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«Prosody and Pragmatics in Parenthetical Insertions in Catalan* Marta Payà Universitat de Barcelona. Departament de Filologia Catalana Gran Via de ...»

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Catalan Journal of Linguistics 2, 2003 207-227

Prosody and Pragmatics in Parenthetical

Insertions in Catalan*

Marta Payà

Universitat de Barcelona. Departament de Filologia Catalana

Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 585. E-08007 Barcelona



This paper analyses the role of prosody in parenthetical insertions, a type of structure that is

extremely common in both speech and writing. The materials under study come from a corpus

of spontaneous speech acts in Central Catalan (with varying degrees of spontaneity) from which a corpus of oral parenthetical insertions has been compiled. The prototypical prosodic features of a parenthetical insertion in Catalan are: prosodic autonomy, limited extension, production in between pauses or final pause, tendency towards acceleration, fall in intensity, lower pitch range and, finally, falling or rising melodic pattern. While the final fall is the most frequent pattern in spontaneous conversations with a high degree of confidence between interlocutors, a final rising structure is found in interviews in which the degree of confidence between participants is small- er, their roles are unequal, and the interviewed constructs a narrative discourse. We thus suggest that the pitch contour of parenthetical insertions is related to formality and discourse typology (in this case, narrative vs. dialogue). Bearing in mind the discursive functions performed by these insertions, we propose a typology which classifies them with regards to two main functions: com- pletion of information, and modalisation.

Key words: prosody, intonation, parenthetical insertions, parenthesis, incidental clauses, paren- thetical clauses, Catalan.

1. Introduction We are all familiar with parenthetical insertions; we all use them and intuitively recognize them in both speech and writing. Nonetheless, they have not been exten- sively studied, and that there is no consensus on a clear definition. This is borne out by the profusion in the terminology used: parentheticals, incidental clauses, * I would like to thank the comments made by Pilar Prieto, Lluïsa Astruc, Marina Vigário and Lluís Payrató; they have undoubtedly contributed to improve this article. I would also like to acknowl- edge the support of my colleagues at Department of Catalan Philology, specially Clàudia Pons.

This work has benefited from a pre-PhD grant of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture, and it is part of the research projects BFF2001-3866 and HI2000-0058. All translations from lan- guages other than English are mine.

208 CJL 2, 2003 Marta Payà comments or insertions, among others, reflecting the confusion in the concepts and the terms used to designate them.

In general, parenthetical insertions tend to be studied in grammars and treatis- es on punctuation, both of whichare traditionally devoted to the analysis of the written language. It is therefore surprising to find that grammarians persistently highlight the characteristics of oral language.1 It is one of the few cases in which studies on written language are obliged to resort to the spoken form in order to characterise a certain structure. This suggests that prosody may play an important role not only in phonetics and phonology (the phenomena that have been most studied to date), but also in questions that have traditionally been reserved to syntax, such as the case discussed here.

2. Parenthetical insertions In general, parentheticals have been considered sequences inserted in a sentence, which can be deleted without affecting either the semantics or the syntax of the sentence. But the question is not as straightforward as it appears: what does it mean that an insertion is semantically negligible? Presumably, if a speaker decides to introduce a parenthetical insertion, s/he probably considers its semantic content to be important. And one more question: is it not common to find cases with a syntactic link between the parenthesis and its host utterance?

2.1. Terminological chaos The phenomenon we refer to here by the intentionally general term parenthetical insertion in fact covers a range of structures with many common features. In general, terms such as parentheses, parenthetical structures / sentences / clauses / insertions, comments, comment clauses, incidental structures, incidental clauses or digressions, to mention only the most frequent ones, have been used as synonyms: sometimes indistinctly, at other times with certain nuances. But in the literature they are very often used with different senses: e.g., the term incidental clause is sometimes reserved for expressions often in first or third person of dicendi and thought verbs (such as say, explain, think, believe, etc.), e.g. «— I don’t want to go — Mary said.» Accordingly, these verbs have the stage direction function in dialogs, like the verbs that introduce a fragment of direct speech in a narration. On the other hand, there are parenthetical clauses, which are used to insert a personal comment, a detailed statement, or additional information, usually in

1. The authors of Ortotipografia are clear on that point: «The clearest property of an incidental clause, as we see, is prosody.» (Pujol and Solà 1995: 19). And in the chapter on parenthetical sentences in the Grande Grammatica italiana di consultazione by Renzi et al., prosody is the first and the most strongly emphasised characteristic of this sentence type: «A sentence may be interrupted or followed by sequences of words pronounced with «parenthetical intonation». In these cases the phonic segment is separated by virtual pauses from the rest of the sentence and it has a specific suspension intonation: tone falls near the syllable which carries the main stress of the parenthetic and then it increases at its end» (Borgato 1995: 165).

Prosody and Pragmatics in Parenthetical Insertions in Catalan CJL 2, 2003 209 the middle or at the end of the sentence. These are insertions such as: «Estava convençuda —o això feia creure— que se’n sortiria» (‘She was sure — or pretended to be sure — that she would get by’), where the verb creure is not used with the stage direction function that we have seen above, but as a discourse blender or modaliser. Some authors, on the other hand, use the term parenthetical to refer to the stage direction marks, and incidental clause to the second kind of insertion. Other authors, finally, use incidental clause as a generic term to refer to all these phenomena.2 To sum up, the terms are used more or less as synonyms, since they refer to very similar phenomena which have not been thoroughly studied. Some authors distinguish between the terms, but there is no agreement: nor there is any coincidence in the choice of the labels, or in perspective. For example, Fernández (1993) studies the incidental function in written Spanish from a syntactic point of view;

Flament (2000a, b) discerns between incise and incidente from a phonetic perspective, using sentences that were prepared and read aloud; and Tenani (1996) studies inserçoes in an oral Portuguese corpus from a discursive standpoint. In our view, this terminological profusion is not a problem in itself, but is a reflection of the underlying problem: the confusion in the use of labels and the various relations of synonymy and hyperonymy between them clearly demonstrate us that there is currently no established and accepted description of the different insertion phenomena.

In this paper, we opt for the generic term parenthetical insertion, so as to be able to discuss the subject from a wider point of view. The notion of insertion provides a clear notion of the phenomenon of interpolating an element in the discourse, and the term parenthesis expresses the external and marginal source of the inserted element, both in writing and in speech. And, as neither term is indicative of the syntactic form of the fragment in question — as is the case, for instance, of sentence or clause — of the function that it exercises in the discourse — as is the case of the term comment. Our purpose is to start from a generic term, without connotations, in order to study this phenomenon from a general point of view.

2. In linguistic dictionaries, no significant distinction is usually made between these notions. In fact, the lexical entries are often circular: for instance, the entry incidente in the Trésor de la Langue

Française (vol. 10, p. 10), where [proposition] incise, intercalée are proposed as synonyms of incidente; or the entry parentesi in the Dizionario di linguistica e di filologia, metrica, retorica (p. 544):

«[...] Are named incidentali or parentetiche the sentences, usually very short, that are inserted, normally with two commas, inside another sentence» (my italics). One of the examples that are proposed is almeno così pare (‘at least it looks like this’), and it continues: «Other common cases are didascalia in dialogs, disse Agnese (‘Agnese says’), egli proruppe (‘he exclaimed’), [...], etc.»

The indiscriminate use of the labels is also reflected in the entry for inciso in the same dictionary (p. 385), in which parenthetics are described as examples of incidental clauses: «Are examples of incisi sentences or parenthetical clauses such as così almeno pare [...]» (italics for incisi is mine).

However, in the most specialized studies on this structure type (most of which are French) several authors distinguish between incise and incidente (cf. Flament 2000a, b).

210 CJL 2, 2003 Marta Payà

2.2. Prior studies

As we said above, parenthetical insertions have been studied more in written than in oral speech. Punctuation manuals refer to these sequences in their handling of brackets, dashes, and commas. Pujol and Solà (1995), for instance, provide a detailed distinction between the use of the punctuation marks in their treatment of incidental clauses in Catalan (which are given as an equivalence of parenthetical insertions). They consider that dashes introduce a contrastive element to the sequence, for the most part a sudden one, from the perspective of syntactic structure, which can often be used to introduce ironic elements. Brackets are used to insert a clarification, usually short, to provide complementary information or to refer to a secondary element in the discourse. And, finally, commas introduce incidental clauses with a stronger link to the text by means of an analogy relation or because they are circumstantial elements. Naturally, these are only guidelines; the use varies according to the style of the particular writer.

Borgato and Salvi (1995) consider that in Italian parenthetical sentences can be inserted at any point of the discourse. In contrast, vocatives and dislocated elements can be only inserted in the marginal zones of the utterance, without breaking its prosodic integrity.

Those authors focus principally on the syntactic characteristics of parenthetical structures, though they also mention their prosodic features, as we have seen above.

Delomier and Morel (1986) analyse syntactic and, above all, intonational characteristics of incises in French. They describe the phenomenon as the interpolation of an utterance inside another one in progress. They call the first part of the utterance interrupted by the insertion E1, the incidental clause E2, and the resumption of the main utterance (that is, the continuation of E1) E3. The intonational and prosodic structure of utterances E1, E2 and E3 are: intonational decrease in the beginning of E2, increase at the end, speeding-up in the production of the insertion and pause at E3.

Flament (2000b) works with a corpus with incidentes (in the sense of comments) and incises (in the sense of segments which specify the person who has uttered some words in direct speech) in spoken French, in several positions. He observed certain intonational divergences between these two forms: incises appear to present constant intonational traits, such as a melody generally tending towards stability; the breaks of the F0 with pre- or post-posed sequences are often important, creating a sharply effected intonational rift. On the other hand, incidentes show a less marked melodic break, the F0 remaining higher than in the case of parenthetical clauses and the breaks with the pre- and post-posed being less important.

Fernández (1993) makes a syntactic approach of función incidental in Spanish, without many considerations on the prosody.

Forget (2000) examines the structural properties of insertions parenthétiques, emphasising their syntactic autonomy and fall in intonation. The study is based on written French, but there are constant references to oral speech. The phenomenon is analysed from a rhetorical and a pragmatic point of view.

Prosody and Pragmatics in Parenthetical Insertions in Catalan CJL 2, 2003 211 Astruc (this volume) analyses the intonation of sentence external elements in Catalan from a syntactic perspective. Concretely, the author, assuming Jackendoff’s X-bar grammar, considers parenthesis as a sub-set of sentence external elements, besides appositions and relatives (N’’’ complements), quotations (external to the text), and adverbs.

Morel and Danon-Boileau (1998) consider the incise in French as a phenomenon of rupture in the discourse. They devote a whole chapter to examine the strategy of intonational highlighting, analysing two cases: the incidental clause, as a strategy of low-level intonational emphasis, and focalisation, as a strategy of high-level intonational emphasis. Among the prosodic properties of the incidental clause, they emphasise: the decrease in F0, the absence of modulation of F0, the frequent acceleration in the production, the common maintenance of the intensity and, finally, the increase in F0 at the end (unless the paragraph finishes at this point).

Tenani (1996 and 1997), following Jubran (1993), studied the phenomenon of parenthetisation in speech, starting from an oral corpus of Brazilian Portuguese.

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