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Discourse variation, grammaticalisation, and stuff like that

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The 96 adolescents we interviewed recently for a research project based in three English cities used ‘general extenders’ (forms such as and stuff like that) very frequently. In this talk I first examine sociolinguistic variation in the general extenders in the corpus, showing that there are regional and social class differences in the adolescents’ choice of forms, but not in the frequency of general extenders overall.

The general extenders are thought to be grammaticalising from longer forms such as or something like that to short forms such as or something. I next present a quantitative analysis of the grammaticalisation of the more frequent general extender forms in the corpus, focusing on four changes typical of the grammaticalisation process: phonetic reduction, decategorisation, semantic change and pragmatic shift. The analyses show that certain forms (notably and that and and everything) are more grammaticalised than others. The analysis of pragmatic shift requires a reconsideration of the principal functions that previous researchers have claimed for the general extenders. In the adolescents’ speech they function in every communicative domain, often simultaneously.

Finally I draw on the analysis to consider the extent to which a variationist approach is suitable for the analysis of discourse features such as these.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society series.

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