Discourse marker

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A discourse marker is a word or a phrase that plays a role in managing the flow and structure of discourse. Since their main function is at the level of discourse (sequences of utterances) rather than at the level of utterances or sentences, discourse markers are relatively syntax-independent and usually do not change the truth conditional meaning of the sentence.[1] Examples of discourse markers include the particles oh, well, now, then, you know, and I mean, and the discourse connectives so, because, and, but, and or.[2] The term discourse marker was coined by Deborah Schiffrin in her 1988 book Discourse Markers.[3][4]


Common discourse markers used in the English language include "you know", "actually", "basically", "like", "I mean", "okay" and "so". Data shows that discourse markers often come from different word classes, such as adverbs ("well") or prepositional phrases ("in fact"). The process that leads from a free construction to a discourse marker can be traced back through grammaticalisation studies and resources.[citation needed]

Traditionally, some of the words or phrases that were considered discourse markers were treated as "fillers" or "expletives": words or phrases that had no function at all. Now they are assigned functions in different levels of analysis: topic changes, reformulations, discourse planning, stressing, hedging, or backchanneling.

Yael Maschler divided discourse markers into four broad categories: interpersonal, referential, structural, and cognitive.[5]

  • Interpersonal markers are used to indicate the relationship between the speaker and the listener.
    • Perception: "look", "believe me"
    • Agreement: "exactly", or disagreement: "I'm not sure"
    • Amazement: "wow"
  • Referential markers, usually conjunctions, are used to indicate the sequence, causality, and coordination between statements.
    • Sequence: "now", "then"
    • Causality: "because"
    • Coordination: "and", or non-coordination: "but"
  • Structural markers indicate the hierarchy of conversational actions at the time in which they are spoken. These markers indicate which statements the speaker believes to be most or least important.
    • Organization: "first of all"
    • Introduction: "so"
    • Summarization: "in the end"
  • Cognitive markers reveal the speaker's thought process
    • Processing information: "uhh"
    • Realization: "oh!"
    • Rephrasing: "I mean"

Another example of an interpersonal discourse marker is the Yiddish marker nu, also used in Modern Hebrew and other languages, often to convey impatience or to urge the listener to act (cf. German cognate nun, meaning "now" in the sense of "at the moment being discussed," but contrast Latin etymological cognate nunc, meaning "now" in the sense of "at the moment in which discussion is occurring"; Latin used iam for "at the moment being discussed" (and many other meanings) and German uses jetzt for "at the moment in which discussion is occurring").[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carol Lynn, Moder; Aida Martinovic-Zic (2004). Discourse Across Languages and Cultures. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 117. 9027230781.
  2. ^ Schiffrin, Deborah (1986), Discourse markers, Studies in interactional sociolinguistics, 5., Cambridge [Cambridgeshire], ISBN 978-0-521-30385-9, OCLC 243527510
  3. ^ Schiffrin, Deborah (1988). Discourse Markers. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521357180.
  4. ^ Plonsky, Luke (2017). "Obituary: Deborah Schiffrin". Linguist List.
  5. ^ Jucker, Andreas H.; Ziv, Yael (1998-07-15). Discourse Markers: Descriptions and theory. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 9789027285522.
  6. ^ Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2009). Hybridity versus Revivability: Multiple Causation, Forms and Patterns. In Journal of Language Contact, Varia 2: 40-67, p. 50.