Intonation and Particles as Speech Act Modifiers: A Syntactic Analysis

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This study investigates how discourse particles and intonation contribute to the modification of speech act. In particular, it focuses on the interplay between the speaker’s and the addressee’s commitment toward the proposition in assertions, biased questions, and requests for confirmation. A syntactic analysis is proposed, in which speaker commitment and call on addressee are represented as two functional projections of the speech act structure. Data from nontonal (Canadian English) and tonal languages (Cantonese and Medumba) are analyzed for cross-linguistic comparison. In Canadian English, the particle “eh” and rising intonation are associated with speaker commitment and call on addressee, respectively. In Cantonese, a single particle associates with these. In Medumba, the two positions are occupied by two distinct particles. This neo-performative approach toward speech act structure differs from Ross’s 1970 original insight by positing a high functional layer called grounding, rather than a higher matrix clause of the familiar type.

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