English Linguistic Terms

A collective of key linguistic terms including: discourse, pragmatics, lexis and semantics, grammar, phonology, rhetorics.

  • Created by: Katie
  • Created on: 04-04-12 12:39

Discourse Terms

Adjacency pairs - where one utterance provokes the expectation of a response.

Example: in natural speech, this can be anything from a greeting to an offer. e.g.   

  • How are you?
  • I’m good thank you. Yourself?

In edited speech, this could be the question asked by the interviewer which is either included in the finished text or omitted from it.

Discourse markers - indicate a shift in topic, a new topic, or the end of a topic.

Example: "well", "so", "anyway".

Written language discourse markers may well appear in prepared speech, to help orangise and prepare the arguments e.g. "therefore", "however", "moreover".

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Interruptions - can occur frequently and can signal the desire of a speaker to dominate the conversation. Most likely to be edited out in written speech.

Overlapping - speakers talking at the same time as others - different to interruptions in that the overlapping may be more of a co-operative gesture of speakers chiming in with one another.

 Backchannel features or minimal responsessignals from the participant that show that they are listening (or perhaps agreeing).

Example: "uhuh", "mmm", "yeah".

Monitoring features- features that check the other participant is listening. 

Example: "you know what I mean?", "so, you follow?"

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Non-fluency features - normal in spontaneous speech.


Hesitations/unvoiced pauses.

Voiced pauses e.g. "um" "ah"

Fillers e.g. using "like" in between words

False starts e.g. repeating the start of the sentence

Vague completors e.g. "and stuff", "like, yeah".

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The co-operative principle & Grice's maxims 

Quantity - don't say too much or too little in the given context.

Quality - accuracy: don't lie. The conversation won't function if there is lying or misleading.

Relation - be relevant, stay on topic.

Manner - clarity: don't be ambiguous or obscure.

Face Needs (Brown and Levinson) - respecting others' self-image or public image. Not impulsing on or dominating other speakers.

Example: "Would you mind opening the window?" is less direct than "open the window" which is more face threatening than the former.

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Hedges/mitigators - tend to make the utterance less blunt or less assertive.

Example: "as far as I know, she's American" which is less assertive and additionally avoids the breaching of the maxim of quantity.
"I'm not sure if this makes sense..." shows concern over the maxim of manner.

Diectics - words that point things out in immediate context. Used in face-to-face conversation as its difficult e.g. over the phone.

Example: "what was that?" or "where does that go?". The diectics here are only distinguishable if context is given.

Synthetic personalisation - does not apply to conversational speech. In prepared speech, however, a politician may use it to adopt a personalized relationship with an individual by using the 2nd person pronoun.

Example: "What are you going to do to help?", "This means you!". This can also be used in advertising e.g . "Are you tired of the same old hair products?"

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Germanic lexis - words derived from Anglo-Saxon. Tend to be informal and monosyllabic and disyllabic. Often found in spontaneous speech. 

Latinate lexis - words that derive ultimately from Latin. Tend to be fewer of these in casual conversation.

High frequency lexis - commonly occuring words.

Low frequency lexis - rare of specialised words. 

Semantic fields - words that can be grouped together in a category.

Example: "blood", "gunshot" and "soldier" are in the semantic field of "war".

Dialect lexis - regional dialect e.g. "wee" means little in the Scottish dialect.

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Metaphor - a figure of speech involving comparison in which the user describes one thing or action as though it were something else.

Example: "as one would beat his offenceless dog to affright an imperious lion"

Personification - giving human characteristics to a thing or animal. 

Example: "life was always playing dirty tricks on her", or "the wind howled menacingly". 

Similie - a figure of speech in which things are compared in an unsusual or unexpected way, using like or as.

Example: "her hair stood out from her head like a crest of serpents".

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Phonology (and poetic structure)

Stress - paticular emphasis on a syllable or word. Usually indicated in a transcript by bold font or underlining. 

Rising intonation - going up at the end of a sentence. Usually found when asking a question or end of a statement expressing surprise. 

Assonance - repetition of vowel sounds.

Example: "disasterous chances"

Consonance - repition of consonant sounds.

Onomatopoeia - the similarity between the word and the sound created e.g. "bang" or "smash" 

Alliteration - repetition of sounds, usually initial consonant sounds.  

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Plosive alliteration - repetition of the 'd', 'p' and 'b' sound.

Example: "broil and battle"

Sibilance - repetition of the soft 's' sound.

Example: "speak of some distressful stroke", "the soft phrase of peace"

 Fricative alliteration - the repetition of the 'f' ('fuh'), 'th', 'ph', 'v' sounds.

Example: "flood and field'

Caesura - punctuation stopping poetry in the middle of a line.

Example: "... With fresh suspicions? No, to be once in doubt..."

Enjambment - when a line of poetry runs onto the next line. 

Example: "... They dare not show their husbands. Their best/ conscience/ is not leave't undone, but keep't unknown."

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Anaphora - repetition of the beginning of a sentence, clause or phrase for effect.

Example: "I have a dream that one day this nation ... I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia..."

Hyperbole - exaggeration for effect. 

Example: "there were millions of people on the bus".

Litotes - understatement for effect: quite common in speech in the UK, where understated ironic humour is appreciated. 

Example: "Forty years is a reasonable amount of time", 

Tricolon - a group of three words. 

Example: in Tony Blair's speech: "education, education, education" or "the battles, sieges, fortunes"

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Amplificato - elaborating an idea by saying it several times in different way.

Example: "I'll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove;", "'twas strange, 'twas passing strange, 'twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful".

Antithesis- contrastive pairs. 

Example: "many are called, but few are chosen" and "ask not what your country will do for you; ask what you can do for your country".

Chiasmum - two words, phrases or syntactical units repeated in reversed order. 

Example: "Nice to see you, to see you, nice!", "You forget what you want to remember and remember what you want to forget", "I flee who chases me, and chase who flees me", "Fair is foul, and foul is fair".

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Collocation - a term used to describe words which habitually go together.

Example: "horse and carriage", "strawberries and cream", "zero tolerance", "once upon a time". 

Diminutio - self-depreciation to win audience sympathy.

Example: "My opinion won't count for much among the..."

Exemplum - short story or reference used to illustrate a point.

Example: "I fell into conversation with a constituent, a middle age man who..."

Foregrounding - causes the attention to shift away from what is said to how it is said.It contributes to the total meaning. The background provides the relevant context for the foreground.

Example: "I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils", "I saw her a grief ago". 

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Isocolon  - a succession of phrases of approximately equal length and corresponding structure.

Example: "Nothing that's beautiful hides its face. Nothing that's honest hides its name.", "an inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adverture is an inconvenience rightly considered.

Occupatio - refusal to go into details for whatever reason.

Example: "Nobody knows because no such policy has yet been attempted."

Parison - a parallelism of form in grammatical structure (corresponding structure in a series of phrases or clauses - adjective to adjective, noun to noun etc.)

Example: "The closer you get, the better you look.", "The bigger they are, the harder they fall."

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Percontatio - enquiry addressed to another person or oneself in a tone of bewilderment or amazement and allowing no easy reply.

Example: "Yet why does it need a war to bring out our qualities and reassert our pride?"

Ratiocinatio - elaborate way of structuring an argument in speech of soliloquy by arguing with oneself, posing objecting and ideas, and then meeting them.

Example: "You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory.

Refutation - speaker answers, discredits or counters opposing points of view and therefore disproving unvoiced arguments.

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Subtext - the implications of a text, which are understood though not stated.

Transito - when one recapitulates briefly what one had said and outlines what one is going onto next.

"Us and Them" technique - rallies the audience who are the "us" and presents a common enemy: "them".

Example: "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty."

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Diacope - the repetition of a word or phrase with one or more words in between.

Example: "a fine woman, a fair woman, a sweet woman", "'twas strange, 'twas passing strange, 'twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful"

Asyndetic list - a list with no conjunction between the penultimate and the last item on the list.

Example: "The battles, sieges, fortunes"

Syndetic list - a list with a conjunction.

Example: "... is free of speech, sings, plays, and dances well"

Sibilance - repetition of the 's' sound.

Example: "speak of some distressful stroke"

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Anadiplosis - where you end a clause/sentence with the same word you started with the next one.

Example: "it is most true; true that I have married her;"

Superlative - the most of something.

Example: "biggest", "best", "most potent, grave and reverend signiors"

Epithet - an adjective and a proper noun. 

Example: "divine Desdemona"

Transferred epithet - ran adjective and a noun.

Example: "noble lord"

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Syntactic parallelism - sentences or phrases that have the same structure.

Example: "worst of thoughts"..."worst of words", "Honest, my lord?"..."Think, my lord?"

Prose - continuous word flow, paragraphs, fully written sentences, as opposed to written in verse.

Example: found in Othello to distinguish class, friends/characters who know each other well, influence (on language/way of speaking or thinking) to round off a scene, during comedy scenes. 

Epiphora - opposite of anaphora: the repetition at the end of a sentence of phrase.

Example: "I saw't not, thought it not"

Contrastive pairs - pairs of words which contrast in meaning.

Example: "who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet fondly loves?"

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haha you're very welcome!

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