Breaks and constructions. Exploring the relevance of discontinuities, interruptions and break-offs in talk-in-interaction for language change

Dozent(en) Prof. Dr. Mar Garachana and Dr. Oliver Ehmer
Termin5.-7. July 2018

Diachronic studies in linguistics have highlighted the importance of boundaries and breaks in the linguistic structure for grammaticalization. Language change is often accompanied by a process in which initially only loosely connected (juxtaposed) elements develop a higher degree of connectedness (cf. Lehmann 1982/1995, Hopper & Traugott 1993/2008, Bybee 2003, Beckner et al. 2009: 7–8), that may lead to a change of constituent structure (Heine et al. 1991: 168). One of the most quoted example to illustrate the tendency to evolve to a most bounded structure in grammaticalized items is the simple future tense in Romance Languages. The etymological structure was a Latin verbal periphrasis, composed of two single verbs, an infinitive followed by the present of the verb haber ‘have’, for example cantare habeo ‘I have to sing’. This verbal construction evolved into a single word, i.e., Fr. chanterai, Sp. cantaré, Cat. cantaré, It. canterò. Examples like this reveal that processes of reanalysis, univerbation and entrenchment, which often accompany Grammaticalization processes, involve a dissolution or gradual reduction of boundaries between linguistic elements (cf. Bybee/Scheibman 1999).

On the other hand, synchronic studies on spoken language and especially studies in interactional linguistics (Couper-Kuhlen/Selting 2001) have shown that processes of change may also be accompanied or may even be triggered by the emergence of boundaries, such as hesitations, or even break-offs, as for example in the case of the emergence of final particles (Mulder/Thompson 2008; Barth-Weingarten/Couper-Kuhlen 2011; Thompson/Suzuki 2011; Koivisto 2012; Barth-Weingarten 2014, 2016) and discourse markers (Günthner 2000; Auer/Günthner 2004; Company 2004, Norde 2009, König 2012; Günthner/Imo 2003; Imo 2012a, b). Studies in interactional linguistics have emphasized that breaks need to be modeled as gradual phenomena (for prosody see Barth-Weingarten 2013, 2016). Furthermore, breaks are subject to the negotiation. For example in the case of syntactic fragments it is the continuation following the break that decides if the fragment needs to be counted as a break off or as a suspension (Auer 2005; Imo 2011). In many cases breaks are created due to local contingencies in interaction to fulfill local functions. For example, in certain positions, pauses that are longer than expected may be used to achieve specific communicative effects (Atkinson/Drew 1979: 67–68; Heritage, 1984: 115–131; Drew 1985). But also syntactic discontinuity may be used to induce co-participants to infer a continuation and draw certain conclusions(Imo 2011). Breaks offs and fragmentations of patterns may also be used to negotiate affiliation (Pfänder 2016). While in those examples the insertion of a “break” is accomplished in the local delivery of a construction, we may assume that breaks in constructions may also conventionalize and become part of it. This is for example the case in Spanish analytic futures, structures that unlike synthetic future (cantaré) contain a boundary between the old infinitive and the desinence. Atonic pronouns were placed in this slot (cantarla hé, cantartela hé), and this “broken” construction was used as a topicalizing device, in order to emphasize the importance of the referent of the personal pronoun.

The proposed workshop wants to further analyze the importance of the emergence and disappearance of boundaries for language change, from the perspective of interactional linguistics. The workshop aims at covering a broad range of breaks such as phonetic cesura of different strength, hesitations involving particles and markers, insertion of linguistics elements of different sizes into constructions, suspensions and break-offs of syntactical gestalts, ‘intermitting’ slots in grammatical constructions that may be filled or not, as well as breaks in larger sequential patterns and conversational trajectories, like (concessive insertions) and side sequences. More specifically, the central aim of the workshop is to pursue the following questions:

  • To which extent may breaks in talk in interaction be considered a source for incipient language change?
  • Is the creation of boundaries always accompanied with the creation of pragmatic/rhetorical effects?
  • May breaks conventionalize and become part of a construction?
  • How do we know if a breaks or slots is actually part of a grammatical construction or if it is created locally?
  • How can we interrelate different linguistic levels (syntactical, phonetical, nonverbal)? For example, what does a (non-)existing break in the prosodic realization tell us about the syntactic level or the level of discourse?


HPCL, HPSL and the GRK 1624 gratulate Bernd Kortmann and his team (Katja Roller und Marten Juskan) on winning the Instructional Development Award 2016. Awarded was the project “FREDDIE (FReiburg English Dialect Database for Instruction and E-learning) – Eine multimediale Plattform für forschendes, korpusbasiertes Lernen.”
If you want to learn more about the project, click here (German version).
The online version of FRED (“Freiburg English Dialect Corpus”) is accessible on the website of the UB Freiburg.

The HPSL was attributed the official Eucor - The European Campus label.

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PhD Scholarships Hermann Paul Scholarships in Linguistics 2014

The Hermann Paul Scholarships in Linguistics 2014 in Freiburg went to Sonya Kinsey and Uliana Schöller. Congratulations!

The Hermann Paul Scholarships in Linguistics 2014 in Basel went to Carolina Spiegel and Burak S. Tekin. Congratulations!

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