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Tag Questions in English

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1 Tag Questions in English
Dr. Veronica Bonsignori A/A 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 1st person 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 Okay? / yeah? / no? / right? / all right? / eh?
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 LET-construction + SHALL WE?
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's do it properly, yeah? (Eastenders) LET-construction + SHALL WE?

16 Ellipsis + TQs Cases of TQs appended to elliptical sentences
TQs are important for the recovery of 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 Change of Subject
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: Marcus wouldn’t kill a duck, would you, Marcus? (About A Boy) Elliptical Questions or Tag Questions?

18 Multifunctionality of TQs
Prosody of TQs TQs can have either a rising or falling tone Positive CP Tags often 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 Rising Quiet, ain’t ya?
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, rising TQs 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? 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 Aggravation/ Mitigation
Meaning of TQs Polarity Syntax Phonetics Intonation/ Prosody Pragmatics Situational Context Illocutionary force Politeness Aggravation/ Mitigation

30 Thank you!

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