Discourse Particles and Discourse Functions

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Spoken language, especially spoken German, is rich in particles that do not contribute to the propositional content of utterances, but play important roles in steering the flow of the dialogue and in conveying various attitudes and expectations of the speaker. Languages differ widely in their conventions on particle usage, and therefore these words pose significant problems for translation. As a solution, we propose an inventory of “discourse functions” that characterize the pragmatic impact of particles. These functions are to be assigned to particles in the analysis phase, so that the translation step can use the abstract information to decide on the best way of rendering the same effect in the target-language utterance.

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