ: This is normal, i’n’t it , Dave. DAVE: Oh, aye. Everyday stuff, this.(FM) • HELEN: Off the top of my head, you could have told them you’d run out. It’s, it’s popular stuff. Bullshit,bullshit, bullshit… We are in PR. That’s what we do, isn’t it? [Pause] But you didn’t do that, did you, Paul? [Pause] No. [Pause] So I’m out, am I ? (SD)

  22. 3. Facilitative Function • Tags are used to indicate a positive interest in the addressee, offering him the chance of intervening in the talk exchange and allowing for turn allocation Interactional Function • The Facilitative and Confirmatory functions often overlap • CYNTHIA: And here's another lavatory! MONICA: Oh, that bathroom's mine, the en suite. CYNTHIA: Oh, you've got one each, have you?That's nice,ain't it , Jane? JANE: It's like a hotel! (SL) • JAMES: ‘Elastic Thrombosis’. They are guilty of lyric poaching. They’re Beatles’ lyrics, aren’t they? HELEN: I don’t know, sorry. JAMES: Of course you do. Come on, everyone is born knowing all the Beatles’ lyrics instinctively. (SD)

  23. 4. Challenging Function • Used to express disagreement, disbelief and surprise. It can be very aggressive and hostile. It can involve additional contextual attitudes, such as irony, sarcasm and mockery. • CHRISTINE: Well, this is Imogene. You can hold her if you like. WILL: Yeah, got her. Yeah, she’s.. delightful, isn’t she.(AB) • MANDY: Fine, whatever! If you want to go off and play your games, Gary, you can do that, but from now on, Nathan’s gonna have two parents. (FM) GAZ: Ah! And your bloody live-in lover’s gonna do that, is he!  • MARCUS: You don’t have a kid, do you. WILL: What? MARCUS: You don’t have a kid, do you. WILL: Of course, I’ve got a kid! What are you on about? MARCUS: No, you don’t. I’ve been watching you, and you don’t have a kid. (AB)

  24. 5. Peremptory Function • Used to close off debate, on the basis of universal truths or evidence, in the form of an insult. Aggressive. No answer is expected. • Generally, falling TQs • MARCUS: I got the letter, thanks. FIONA: Oh, my God. I’d forgotten. MARCUS: You forgot? You forgot a suicide letter? FIONA: I didn’t think I’d have to remember it, did I. (Silence) Did you read the part where I said I’ll always love you? MARCUS: It’s a bit hard for you to love me when you’re dead, isn’t it. FIONA: I’m sorry. (AB) • CYNTHIA: Listen, I don't mean nothing by it, darling, but I ain't never been with a black man in my life. No disrespect, nor nothing. I’d have remembered, wouldn't I! (SL)

  25. 6. Antagonistic Function • TQ follows a statement whose truth the addressee could not possibly know, since the content of the proposition represents new info for the addressee. It is very rude and impolite. Aggressive. • Generally, falling TQs • MARCUS: Sometimes. I sing out loud without noticing. WILL: That’s not a brilliant idea, is it. MARCUS: I said I did it without noticing, didn’t I? It just happens! I’m not going to do that on purpose, am I! I’m not stupid, you know? (AB)

  26. 7. Aggravating Function • Increasing aggressiveness, especially when tags are appended to Imperative constructions • Rising TQ functions as an aggravator and strengthens the illocutionary force of the order in the main clause, together with the use of hostile and rude overtones • GERALD: (taking the remote to the Policeman) Look … Excuse me, can I borrow this for a second? Look, (to Policemen laughing out loud) shut up, will ya?! Watch.(AB) • TEACHER: Get over here right now! WILL: Just bugger off, will you?(FM)

  27. 8. Softening Function • it aims at reducing the strength of an utterance that may appear as threatening or disagreeable to the addressee, rendering it more acceptable and not offensive, especially with Imperatives → mitigation • HELEN: I had a really nice time, James. JAMES: Did you? Oh, shit! Sorry, that’s against the rules, isn’t it.  HELEN: Yes, it is, so just bear that in mind in the future, would you? I’m getting over a major break-up.(SD)

  28. 9. Hedge Function • TQ aims at establishing common ground, still not expecting any answer • Generally, falling TQs • JENNY: What do you do? • HORTENSE: I’m an optometrist. • JENNY: Oh, really? Oh, God! It's one of those things you keep putting off and putting off, isn't it. And I’ve got to the stage with the Guardian crossword where I’m going like this. (mimicking) So I think the time has come, I’ll have to pop in, you can give me a test. Where do you live? (SL) • MONICA: And this is the... oops! CYNTHIA: Oh, that's a big lavatory! MONICA: This is the downstairs toilet. JANE: Oh, that's handy, isn't it, 'cos if you're in the garden...

  29. Meaning of TQs Polarity Syntax Phonetics Intonation/ Prosody Pragmatics Situational Context Illocutionary force Politeness Aggravation/ Mitigation

  30. Thank you!