Linguistic gambits

Topics: Language acquisition, Linguistics, Second language acquisition Pages: 18 (3135 words) Published: August 31, 2014
University of Babylon
College of Education for Human Sciences
Department of English/ PhD Programme

A Theoretical Survey of

A term paper
Submitted in partial fulfillment for the requirements of a
PhD course in Discourse Analysis

Ahmed Sahib Jabir

May, 2013
1. Introductory remarks
It is an agreed upon fact that language is mainly used to fulfil two basic functions: the first is the transactional function which is related to the communication of information and the other is the interactional function which is concerned with establishing and maintaining social relations between the members of a speech community (Brown and Yule 1983: 1). This latter function, which is also called the phatic communion, is of great importance since it is responsible for harmonizing people’s life. Trudgill (1974: 1) states that when two English people who have never met before come face to face in, say, a train, they find it awkward not to speak to each other! Therefore, one of them will take the initiative and start a conversation about some general topic, typically the weather. In this regard, there are particular expressions that are usually used by native speakers of English to start the conversation like: (1) What a lovely day, isn’t it?

(2) What awful weather we’re having today!
Such expressions, in addition to those that are related to other subjects, can be used to start a conversation, respond to others, or to indicate a shift in topic. Expressions like these are in general called gambits1. House (2010: 569) describes gambits as discourse markers or elements that can occur in “turn-initial”, “turn-internal” or “turn-final” position and which can be viewed as the different ways of telling what the speaker is saying and who is listening to them. For example, when giving an opinion, a speaker may initiate the speech by: (3) In my opinion…

or in telling bad news by
(4) I’m afraid I have some bad news…
Such gambits are found in all languages, though realized differently in different cultures. For example, it is well known that English people start a conversation with strangers by talking about weather (as mentioned above) while Arabs in similar situations usually start by the formal Islamic greeting then asking about health. It is because of this fact of culture-specificity of gambits that learners of a foreign language will not attain a native-like level unless they use these expressions naturally enough (web source 1). 2. What is gambit?

Etymologically, the word gambit goes back to ancient Italian word gambetto (meaning tripping). It is this word which the Spanish priest Rúy López de Segura applied to chess openings in (1561) taking it from the Italian expression dare il gambetto (meaning: to put a leg forward in order to trip someone). Priest Segura gave that Italian word its Spanish spelling form gambito which later led to French gambit appearing finally in English in that same form of spelling. The broader sense of “opening move meant to gain advantage” was first recorded in English in (1855) (Web source 2). Although he agrees that gambit came in this form to English from French, Parridge (1966: 470) believes that the French gambit is taken from Late Latin cambi (meaning exchange) and not from Spanish. Dufon, (1995: 27), in this regard, reports that gambit was first used as a linguistic term by Keller and Warner (1976) in an analogy with the way it was used in chess. From then on, gambit has been used in linguistics to refer to expressions that are used to start a conversation. Gambits, consequently, are formulaic expressions whose main function is not to convey information of any sort but rather to start a conversation. Later, the coverage of the term was expanded to refer to expressions having the same function but are found in the middle and/or at the end of conversations. Keller and Warner (1976: 27) state that, like other formulaic expressions, gambits are either completely fixed (e. g. by...

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House, J. (2010) “Impoliteness in Germany” Intercultural Pragmatics Vol.7 No. 4 PP 561–595.
Keller, E. and Warner, S. (1976) Gambits 1, 2, 3. Ottawa: Public Service.
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Litosseliti, L. and Sunderland, J. (2002) Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.
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