Tanya Karoli Christensen: “Vagueness in youth speech. Functional analyses of spoken Danish.”

International Linguistic Association

Monthly Lecture Series


Tanya Karoli Christensen

University of Copenhagen


Vagueness in youth speech. Functional analyses of spoken Danish.

Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 11 AM – 12 PM

Borough of Manhattan Community College, Room N451

199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007


NOTE: All attendees will be asked to show some form of ID in order to enter the college.

Contact: Maureen Matarese, mmatarese@bmcc.cuny.edu                  www.ilaword.org  


Young people have always been charged with ruining the language of their parents and grandparents by being sloppy and imprecise in their speech (and writing, for that matter). However, it has long been argued that ’vague’ language may serve a range of interactional functions (e.g. Kempson 1977; Dines 1980; Channell 1994; Gassner 2012). For instance, vagueness may arise because of unclear reference between a linguistic item and a class of objects, because a speaker (or her language) lacks an appropriate word for a specific concept, or because precision is uncalled for in the context.          

Many different types of linguistic items have been categorized as vague in one way or another, including approximate quantifiers (about N), generic expressions (thing), general extenders (and stuff like that) and epistemic phrases (I think). Since the interpretation of vague expressions rests on context, many studies revolve around the semantics-pragmatics interface, but because vague expressions come in such great variety, sociolinguists have also studied such expressions as examples of so-called discourse variation (e.g. Cheshire 2007; Tagliamonte & Denis; Pichler 2010).

In this talk, I review data and results from a series of research projects related to different types of vague expressions in modern spoken Danish, i.e. epistemic adverbials (måske ‘maybe’) and epistemic phrases, general extenders, as well as the highly productive equivalent of English –ish (Dan: –agtig). The material I draw upon is the large and richly annotated LANCHART database of sociolinguistic interviews compiled during the 1980s and early 2000s.

On the backdrop of distributional data, I exemplify and discuss some representative uses of vague expressions in youth speech. One particularly interesting context is the elicitation of language attitudes. The task of categorizing other people on the basis of their speech is obviously a face-threatening act (Brown & Levinson 1987), and informants orient to this by couching their descriptions in vague terms (1-2).

(1)        altså måske er de lidt mere landlige ovre i Jylland men jeg ved det ikke rigtigt

            I-mean maybe they are a-bit more rural over in Jutland but I don’t really know

(2)        det er sådan lidt mere … slang … og bare … go with the flow-agtigt … end det der andet 

            it is like a-bit more … slang … and just … go with the flow-ish … than the other one



Estíbaliz Amorrortu on Friday, 10/7/16: “Becoming an Active Speaker: The Case of Young New Speakers of Basque”

WHEN: Friday, October 7, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: GC Room 9207

COST: Free and open to the public

ABOUT: “Becoming an Active Speaker: The Case of Young New Speakers of Basque”

The numbers of new speakers (NS) of Basque has increased considerably due in part to the introduction of this language in the educational system. In this talk we examine the factors that play a role in the process of becoming, or not, an active speaker and the relationship between this process and the linguistic identity adopted by different types of speakers. We focus on youngsters who learnt Basque in school in immersion models.

SPEAKER: Professor Estíbaliz Amorrortu, Universidad de Deusto

Amorrortu works in the field of Basque sociolinguistics. She obtained her PhD from the University of Southern California with a dissertation on attitudes towards different varieties of Basque. She is co-author of the following books: Actitudes y prejuicios de los castellanohablantes hacia el euskera (2009) and Nuevos hablantes de euskera: experiencias, actitudes e identidades (in press). 


“Capitalizing on Catalan Singularity”: Kathryn Woolard (U.C. San Diego), Friday, Sept. 16, 6:30 P.M.

The Graduate Center Ph.D. Program in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages


WHERE: 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016, Room: 4116 (Phone: 212-817-8410)

WHEN: Friday, September 16, , 201, 6:30 p.m.

ADMISSION: Free and open to the public


“Capitalizing on Catalan Singularity”: 

The theme of “singularity” appears in varying discourses surrounding the Catalan language, from the Catalan language policy law of 1998 to the Spanish Socialist Party’s response to the Catalan sovereignty movement in 2016. This presentation focuses on one notable use of the theme, in the promotion of Catalan culture at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2007. I consider the placement and pragmatics of the concept of singularity in relation to discourses of Catalan’s “own language” (la llengua pròpia) and nation on the one hand, and to late modern market discourses of branding on the other.

Professor Kathryn Woolard, University of California, San Diego:

Kathryn Woolard is a professor of anthropology at the University of California, San Diego and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is author of Double Talk: Bilingualism and the Politics of Ethnicity in Catalonia (Stanford 1989/2014) and Singular and Plural: Ideologies of Linguistic Authority in 21st Century Catalonia (Oxford University Press, June 2016), and co-editor of Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory (Oxford, 1998). Woolard has been named recipient of the Ramon Llull International Prize for 2016.