This study investigates a discourse-pragmatic use of the word wait in spoken North American English. This function is an extension from an original lexical meaning of pausing or lingering, which has expanded to indicate a pause in discourse as a speaker reflects on or corrects an earlier topic. Over 340 examples from 211 individuals permit comparative sociolinguistic methods and statistical modeling to offer an early assessment of the variation among alternates of this innovative use and to test for broad social and linguistic factors in order to understand the underlying processes. The results expose notable recent developments: older people use the longer, more temporally specified variants wait a minute and wait a second, while wait alone is increasing in apparent time, with women leading its advance. The robust increase in the use of wait alone (e.g., I haven’t seen her yet. No wait. Yes, I have), co-occurrence with other markers (e.g., no), and the function of self-correction/commentary arises after 1970. The unique contribution of socially stratified corpora also demonstrates that this development follows well-known principles of linguistic change, as wait develops from a verb with temporal specification to a full-fledged discourse-pragmatic marker on the left periphery.
Wait, It’s a Discourse Marker
sali a. tagliamonte is a professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto, Canada. She is the author of six books, including Making Waves and Variationist Sociolinguistics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012, 2015) and Analysing Sociolinguistic Variation and Roots of English (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006, 2013). She has published on Canadian and British English dialects, teen language, and television. Her research focuses on morphosyntactic and discourse-pragmatic features using cross-community comparisons and apparent time to explore linguistic change. Email: email@example.com.
Sali A. Tagliamonte; Wait, It’s a Discourse Marker. American Speech 1 November 2021; 96 (4): 424–449. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-8791763
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