Discourse markers and pragmatics


Keywords: discourse markers, pragmatic particles, complement-taking predicate markers, typology, pragmatics, functions

The article provides an introductory survey of pragmatic particles and complement-taking predicate markers (CTP-markers), their essence and typology in Estonian linguistics. In the present study, pragmatic particle is an umbrella concept covering three main types of particles:

1) Particles that can make up a whole turn in conversation. Those particles can be divided into four types: Response forms are used as markers of response (feedback) in the dialogue (e.g. ahah ’oh’); Open class repair initiators indicate that there was something wrong in the partner’s previous turn, without specifying what or where (e.g. mida ’what’); Interjections are exclamatory markers that reflect their users moods and feelings (e.g. ah ’oh’); The main function of attention signals is attracting attention or calling someone (e.g. hallo ’hello’).

2) Discourse markers (also sentence particles) systematically occur at the beginning or at the end of a turn, more seldom at the boundary of an utterance, signaling of different relations between turns and utterances (e.g. vaata ‘look’).

3) Pragmatic markers (also stance markers, pragmatic or modal particles, stance adverbials) generally occur within an utterance, where their position is variable. These markers relate an utterance to its context, indicating the speakers attitude and their relationship with the interlocutor. Their internal classification and relations with adverbials are uncertain. The most clearly distinguishable are modal particles (modal stance particles) (vist ’probably’), and a separate subgroup is made up of self-repair initiators, whose role is the initiation of self-repair in spoken interaction (e.g. või ‘or’).

CTP-markers or comment clauses (e.g. ma arvan ‘I think’) function analogically to pragmatic markers. They derive from that-complement clauses and they comment on a thought, making the speaker’s attribution of stance overt.

A short comparative survey is also given of the use of particles and CTP-markers. Some particles can even be met in different languages in largely similar functions (e.g. no/nu/noh). Conversely, there are different particles whose functions coincide, e.g. enimitive particles such as the Estonian ju, the Ingrian clitic –hän > –ha/- and the Russian loanword vedʼ used in Udmurt, Komi, and Erzya. Finally, the principal studies on Estonian pragmatic particles and CTP-markers are pointed out.


Tiit Hennoste (b. 1953), PhD, University of Tartu, Institute of Estonian and General ­Linguistics, Associate Professor (Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu),

Gerson Klumpp (b. 1967), PhD, University of Tartu, Professor of Finno-Ugric Languages (Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu),

Helle Metslang (b. 1950), PhD, University of Tartu, Professor Emerita (Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu),