Panel at IPra 2017 in Belfast

Knowing me and knowing you –

reference and identity markers in public discourse

organised by Minna Nevala, University of Helsinki
and Ursula Lutzky, Vienna University of Economics and Business

This panel studies the use of labelling in texts intended to be public, as reflected in their accessibility or distribution in the public domain. It approaches the importance of reference and identity markers in both synchronic and diachronic data and investigates their contribution to the construction of a potentially evaluative stance. The data studied will draw on a variety of text types and contexts, including newspapers, online media, political communication, business or legal texts, and therefore allow for a range of ‘real world’ settings to be considered, aligning the focus of this workshop with the conference’s overall theme.

The public nature of the data allows for self and other reference to be studied in contexts, where the exact composition of the audience may not be fully known. Nevertheless, considerations of ratified and unratified participants (cf. Goffman 1976; Lugo-Ocando 2015) will have affected the (potentially strategic) use of terms of address and reference and led to the creation of specific stylistic and pragmatic effects in diverse discourse situations. By studying these effects, it is the aim of this workshop to uncover new insights into discourse specific labelling patterns, both from a historical and present-day perspective, and to discuss their impact on self and other representation in the construction of identity in public texts. Social identities and intergroup relations are usually manifested in the so-called in-group and out-group discourse. Impoliteness, and negative labelling in particular, entails creating and maintaining negative impressions, which can be aided or achieved through the use of ‘labels of primary potency’ (Allport 1986). This means that certain characteristics, like male/female or criminal/law-abiding, carry more perceptual potency than others, and signal difference from what is considered mainstream (e.g. moral distinctiveness). While the diachronic dimension of this panel will allow for trends to be observed in the development of certain reference markers, the synchronic approach will facilitate the immediate application of findings to enhance our understanding and use of reference practices in more or less institutionalised contexts.

Allport, Gordon (1986). “The language of prejudice”. In Language Awareness, Paul Escholz, Alfred Rosa and Virginia Clark (eds), 261-270. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Goffman, Erving (1976). “Replies and responses”. Language in Society 5/3, 257-313.
Lugo-Ocando, Jairo (2015). Blaming the Victim: How Global Journalism Fails Those in Poverty. London: Pluto Press.

eMargin as an annotation tool for narrative analysis

This week I’m at the International Conference on Narrative at Manchester Metropolitan University. I will be talking about Early Modern English witness depositions and their narrative structure. Basically, I am studying the depositions given by witnesses which were recorded by scribes in written form, often before the actual proceedings were held in court. Now, while they were originally spoken texts, the scribes noted them down in written form and usually transformed them to some extent. For example, they would render them as third person narratives instead of first person ones and include different types of legal formulae and phrases in order to disambiguate certain references (see e.g. Kytö and Walker 2006, Kytö, Grund and Walker 2011).

For my study, I made use of the (collaborative) text annotation tool eMargin, which was developed by the Research and Development Unit for English Studies (RDUES) at Birmingham City University. eMargin is an online tool that is available for free and allows users to upload texts and then annotate them, for example, for qualitative linguistic analyses. It allows them to highlight parts of text in different colours, attribute functions to these colours and add comments to their annotations. In addition to colours, tags can be created and visualised in form of a tag cloud.

Now, while I am using eMargin for this project individually, it can also be used collaboratively through the function of groups. That is to say that several eMargin users can be added to the same group and then work on the annotation of a text collaboratively. While this is an option for specific research projects, it also lends itself very well for classroom activities. Thus, students could as part of reading and analysing a text, whether that is from a linguistic, literary or other point of view, annotate it together and thereby share their ideas on the use of particular constructions, themes, or passages.

Coming back to Early Modern English witness depositions, I used eMargin to annotate them specifically for their narrative structure. I started out from the Labovian (1972) narrative model which he derived from his recordings of spoken, first person narratives. While this model is based on contemporary data, I applied it to Early Modern English texts to see if the different sections of abstract, orientation, complicating action, resolution and coda can be identified in these primarly third person narratives too (see also Grund and Walker 2011). My main interest was, however, to find out what types of internal and external evaluation are attested in these texts and to draw some conclusions as to their purpose and use.


eMargin, developed by Andrew Kehoe and Matt Gee, Research and Development Unit for English Studies, Birmingham City University. Available online at

Grund, Peter J. and Walker, Terry. 2011. “Genre characteristics.” In Testifying to Language and Life in Early Modern England, Merja Kytö, Peter J. Grund and Terry Walker (eds), 15-56. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Kytö, Merja and Walker, Terry. 2006. Guide to A Corpus of English Dialogues 1560-1760. Uppsala: Uppsala University.

Labov, William. 1972. Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

A sociopragmatic study of surprise markers in Early Modern English

I have been invited to a panel about “The role of identity in discourse-pragmatic variation and change” to be held at the i-Mean@UWE conference in Bristol, 18-20 April 2013. My panel contribution allows me to dig a bit deeper in the area of historical discourse marker research from a gender perspective. In one of my previous studies on the discourse marker why and its functions, I found that this marker was mainly used by male characters to signal surprise on the part of the speaker in Early Modern English (EModE) drama comedy. Since then, I have been wondering whether surprise markers in this EModE text type may show a gender-specific distribution; that is to say whether some of them are more frequently attested in male characters’ speech, whereas others are more commonly used by female characters. This is the question that I will attempt to answer during my talk in Bristol, as you can also see from my abstract:

A sociopragmatic study of surprise markers in Early Modern English

In previous research, discourse markers were often related to the sociolinguistic variable gender. Thus, it was said that prototypical discourse markers are gender specific and more frequently used by women (e.g. Brinton 1996, Lakoff 1975). However, different studies arrived at contrasting results, including historical studies analysing dramatic discourse: while Akimoto (2000) found the discourse marker pray to predominate in male characters’ speech in Farquhar’s plays, Demmen (2009) showed that the construction I pray you was statistically more frequent in female characters’ speech in her Shakespearean data.

In this study, I will focus on one particular pragmatic function of discourse markers and that is signalling surprise on the part of the speaker. In particular, I will elaborate on a previous study (Lutzky forthcoming) in which I found the discourse marker why with a surprise function to be more frequently used by males than females in Early Modern English drama comedy. By studying other forms with this function, I aim to find out whether surprise markers show a gender specific distribution and which of them are attested predominantly in female characters’ speech.

This study will be based on the sociopragmatically annotated Drama Corpus of Early Modern English (EModE), which builds on the Sociopragmatic Corpus and comprises drama comedy samples by a range of different authors from the period 1500 to 1760. I will draw on the sociopragmatic annotation of this corpus to study the surprise function of discourse markers in relation to the variables gender and social roles, both of which are reflected in the turn-by-turn annotation of the corpus for both the speaker and the addressee. The aim of this study is, consequently, to discover whether gender or social role specific tendencies can be identified for the fictional representation of a particular discourse marker function in EModE drama comedy.



Akimoto, M. 2000. “The grammaticalization of the verb ‘pray’”. In Fischer O., Rosenbach A., and Stein D. (eds.) Pathways of Change. Grammaticalization in English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Brinton, L. 1996. Pragmatic Markers in English. Grammaticalization and Discourse Functions. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Demmen, J.E.J. 2009. “Charmed and Chattering Tongues: Investigating the Functions and Effects of Key Word Clusters in the Dialogue of Shakespeare’s Female Characters”. Unpublished MA dissertation, Lancaster University, U.K.

Lakoff, R. 1975. Language and Woman’s Place: Text and Commentaries. London: Harper and Row.

Lutzky, Ursula. Forthcoming. “Early Modern English discourse markers – a feature of female speech?” In Mazzon G. and Fodde L. (eds.). Perspectives on Early English Dialogue. Case Studies in Historical Pragmatics. Naples: Franco AngeliEditore.

Sociopragmatic Corpus. 2007. Annotated Under the Supervision of Jonathan Culpeper (Lancaster University). A Derivative of A Corpus of English Dialogues 1560–1760, Compiled Under the Supervision of Merja Kytö (Uppsala University) and Jonathan Culpeper (Lancaster University).