Beginning sentences with "so"

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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#61  Postby katja z » Mar 07, 2013 2:09 pm

Agrippina wrote:Also there are different styles appropriate to different occasions. When writing online, I for one, don't use the same language I use when writing an academic essay. Funnily enough, just yesterday, I spent the day editing essays for a student doing a third-year English course. Most of my editing was to correct her casual language. She literally (and I mean literally) wrote the essays the way she speaks: using colloquialisms, filler words, casual use of split infinitives and so on. When we speak we don't say for instance "the is the man to whom I shall be writing a letter!" We'd probably say "I'm going to write to that guy over there!" or "...that person you told me about." So, [sic] there is a distinct difference between the way we speak, the way we write conversational prose, and the way we lecture, or write formal dissertations.


Absolutely, and knowing when to use which is a big part of language competence. :nod:
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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#62  Postby orpheus » Mar 07, 2013 2:11 pm

katja z wrote:
orpheus wrote:
To a certain extent I agree with you about the purpose of filler words. However, that can't be the entire reason, since people will use filler words even when there is no chance of them being interrupted (e.g., giving an ill-prepared public speech, speaking into a tape recorder). In those cases, the filler words seem to come when the speaker isn't sure exactly what to say next. Why that should be the case, I don't know.

Well, I'm not arguing they are *always* functional, only that they *do* have certain functions in oral communication that are often overlooked.
Interestingly, the second situation you mention are quite far removed from ordinary oral communication (I hesitate to use the word "natural" here, although it has been used in this sense). In fact, in some aspects - although not in the medium - it's closer to written communication, where there's a delay between production and reception. (Conversely, some written forms these days, notably text messaging and also online forum communication to an extent, share some characteristics of oral communication, especially its immediacy, the direct exchange in real time.)

I do not think an initial "Well" or "So" function as the equivalent of a capital letter (intriguing though the idea is). Two reasons: 1) If that were the case, then all spoken sentences would require such a "signal" word, or they would seem wrong. Clearly, this is not the case. 2) take a spoken sentence that does begin with "so" or "well", remove that initial word, and the sentence still sounds fine, intelligible, and usually improved.


Yes, it's not a perfect analogy (in fact I think the other analogy I provided (the indent) was better). Anyway, the idea isn't that the sentence wouldnt' be well-formed without one of these words, but that they perform a situational role - attracting the other's attention (like throat-clearing - a sign of "I'm going to say something"), or signalling a change or theme, or whatever. I'm not saying it's not possible to overdo on these things (linguistic "tics" obviously do exist), or even that everything in everyone's speech is functional. What some of us have been saying is simply that there are often good reasons why oral communication uses specific elements that are not found in (standard) written communication.


Ah yes, I think I understand you better now. I agree with most of that.

One interesting point you touch on is communication via new media such as texting. This (or perhaps more specifically teh interwebz) has the added effect of allowing these memes to propagate quickly. I wouldn't be surprised if the speed of language usage change has increased dramatically in the past few decades. I wonder if there are any quantitative studies of this.
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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#63  Postby katja z » Mar 07, 2013 2:26 pm

orpheus wrote:
One interesting point you touch on is communication via new media such as texting. This (or perhaps more specifically teh interwebz) has the added effect of allowing these memes to propagate quickly. I wouldn't be surprised if the speed of language usage change has increased dramatically in the past few decades. I wonder if there are any quantitative studies of this.


Hmm, well it's a difficult question. I think it's important to distinguish between general rate of language change and the rate of spread of specific phenomena. Usage has always been subject to change, but usually on a more local level (hence diversification into dialects and languages over time). Also, historically, these processes have been less visible in the written record. The media of mass communication make it easier for certain innovations to spread fast and wide, but they have a centripetal effect, which could arguably inhibit local innovations and hence slow down language diversification.
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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#64  Postby Zwaarddijk » Mar 07, 2013 3:03 pm

katja z wrote:
orpheus wrote:
To a certain extent I agree with you about the purpose of filler words. However, that can't be the entire reason, since people will use filler words even when there is no chance of them being interrupted (e.g., giving an ill-prepared public speech, speaking into a tape recorder). In those cases, the filler words seem to come when the speaker isn't sure exactly what to say next. Why that should be the case, I don't know.

Well, I'm not arguing they are *always* functional, only that they *do* have certain functions in oral communication that are often overlooked.

This isn't really a response to Katja's post, but rather a further elaboration of the topic she brings up.

Let's imagine the brain as a big pattern-matching algorithm (which it essentially is!). The pattern-matching algorithm notices that a certain word tends to appear when a certain function probably was intended, and associates the word and the function. Sometimes, though, there may be several possible interpretations as to which function it has, especially if the called for function occurs a lot (and it's quite possible that several possible functions often co-occur; in a somewhat different context, we can notice that e.g. perfect aspect, definiteness of the object, physicality of the object, whether the verb is kinetic in nature, etc tend to co-occur - many things in language tend to co-occur even though they don't always co-occur). Some speakers may therefore notice patterns different from what other speakers notice - one notices that "so" tends to occur when the onset of a statement has this or that specific extra function, another notices that "so" tends to occur at the onset of statements, another notices that "so" tends to do this-or-that other function.

For a particle to become such a grammatical 'onset' thing wouldn't be unusual either, as there seems to be some kind of a complementizer-position at sentence onsets, and if that grammatical theory holds true, it wouldn't be weird for "so" or some other particle that occasionally occurs sentence-initially to become grammaticalized as an expression of that complementizer. (For non-linguists, this complementizer would be analogous to, say, the various things introducing some subordinate clauses, such as "if" and "that", basically a similar particle whose role it is to just introduce the sentence; maybe some have generalized it to complementizer for certain types of utterance-initial sentences or whatever, who knows!)
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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#65  Postby iamthereforeithink » Mar 07, 2013 4:36 pm

LucidFlight wrote:
iamthereforeithink wrote:I find the preponderance of the word "like" even more irritating than "so". It seems to be especially popular among females below a certain age
- "She was like blah blah blah, and I was like really? and like I was like blah blah OMG! and she was like blah blah...."
Why can't these ladies converse properly with each other?

So, like, ermahgerd, this is cray-cray harsh and stuff. It's totes obvi ur prolly all, like, tragic and super old. YOLO. You know? But, whatevs.


Yeah, well, so my age is actually like somewhat more than what it like says on my profile, but like really, I'm not like THAT old.
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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#66  Postby Agrippina » Mar 07, 2013 4:43 pm

Zwaarddijk wrote:
Agrippina wrote:Also there are different styles appropriate to different occasions. When writing online, I for one, don't use the same language I use when writing an academic essay. Funnily enough, just yesterday, I spent the day editing essays for a student doing a third-year English course. Most of my editing was to correct her casual language. She literally (and I mean literally) wrote the essays the way she speaks: using colloquialisms, filler words, casual use of split infinitives and so on. When we speak we don't say for instance "the is the man to whom I shall be writing a letter!" We'd probably say "I'm going to write to that guy over there!" or "...that person you told me about." So, [sic] there is a distinct difference between the way we speak, the way we write conversational prose, and the way we lecture, or write formal dissertations.


Split infinitives probably are going to gain ground in academic language though, as it's pretty well recognized among people that it's an artificial rule with no actual historical basis in English grammar except that some 18th century grammarian disliked it and made a rule up.


In South African English, we don't use "shall" the way the British English do, in speech. We don't say "I shall pick you up at so and so." We say "I'll pick you up." Asked if we intend to do something, we say "of course I will" or "yes, I'll do it." We do use it in the question "shall I pick you up, or will you get there on your own?" So our kids, when they get to formal writing, they find the use of "shall" a little clumsy and have to have it spelled out to them.
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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#67  Postby don't get me started » Mar 08, 2013 4:19 am

In translating Beowulf, Seamus Heaney had to find a modern day equivalent for Anglos-Saxon ‘Hwaet’. This expression was used at the beginning of Anglos-Saxon oral performances to signal onset if the story It was translated previously as ‘Hearken’ or ‘Lo’. After much thought, Heaney opted for ‘so’.

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.

These kinds of words (Well, you know, I mean, Like)(Variously referred to in the literature as ‘Fillers’, ‘Discourse Markers’ and ‘Smallwords’) are key indicators of fluency and their omission from spoken language renders the speech, strange and unnatural. The issue is dealt with in great detail in: Hasselgreen, A. (2004) Testing the Spoken English of Young Norwegians. A study in Test Validity and the role of ‘smallwords in Contributing to Pupil’s Fluency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

She is a better writer than me so I’ll quote her words directly.
“ …smallwords have traditionally been neglected in the language classroom, partly through genuine difficulties involved in teaching them, but largely through their low status. This status is probably something to do with the fact that they are generally not found in the written language, and the written word has traditionally enjoyed a higher academic status than the spoken […] Moreover, where smallwords are referred to in the literature on discourse, it has been normal until fairly recently for them to be grouped under the general team ‘fillers’, together with ‘erm’. There is still a tendency for non-native teachers to regard the use of these as a weakness, and not something they would encourage in their students. And dialogues in coursebooks still tend to be cleansed of many of the very words and phrases that characterize living dialogue. Only when presente4d with evidence that is is the native speakers who really do use these, with learners lagging well behind, are teachers normally convinced that this is a body of language their students need to learn.” (p, 238)

Although the author is referring to foreign language learning, I think the same prejudice applies to many native speakers. That is, there is a feeling that using these kind of words is somehow sloppy and a signal of disfluency.

Regarding the word ‘like’, corpus studies have shown that this word is used in a very sophisticated ways to achieve a number of pragmatic, interactional goals.
McCarthy (Touchstone 4 2006, 81) reports the following corpus findings regarding the use of ‘like’ in conversation.

34% to say something is similar (He acted like we were in his way)
18% to highlight something ( They were like totally blocking the doors)
17% to mean other things including the verb to like something.
16% to give an example (Like, I get upset)
10% to report what someone said (They were like ‘what’s your problem?’)
5% to say ‘approximately’ ( Isn’t he like 80 years old)

He shows that in conversation, like is one of the top 15 words (Yes, that’s right, in the top 15 words, along with I, You, The, A) And he says that it is 6 times more frequent in conversation than writing.

Regarding ‘like’ its use in its reported speech function, far from being a poorly thought out substitute for ‘say’ it has a nuance and interactional function of astonishing subtlety in turn design. It is often used at the climax of a narrative event to indicate the speaker’s reaction to the story happenings and to invite the listener to align with the teller in their evaluative stance.
I videotaped one of my students telling a story of catching a last train and then the woman next sitting to her, heavily drunk, threw up and got some vomit on her (the student’s) boots. At this climax of the story the student said” …and I was like “What the fuck!”
Now, this avoids making clear whether she said it or thought it, but expresses the speaker’s evaluative stance in a way that directly informs the interlocutor and invites alignment. The use of taboo language within the frame of ‘thought but not uttered’ is also a common narrative device, creating a shared social world between the speaker and listener and re-balancing the event described. In the there and then of the narrative, politeness forbade a direct, angry remonstrance (it is Japan) and the deployment of taboo language, but in the here and now of the telling, the teller can re-create her reaction accurately by deploying ‘like’.
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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#68  Postby don't get me started » Mar 08, 2013 4:53 am

Back to the OP and the topic of beginning sentences with so, I'm just looking through my library and came across a good paper:
Schegloff, E.A and Lerner, G.H. (2009) 'Beginning to respond: We-Prefaced Responses to Wh-questions. In Research on Language and Social Interaction, 42:2,91-115
The authors investigate turn initial use of the word 'Well' in a turn which is a response to a WH question. The abstract states "We show that these well-prefaces operate as general alerts to indicate nonstraightforwardness in responding.."
It seems to me that the deployment of SO in turn initial position, especially in a second pair part where the first pair part is a Wh question might serve a similar function, i.e. an alert that some aspect of the Gricean maxims may be violated in the upcoming turn, or that the content of the turn may in some manner be dispreffered.
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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#69  Postby LucidFlight » Mar 08, 2013 5:49 am

iamthereforeithink wrote:
LucidFlight wrote:
iamthereforeithink wrote:I find the preponderance of the word "like" even more irritating than "so". It seems to be especially popular among females below a certain age
- "She was like blah blah blah, and I was like really? and like I was like blah blah OMG! and she was like blah blah...."
Why can't these ladies converse properly with each other?

So, like, ermahgerd, this is cray-cray harsh and stuff. It's totes obvi ur prolly all, like, tragic and super old. YOLO. You know? But, whatevs.


Yeah, well, so my age is actually like somewhat more than what it like says on my profile, but like really, I'm not like THAT old.

Ah! If indeed my mock comments were intended for you specifically, they might seem a bit off the mark with respect to your advertised age. :dopey:
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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#70  Postby katja z » Mar 08, 2013 8:17 am

Great stuff, don't get me started :cheers:

I've meant to bring up second-language competence earlier, but didn't have any references to hand. I only have my personal experience to confirm that knowing and being able to use these (seemingly) little details does indeed make it much easier to speak without sounding as if you're trying to interject bits from a (clumsily written) book into the conversation. :tongue:

Now, this avoids making clear whether she said it or thought it, but expresses the speaker’s evaluative stance in a way that directly informs the interlocutor and invites alignment. The use of taboo language within the frame of ‘thought but not uttered’ is also a common narrative device, creating a shared social world between the speaker and listener and re-balancing the event described.


This is fascinating. The frame of "thought but not uttered" really is something we're more used to think about in the context of written literary narrative (well, at least I am). Now I'm curious to try and find such devices in other languages. Oh, and this reminds me of a book patiently sitting on my reading list, Towards a "Natural" Narratology by Monika Fludernik, have you read it by any chance ?
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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#71  Postby don't get me started » Mar 08, 2013 9:21 am

Cheers Katja :thumbup:

Every time I give a presentation on the topic of smallwords in English I can guarantee that there will be someone who puts their hand up at the end and tries to argue that these kinds of words are trivial epiphenomena of spoken language, or else directly asserts that they are sloppy disfluency markers.
In many cases it is some old school linguist who can run rings around me in their knowledge of formal grammar, but who isn't a particularly good spoken communicator when put on the spot.(Sounding like they are reading from a script that they have memorized perfectly, but understood poorly)

I can agree with you re. second language proficiency. I have led people into believing I am much more proficient than I actually am by deploying these kinds of words in my other languages. A little goes a long way.

" I usually go downtown for a drink on Fridays" does the job of answering the question "What do you usually do at the weekend?" but,
"Well, actually, I usually go out, I mean, I go drinking on Fridays, downtown, you know?" does a much better communicative job. Even when the formal aspects of the language are a bit loose, you can glide over by using markers correctly.
"Well, actually, I am usually go to the drinking, I mean, after my working on Friday, drink the beer and something like that, you know what I mean?

I haven't read the book you mentioned. It looks interesting. I'll have a look for it in my uni library.

When I teach spoken narrative I follow Labovian narrative norms.

1. Abstract. Introduce an upcoming narrative event and outline the topic.
(Did I tell you about what happened to me on the train last Saturday?)

2. Orientation. Describe, time, place characters etc.
(Well, last Saturday I was out drinking with the guys form work and stayed out to the last train)

3. Complicating event. The main events which make the story happen and be worthwhile listening to.
(Well, I got a seat and sat down, but I was kind of drunk, and fell asleep and missed my bloody station.
So, anyways was woken up by the guard at the last stop. I was like " Oh shit, where the hell am I?")

4. Resolution How did events sort themselves out?
(So I went out of the station, luckily there was a taxi stand, so I got in and he took me home, but I had to pay 10,000yen and didn't get home until 2 am.)

5. Coda. Provides a bridge from the story world to the real world, often with a moral or lesson and evaluation.
( I was so pissed off with myself. From now, I think I'm gonna I set my alarm on my phone, just in case. Mind you, I'm not gonna stop drinking or anything, you know?"

I'm transcribing some spoken narratives at the moment. I'm making the transcriptions to Conversation Analysis standards, so it takes about 3 hours to do 10 minutes worth. I might open a thread with some findings when I get it done.
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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#72  Postby katja z » Mar 08, 2013 9:26 am

don't get me started wrote:
I'm transcribing some spoken narratives at the moment. I'm making the transcriptions to Conversation Analysis standards, so it takes about 3 hours to do 10 minutes worth. I might open a thread with some findings when I get it done.


:thumbup:
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Re: Beginning sentences with "so"

#73  Postby lobawad » Mar 18, 2013 3:42 am

I associate beginning a sentence with "so" with stand-up comedy.

"So I was walking my dog the other day..."

Another use of "so" at the beginning of a sentence is similar to the German "also".

"These boulders are huge. So we're screwed guys."

The phenomenon described in the original post must be too recent for me to have noticed it. The only person I can think of whom I've heard speak as the OP describes was young and British. I'm quite sure he had picked the habit up from stand-up comedians.
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