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Contrastive Discourse Markers in Conversation


In order to define the pragmatic function of contrastive discourse markers during conversational exchange, several themes should be revisited. To begin with, it is necessary to define the discourse markers, as well as outline the main classification and characteristics of those. Second, the analysis of theoretical frameworks related to the study of discourse markers is essential for proceeding with examination of pragmatic dimension. Finally, cross-cultural study of discourse markers use in various contexts can contribute to designing the framework for the given research.

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Analysis of Discourse Markers

Defining discourse markers

There is no unanimous opinion concerning classification and status of discourse markers in linguistics. At this point, it is purposeful to consider this issue in more detail to gain a deeper understanding of how discourse markers could be learnt and applied by EFL learners. Fraser (1999) enlarges on the status of discourse markers and their role in shaping pragmatic meaning and function of utterances (p. 932). In-depth evaluation of function and meaning of this linguistic category is oriented on defining its grammatical and semantic statuses. While developing the classification, Fraser (1999) refers to contrastive discourse as those bearing procedural meaning (p. 934).

Theoretical perspective

Before introducing the empirical evidence of using contrastive discourse markers, specific emphasis should be placed on defining theoretical implications for the research. At this point, Jucker and Ziv (1998) present a theoretical framework that defines the discourse markers in the context of meaning (p. 45). The authors focus on two types of meaning procedural and conceptual. The former focuses on the encoded utterance information concerning how the content can be manipulated. The latter is connected with the utterance-encoded information that elaborates on the representation of its content (Taguchi, 2009, p. 19). Within these perspectives, discourse markers belong to a group of expressions developing procedural meaning. Kroon (1998) has also introduced a theoretical framework to describe the peculiarities of using Latin discourse markers (p. 207). In particular, the scholar argues that connective particles influence on maintaining and signaling the discourse coherence. What is more important is that discourse coherence is represented on various levels, including representational, presentational and interactional level. The proposed levels allow the researchers to differentiate among meaning, use, and functions of discourse markers.

Understanding the discourse markers contributes to greater reading, writing, and speaking comprehension (Khatib & Safari, 2011, p. 247; Biber et al., 1998, p. 15). In particular, Khatib and Safari (2011) approve the positive correlation between discourse markers use and positive correlation (p. 254). What is more important is that the analysis of discourse markers use should be carried by means of a bilingual perspective because it provides a specific outlook on the function of discourse markers and their perception by EFL learners.

Pragmatic functions

According to Blakemore (2002), “there are linguistically encoded aspects of meaning which affect pragmatic interpretation – namely, many of the expressions which have been called discourse markers” (p. 26). At this point, pragmatic function of discourse markers should not be confused with semantic or grammatical meaning of word expressions. To support the statement, Fraser (1996) argues that pragmatic markers have various representations of meaning in the sentence context (p. 168). They also deliver messages that complement the basic message in the sentence. Their function, therefore, is not confined to any indirect messages that are excluded from the basic purpose (Fraser, 1996, p. 170). Finally, the majority of pragmatic markers stand at the beginning of the sentence or phrase to define which the pragmatic message is referred. Gonzalez (2005) has reached similar assumptions concerning the implicit meaning of the pragmatic markers contributing to the coherence of the direct meaning expressed in the main sentence (p. 54). In addition, Muller (2005) stresses that “there is a general agreement that discourse markers contribute to the pragmatic meaning of utterances and thus play an important role in the pragmatic competence of the speaker” (p. 20). The pragmatic conception is also discussed in the studies by Modhish (2012) who focuses on the pragmatic dimension of utterances through presentation of discourse markers (p. 59). In general, the pragmatic facet of discourse markers explains the necessity to employ contrastive discourse markers into word expressions.

Cross-Linguistic Overview

The study of discourse markers in pragmatic field closely correlates with bilingual approach. Notably, Torres and Potowski (2008) have suggested, “…function words such as discourse markers were less likely to be borrowed than content words such as nouns and verbs” (p. 264). Nevertheless, current studies have researched bilingual discourse markers to define that borrowing relies on the situation of close language contact (Montes, 1999, p. 1290). In particular, Torres and Potowski (2008) adhere to the idea that the discourse marker so, for example, is a French borrowing because this parenthesis is frequently used among Canadian adolescents (p. 264). Thus, it can be concluded that languages in close contact can lead to the development of new discourse markers that could be used in either of languages (Torres, 2002, p. 67). However, the bilingual discourse under the analysis cannot be called a close interaction because the focus is made on the way Saudi EFL learners could interpret and employ English phrases.

Although some of the English discourse markers are heavily applied in practice, most of them are borrowings from other languages. For instance, the studies by Archakis (2001) examine the discourse markers borrowed from Greek languages to define the pragmatic function of such expressions as in other words, that it to say, I wish to say, and or rather (p. 1235). The results of the study have revealed that these above-presented discourse markers could be differentiated as soon as the dynamics in grammar is taken into consideration. In contrast, Andersen et al. (1999) focus on contextual dimension to outline the functional and textual use of discourse markers (p. 1341). While focusing on the prior research, the scholars have defined that discourse markers, such as well, serve as important instruments for marking differences in social ranking and environment.

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Fukushima (2005, p. 82) and Matsui (2001, p. 869) relate to the analysis of discourse markers in Japanese context to define any peculiarities of their functions. In particular, Fukushima (2005) is more concerned with analyzing Japanese contrastive discourse markers that are translated as although and but (p. 82). However, the researcher has found that semantic meaning of the Japanese continuative prevents it from performing is pragmatic discourse functions. In addition, the studies have focused on the sociocultural characteristics of discourse markers to define that the Japanese continuative signifies the extent of speaker’s sensitivity to the recipient addressees’ potential. Matsui (2001) refers to the analysis of the Japanese connective dakara to claim the interpretive representation of another utterance (p. 870). In addition, the researcher asserts that the English representation of this connective is associated with encoding the procedural meaning. Once again, the procedural meaning of contrastive discourse markers is emphasized.

Contextual background plays an important role in identifying the pragmatic functions of language use (Verdonik et al., 2008, p. 761; Dedaiæ, 2008, p. 762). Therefore, employing two different conversational genres, such as television interviews and telephone conversation, creates a fresh insight into defining the influence of context on discourse marker use (Hymes, 1997, p. 37). The results of the study have demonstrated the higher frequency of discourse marker use during telephone talk that is predetermined by context-talk relationships. In addition, Fox Tree (2006) has also examined the influence of context and genre on use of discourse markers to prove the positive correlation.

Main Characteristics of Contrastive Discourse Markers

To have a greater understanding of contrastive discourse makers, Othman (2000) has provided a comparative overview of definition to highlight the common features of the linguistic phenomenon (p. 48). In general, the researcher has concluded that use of discourse markers largely depends on the attributes of a specific community. Contrary to the studies introduced by Othman (2000, p. 49), Carbonell-Olivares (2009, p. 199) relies on the analysis of a contrastive discourse marker although to define its pragmatic function. The findings have revealed that although “often appears in a context where multiple markers signal different discourse relations…, reflecting the informative density and argumentative complexity” (Carbonell-Olivares, 2009, p. 199). Therefore, contrastive markers serve not only as syntactical tools for connecting complex sentences, but also as efficient communicative means for promoting reading and speaking comprehension. At this point, Al Kohlani (2010) discusses the role of discourse markers in Arabic newspapers to emphasize their contributions to the text cohesiveness (p. 25).

In studies by Mehlbaum (2010, p. 56) and Butler et al. (2007, p. 48), the attention is given to the analysis of functional and pragmatic dimension of contrastive discourse markers. In particular, scholars adhere to the idea that pragmatic trends are characteristics of such parts of speech that allow speakers to deliver message relating to the content of the text. Wei (2009) also discusses a discourse marker perspective to define how it influences the efficiency of EFL learners in China (p. 12). In general, Scott (2002) emphasizes that bilingual analysis of discourse markers has a positive influence on defining the pragmatic function of contrastive conjunctions (p. 45).

In general, understanding the foundation of discourse and linguistics will provide a deeper analysis of how discourse markers are applied in various cross-cultural contexts. At this point, Romero-Trillo (2008) asserts that “change of focus in foreign language contexts poses new challenges as learners now have to understand the discourse markers used by teachers as peg on which to hand conceptual knowledge” (p. 193). In particular, EFL learners, therefore, are less concerned with employing various parentheses, conjunctions, and interjections because their level of contextual understanding is much lower as compared to native speakers.


In general, an extensive overview of the research literature on pragmatic function of discourse markers creates new directions for exploring its influence on EFL learners. To begin with, the reviewed literature focuses on definition and theoretical undermining of discourse markers, as well as how cross-cultural and bilingual environment affects learners’ awareness of the importance of the discourse markers. In particular, the evaluation of pragmatic competence, procedural meaning, and grammatical influences contributes to answering the research question. Discussion the application of research markers in various languages, including Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish widens perspectives for shaping the similarities between discourse markers from various contextual backgrounds. Therefore, the research findings have complemented the research by interesting and helpful discoveries.


Al Kohlani, F. A. (2010). The function of discourse markers in Arabic newspaper opinion articles. (Dissertation: Georgetown University, USA) 517.

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Andersen, E.S., Brizuela, M., DuPuy, B. and Gonnermas, L. (1999). Cross-linguistic Evidence for the Early Acquisition of Discourse Markers as Register Variables, Journal of Pragmatics 31, 1339–51.

Archakis, A. (2001). On Discourse Markers: Evidence from Modern Greek, Journal of Pragmatics. 33, 1235–61.

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Fox Tree, J.E. (2006). Placing Like in Telling Stories, Discourse Studies 8(6): 723–43.

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