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Final Report Summary - CELU (Collateral effects of language in use)

Collateral effects of language in use

The idea that the language we speak may influence the way we think and act in the world has been investigated within disciplines such as anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, psychology and education for a number of decades under the general label of linguistic relativity. In the project Collateral effects of language use (CELU), this idea was investigated from the perspective of action formation, i.e. by focusing on how the linguistic resources that are available in a given language make it possible for speakers of that language to accomplish a particular social action. Based on a hypothesis formulated in 2012 by Jack Sidnell and Nick Enfield in Current Anthropology, the project investigated whether the intersection between language and social action is a locus of linguistic relativity in the sense that the specific lexico-grammatical resources of a given language affect the ways in which a given social action can be accomplished in that language.

To test this hypothesis, the CELU project has focused first on a particular social action as it is accomplished in a particular language: the verbal indication of having undergone a change-of-state in Danish. In spoken interaction more generally, speakers may wish to indicate that they have undergone a change-of-state of some kind: for instance, that they have been informed of something they did not know before, or thought they knew differently; that something is surprising or counter to expectations and so forth. In the CELU project, it was established that in Danish, the by far most common resource for registering a change-of-state is the particle nå. Though other resources are available, e.g. javel, ej, jaså, aha, these are relatively rare in contemporary spoken Danish – and certainly rare enough to make a systematic scientific analysis impossible. Consequently, the CELU project has focused solely on nå to investigate first how it is used to indicate that its producer has undergone a change-of-state.
The CELU project has determined that the use of nå as a change-of-state token is quite varied. Nå as such does not specify the kind of state-of-change its speaker has undergone: both its position in interaction in which it is produced, as well as the way in which it is produced has consequences for the type of change-of-state it can be understood to indicate or register in the speaker. In the most general terms, the particle nå can be described as indicating that its producer has now been informed of something he or she did not know before. However, when the particle is reduplicated, as nånå, it indicates that the information provided by the other speaker is not new, but rather a revision of some information provided earlier. When the particle is produced with a rise-fall pitch and lengthy duration, as n#å#:, it indicates that its producer now understands, sees or remembers something that he or she did not understand, see or remember at an earlier point in the interaction. Finally, when nå is produced in response to an answer to a question, it indicates that the answer was counter to expectations.

Having thus established both some general and specific features of the Danish particle nå when it indicates that a change-of-state has occurred in its producer, the second part of the CELU project focused on alternative uses of this particle. Specifically, the project has established that nå can also be used to propose that participants in interaction move from a subordinate activity to a primary activity that they have some moral obligation to engage in, for instance, from having a break to getting on with business. In these situations, it cannot be argued that nå is used to indicate that its producer now knows something he or she did not know before. Instead, it is argued that nå’s use as a transition marker can be explained through the idea of collateral effects: because nå more generally indicates that its producer has undergone a change-of-state it can also be used to propose that both speaker and recipient should now engage in a more general change-of-state in orientation, for instance getting back to the main business at hand.

The CELU project thus contributes both empirically and theoretically to the current state-of-the-art within linguistics and anthropology. First, it has provided detailed empirical findings about the use of a particular particle in a particular language. Second, it has identified new types of change-of-state that were previousy unknown, both in Danish and across languages. Third, it has determined that the idea of collateral effects is potentially a strong explanation for how a social action can be accomplished in a given language, and accomplished differently across languages. The overall conclusion of the CELU project is thus also that the intersection of language and social interaction is indeed a possible locus of linguistic relativity.

The results of the CELU project has been disseminated in a number of scientific publications, the most important of which are:

Heinemann, Trine (2016) Registering revision: The reduplicated Danish change-of-state token nå. Discourse Studies 18(1), 44-63.

Heinemann, Trine (2016) From ‘looking’ to ‘seeing’: Indexing delayed intelligibility of an object with the Danish change-of-state token n#å#:. Journal of Pragmatics 104, 108-132.

Heinemann, Trine & Koivisto, Aino (2016) Indicating a change-of-state in interaction: Cross-linguistic explorations. Editorial. Journal of Pragmatics 104, 83-88.

Steensig, Jakob & Heinemann, Trine (2016) Throwing the baby out with the bath water? Commentary on the criticism of the ‘Epistemic Program’. Discourse Studies 18(5), 597-609.

Heinemann, Trine (forth.) Receipting answers that are counter to expectations: The Question-Answer sequence in Danish. Research on Language and Social Interaction xx, xx-xx.

Heinemann, Trine (under review) Transitioning between unequal activities with the Danish change-of-state token nå. Journal of Pragmatics xx, xx-xx.

In addition, each of the empirical findings have also been published as entries in the Grammar of Danish talk in interaction (http://samtalegrammatik.au.dk).

Reported by

HELSINGIN YLIOPISTO
Finland
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