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 extended 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 modelling in order 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 longer, more temporally specified variants, wait a minute/wait a second, while wait alone is increasing in apparent time with women leading its advance. The robust increase in 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.
“…markers allow speakers to construct and integrate multiple planes and dimensions of an emergent reality” (Schiffrin 1987:330)