From Interaction to Grammar : Estonian Finite Verb Forms in Conversation

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: This study contributes to the research tradition of interactional linguistics. It demonstrates how interactional patterns and sequences of actions are, or emerge as, part of the syntagmatic structure of a language, and why the transitions from interaction to grammar as well as from content to function items, are to be regarded as gradual and continuous. Grammar may arise from discourse through frequent implementation of linguistic items in specific social actions that are carried out in certain sequential positions in conversation. The developments proposed for the items in this study, bear numerous similarities to the processes of grammaticalization.The data consists of 319 authentic phone calls, recorded in Estonia in 1997/98. All in all, more than 10 hours of talk has been examined, about two thirds of which consist of everyday calls between family members and friends. The rest are telemarketing calls from a newspaper publishing office.This is a predominantly qualitative study of 11 finite verb forms in Estonian that display features of development into pragmatic particles or adverbs. It is argued that in order to adequately account for how finite verb forms such as kuule ‘hear!’, ma ei tea ‘I don’t know’, tähendab ‘(it) means’, or oota ‘wait!’ come to be used as particles, it is necessary to look closely at what kinds of actions they frequently implement in the everyday life of the speakers. It is shown, for example, that the jussive form olgu ‘be’ implements conversational closings, and that tead ‘you know’ projects news deliveries and enhances interpersonal involvement. It is also shown that some of the items, such as ütleme ‘let’s say’ rather belong to the formal registers. Methodologically, the study applies conversation analysis with its detailed examination of pieces of recordings and respect to details contingent on each individual action sequence. The idea of gradual semantic change has been borrowed from grammaticalization theory. In addition, the arguments are supported by counts from the current corpus.

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