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Auteur: Steve NICOLLE

Sociolinguistic determinants of relational coherence devices

Abstract/Résumé: Speakers/writers use a variety of linguistic signals (coherence devices) to help hearers/readers to construct coherent representations of discourse, and the nature of the processing instructions that these linguistic signals encode has been extensively investigated. Less attention has been paid to differences in the number and variety of coherence devices available in different languages, and differences in the frequency with which speakers/writers of different languages make use of coherence devices. Efficient communication involves a compromise between the desire of the speaker/writer to communicate as quickly and easily as possible and the need of the hearer/reader for enough information to process the message. It is reasonable to expect that in small, tight-knit, isolated communities with a high proportion of shared assumptions, speakers will typically need to provide hearers with few overt coherence devices to ensure successful communication, thus favouring the communicative preferences of speakers. In larger communities with looser social networks, more contact with outsiders, and fewer shared assumptions, speakers will need to use more frequent and more specific coherence devices to ensure successful communication, thus favouring the communicative needs of speakers. If this view is correct, then studies of coherence devices in languages such as English and French describe linguistic systems which have developed largely in response to the communicative needs of hearers/readers. This in turn means that characterizations of coherence devices in English and French may not be applicable to languages spoken by smaller, more intimate communities, which have been influenced to a greater extent by the communicative preferences of speakers. This paper investigates concessives in a number of African languages. Concessives are coherence devices which indicate that the clause which they introduce counters a previous idea, either by directly contradicting an idea previously expressed or by countering an inference or expectation generated by previous material. Languages spoken by small, tight-knit, isolated communities, generally make use of far fewer concessives than languages like English, and those which are found are often borrowed from languages of wider communication. Speakers in such languages typically produce fewer concessives than in comparable English corpora; often countering relations are inferred. Using non-translated texts, I will describe the range and frequency of concessives in various African languages, and account for the shared assumptions which allow for successful communication in contexts where there is no overt concessive.