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Title: What are particles good for?

Running head: What are particles good for?
Author: Harald Weydt

0. Introduction

Since the sixties, particles have aroused the interest of linguists far and wide. The
various classifications into parts of speech or word classes that particles have
undergone in the recent years will not be discussed here. Most of what will be
discussed will be illustrated with German Abtnungspartikeln (~ modal particles?),
and, for reasons of economy, with German aber, but it should be clear from the
beginning that it will hold true for particles of other classes as well and not only for
German but also for other languages.
Instead of discussing particle classifications and the respective criteria1, I would
like to raise the basic question of what are Abtnungspartikeln good for or why one
uses Abtnungspartikeln. This question has not really been considered in this direct
way and that is why I think it is particularly (!) suitable for a new look at an old

1. Problems of definition

When speaking of particles in a general way, we have good reasons to avoid a too
restrictive definition. Instead, we will enumerate some denominations in German,

French, and English. They roughly circumscribe the range of the words that this
article will be about and they will already reveal to a certain degree what the
authors think they are good for.2 The particles that I am going to treat are called in
Abtnungspartikeln, Modalpartikeln, Satzpartikeln, Gliederungssignale, illokutive
Partikeln, diskursorientierende Partikeln, Einstellungspartikeln, diskursive
Partikeln, Gesprchswrter.
In French:
modalisateurs, particules expressives, apprciatifs, argumentatifs, particules
illocutoires, adverbes de phrase, connecteurs, mots de la communication,
charnires du discours (de discours), particules nonciatives, marqueurs, adverbes
In English:
pragmatic markers, discourse particles (as in this volume), discourse markers,
interpersonal markers, argumentative markers, presentative particles,
parentheticality markers, modal particles, adverbial connectives, connectives,
modal discourse particles, elusive particles, particles of truth, contrastive and setevoking particles, sentence-structure particles, down toners.

Some general remarks concerning the definition of particles:

In principle, I consider the category particle to be a cross-linguistic one. Contrary
to widespread ideas (Sasse (1993:682): These subcategories are too languagespecific to justify cross-linguistic treatment), particle is a category and has as such
universal validity, just like other linguistic terms such as verb and noun. When
defining noun we do not define the French noun or the Japanese one, but we have

an idea of noun and, in a second step, we look at a certain language, observing if

there is a noun and if so, what qualities it has (does it inflect, does it mark the
plural, does it bear articles, etc.) The same holds for particles.3 By particle I
understand a word class. That means that only single words, not clauses, are
considered to be particles. Word groups like I mean, you know, aprs tout, au fond,
au total, c'est--dire, tout compte fait, je dirai que, sp. por este motivo, port. de
maneira que, are not particles, in spite of the undisputed fact that they can occupy
the place of a particle, replace it and be replaced by it. An analogy may help to
point out what I mean, and justify my claim. If linguists speak of nouns, they only
mean nouns and not elements which can stand in the place of a noun. So, that you
come, is not a noun, even though it can stand for one. In the sentence I know the
answer, the answer can be replaced by that you come, or by it. Neither that you
come nor it, however, is nouns. A constitutive feature, however, for the definition of
particles is that they do have (synsemantic) meaning. Nonetheless they do not refer
to sections of the extralinguistic reality (they have no lexical meaning), nor do they
position anything relative to the ego, the speaking person (they have no deictic
meaning), and they do not have word class meaning (as pronouns do, which are the
empty forms of nouns, adjectives or adverbs). Interjections, having no synsemantic
meanings, are not particles.
To sum up, particles are (single) words, which have no dissecting (lexical), deictic
nor word class meaning, but they do have a semantic content which they deploy in
connection with other elements of the utterance (for further details see Hentschel
and Weydt (1989: 6)).

2. Functions: Why we use Abtnungspartikeln.

I recall the results of an experiment presented in the preface of the Kleine deutsche
Partikellehre (Weydt et al. 1983: chapter 0, 1112). Two dialogues, held between
two young people, were presented to our informants. The first, dialogue A,
contained a relatively large number of Abtnungspartikeln. The second one,
dialogue B, was identical to A except that all particles had been removed from it. It
is still grammatically correct. A teacher could not find any grammatical mistakes.
Here is a section of this dialogue:



X: Ja, das gibt's doch gar nicht! Was

X: Ja, das gibt's gar nicht! Was machst du

machst Du denn hier! Ich denk' Du bist in

hier? Ich denk' Du bist in England!

Y: War ich auch, aber jetzt wohn' ich in

Y: War ich auch, aber jetzt wohn' ich in

Berlin. Bin gerade auf dem Rckweg.

Berlin. Bin gerade auf dem Rckweg.

X: Ist ja toll, ich fahr' nmlich auch nach

X: Ist toll, ich fahr nmlich auch nach

Berlin, aber nur bers Wochenende.

Berlin, aber nur bers Wochenende.

Y: Gut, dann knnen wir ja whrend der

Y: Gut, dann knnen wir whrend der Fahrt

Fahrt ein bichen ber die alten Zeiten

ein bichen ber die alten Zeiten



X: Ja eben, aber sag' mal, wo fhrt denn der X: Ja, aber sag', wo fhrt der 9.30 Uhr-Zug
9.30 Uhr-Zug eigentlich ab?




Both dialogues were presented to informants who were asked to read them and
judge them relative to a given matrix which contained the features natural,
rejecting, warm, wooden, smooth, authentic, difficult to make contact with, friendly.
The results are shown in figure 1.

Dialog A
0 1 2
natrlich (natural)
abweisend (rejecting)
warm (warm)
hlzern (wooden)
flssig (smooth)
echt (authentic)
kontaktschwach 3
freundlich (friendly)

5 6


Dialog B
0 1 2 3 4







Fig. 1: Comparison of dialogues: Average results of 82 German native speakers

We have repeated the experiment often, with native German speakers as well as
with non-native speakers of German, and every time the results were very similar.
The differences in values assigned to the dialogues A and B must be explained by
the difference in the presence or absence of particles.
How should this be interpreted? One can see that the matrix contains two different
qualities. The first is a complex value, which may be labeled authenticity. It
answers the question Do Germans really speak like this? The respective values are:
natrlich ('natural'), flssig ('smooth'), echt ('authentic'). The answer for dialogue A
is Yes. In such a situation, they do speak with and not without particles. Dialogue A
is much more authentic than dialogue B.

The second value is a social one and shows up in the other features. It can be
labeled friendliness. Compared to B, dialogue A is conceived of as friendly and
warm, neither rejecting nor stiff, nor unsociable.
A conclusion that could be drawn and a first answer to the title question could then
be that the speakers use particles in their speech when and because they want to be
friendly, and if they don't use them, their particleless speech is strange. (It will be
the task of this article to ask whether this is an acceptable statement).
However, this conclusion leads to a number of difficulties. The first is the
phenomenon of over-summativity. The overall impact of particles does not coincide
with the meaning of only one of them. Neither eigentlich nor doch, nor denn nor
any of the other particles are friendly in and of themselves. If one does not want to
give up this first conclusion, then one would have to try seriously to explain how
particles which are not friendly bring about friendliness. The second problem is that
while particles may have friendly effects, they frequently do not. They can appear
in utterances meant to hurt the partner. Was hast Du denn jetzt schon wieder
gemacht?! (What did you do this time?!) and Haben sie berhaupt einen
Fhrerschein? (Do you even have a driver's license?) can be very aggressive.

3. The semantica of modal particles

In order to find out how particles act in speech and to answer the title question of
what Abtnungspartikeln are good for it is useful to observe how the meanings of
the particles function and how they act in conversation.

3.1. Six general theses on particle meaning

1. Every particle has a meaning. It is present in every occurrence.

This thesis opposes the idea that particles are meaningless, at least in certain
contexts (mots de remplissage, vides/expltifs, palabras vacas), or as a weaker
claim, semantically reduced (bleached), just fulfilling expletive functions. In this
view, particles have lost their semantic content and are only used in their context
for euphonic reasons. If this statement is not just based on a terminological
difference (that meaning is only used for 'lexical meaning'), then we must disagree
with it. We know of no case, where a particle is used without its meaning, and we
dont think that one can be found.

2. It is not the function of particles to tone down the utterance in oral discourse.
This claim corrects a frequent idea about particles, above all on German
Abtnungspartikeln. For example James (1983), who calls eigentlich "one of the
voluntary markers of imprecision". Similarly, Grevisse (1993: 920) describes the
function of particles like bien, donc, un peu, voir as expltifs: "Ils servent
seulement renforcer ou attnuer lexpression. Certains participent aussi la
fonction phatique." It is very commonly said that particles fulfill the function of
down toners5 and that they are used in a general way and without having a
specific meaning, in order to make the utterance in which they occur imprecise and
vague. This in turn is said to be one way a speaker can take the sharpness from
utterances, in order to prevent a so called FTA (face threatening act), or at least to
make it less threatening. In reality, however, eigentlich and the other

Abtnungspartikeln do not express weakening (or extenuation), but they have a

precise meaning which is not extenuating. Eigentlich indicates that the utterance is
true in a deeper sense. This holds for every single occurrence. This meaning does
not in itself contain any extenuating, down-toning element. And no particle is in
and of itself friendly (see 3.2). As we have seen in the earlier discussion, it is true
that Abtnungspartikeln (and comparable elements in other languages) can make
dialogues friendly, social, and natural, but not via down-toning. Particles show that
the actual speaker takes into account his partners perspective on the subject, that he
cooperates. This is why his speech is conceived as amiable. This effect can be
achieved by various means and in any linguistic society. For more details see
Hentschel and Weydt (1983), Weydt et al. (1983), and Weydt (forthcoming).

3. Particles, even if used as Gliederungssignale (discourse markers?), conserve

their primary meaning.
The term Gliederungssignal was created by Glich (1970). It referred to particles
(such as French et, alors, mais, puis, enfin) in the wider sense which take on
specific functions in spoken dialogues or in spoken speech. In Glichs conception,
Gliederungssignale form a homogeoneous word class in the grammar of spoken
language, as opposed to traditional grammar, which, she writes, represents above all
the system of the written language. In the grammar of the written, but not of the
spoken language, the particles belong to different word classes. Among the
Gliederungssignale one finds syntagms consisting of more than one traditional
word, like vous savez, nest-ce pas, tu comprends, et bien, you know, I mean which
we have already excluded form our definition of particles and one word
Gliederungssignale as for instance et, alors, mais, puis, quoi, hein, enfin.

A widespread opinion says that it is their task, to structure the dialogue (Glich
1970: 270) and to help the hearer interpret the others turn. When these words are
Gliederungssignale, they lose their original meaning. Mais, when used as
Gliederungssignal (or, more exactly, as an opening-up signal, Erffnungssignal),
no longer expresses, following Glichs contrast, puis and alors do not contain
temporal relationships (Glich 1970: 297). We disagree with this theory. In
deference to the space it would require to argue against it in detail, let it suffice to
say briefly that that we could not find any example where a particle is a
Gliederungssignal, instead of conserving its original meaning. There is no
alternative of Gliederungssignal or particle with original (primary) meaning.
Instead, a certain particle can fulfill the function of a Gliederungssignal because of
the fact that it maintains its original meaning. It is able to structure the dialogue, as
it means something. Lets take again the example of the French conjunction mais.
According to Glich (1970: 77), (the same holds true for English but, German aber
and probably for Dutch maar), used as Gliederungssignal no longer carries any
adversative meaning. ...hat es seine ursprngliche lexikalische Bedeutung in vielen
Fllen aufgegeben zugunsten seiner Erffnungsfunktion. If its only function were
to open up a turn, it could be replaced, without changing the context conditions, by
any other opening up signal. This, however, is not the case. Mais can only occur in
cases which are compatible with its original, constant meaning. It demands a
context which fits its meaning, and that explains why we can predict the context
conditions for every occurrence.


4. Every particle can be assigned a constant basic meaning, which appears in

every occurrence of that particle. This meaning may be conceived of as a set of
semantic features.
In the process of discovering the meaning of the particle, the semanticist first
establishes a hypothesis about the meaning of the particle and then he tries to
corroborate it, exposing it to as many occurrences of the particle as possible.
According to this thesis (4.), no particle can occur in a usage which is incompatible
with its meaning. Otherwise the semantic description is falsified. As soon as a
usage appears which is not covered by the hypothesis, this hypothesis must be
given up or it must be modified in such a way that a new hypothesis covers every
known occurrences, including the non-complying case. The opposite is not
necessary: One does not demand that this particle be really used to express a certain
state of affairs, in agreement with the meaning of the particle. Again consider
French mais. The basic meaning of mais, as well as of Dutch maar, of English but,
of German aber, is this pattern: 'It would be wrong to continue the preceding
thought in the expected direction. One has to change the direction of the thought.'
The idea may be illustrated by figure 2.


a aa

(aber, but)

Fig 2: The semantic structure of mais (aber, but)


Explanation: The pattern may be condensed into the formula: 'against the
expectation'. This explains the usage of mais as an adversative, coordinating
conjunction. Il est grand, mais faible, He is big, but weak. Er ist gro, aber
schwach. Hej is groot maar dapper. There are many more examples in Foolen
(1993). The speaker assumes that the hearer concludes that in general, the one who
is big is also strong. By using mais he warns the hearer not to think in the
anticipated direction. - Thesis 4 admits restrictions of usage. In some languages, the
respective particle may appear in the imperative: In a scene, where a victim of an
accident lies on the ground covered with blood, one of the bystanders may say in
French, Mais occupez-vous de cet homme!, which is not possible in German: *Aber
helfen Sie dem Mann. The underlying idea which justifies the usage of mais is:
You don't seem inclined to help. However, you should help. On the other hand,
there are restrictions of but and mais in their respective languages which do not
exist in German. In German one can combine aber with oder ('or'), which is not
possible in English or French. Sie brauchen jetzt neue Reifen, oder aber sie geben
die Reise auf. *Il vous faut de nouveaux pneus, ou mais vous abandonnez le
voyage. *You need new tires, or but you give up going on your trip. The basic
meaning also explains the usage of aber as Abtnungspartikel in German and of
maar in Dutch, and as Gliederungspartikel: but structures while signaling a
contrast to the expectation.
When checking if all the empirically appearing occurrences of a particle are
compatible with the hypothesis about its meaning, one has to consider carefully the
reasons for the apparent semantic deviance. Sometimes one can find reasons which
seem to present counter-evidence to the assumed meaning. One of these is irony.
Aber, used as Abtnungspartikel in an affirmative clause, expresses not only


surprise, but a surprise that the content of the sentence is given excessively. The
speaker it astonished, not about the fact, the that, but about its extent, the how
much. An apparent counter example could be seen in the following case: A sees a
small man and says: Guck mal, der ist aber gro! (Look, that man is aber tall!).
The use of aber can be explained by irony, where the designated reality is the
contrary of what is said.

5. The basic meaning can be diversified according to its context. More

sophisticated meanings remain compatible with the basic meaning.
In actual use, one finds more semantic rules than are contained in the common
overall meaning of the respective particle. Again the example of German aber. The
overall meaning is, as pointed out 'against expectation'. A closer look and the
opposition with vielleicht reveal a more subtle semantic structure. It is compatible
with but richer than the overall meaning:
a) The astonishment concerns the how much of the surprising fact, not the that of
the fact.
b) aber is used in order to express surprise only if the hearer knows the fact. It
accompanies a comment about a known fact or a shared knowledge. It does not tell
the fact itself, but presupposes that it is known to both of the interlocutors. An
example will help to make this subtle detail clear. Hans tells his friend about his last
holidays in the mountains and mentions the fantastic view from the terrace of his
hotel. He may then say: Da hatten wir vielleicht eine schne Aussicht! ('There we
had vielleicht a beautiful view!'), but he cannot say: *Da hatten wir aber eine
schne Aussicht! ('There we had aber a beautiful view!') because of the fact that his
partner does not see the view himself. If, however, he shows a photo of the view,


the other can say: Da hattet ihr aber eine schne Aussicht! ('There you had aber a
beautiful view!'), due to the fact that they both see it at that moment.
The description, therefore, must be given on two levels. The overall meaning,
which holds for all occurrences, is relatively abstract. It explains the coherence of
all uses and guarantees its identity. The specific meaning is richer and deploys more
subtle semantic rules which control differentiated usages. The specific rules often
appear in the lexicon as numbered variants. 6

6. It is necessary to distinguish these basic meanings of participles from their

pragmatic meanings.
Basic meanings of particles and pragmatic effects that can be brought about by
using particles have to be distinguished from each other. One example is the
friendliness that may accompany the use of particles. Another effect is a
compliment which is expressed by particles. Du kannst aber kochen! ('(How) you
can aber cook!') expresses the surprise about how (good) the host can cook and can
express a compliment. Du kannst ja kochen! (' You can ja cook!'), would indicate
that the guest had had a very low expectation, which is hardly a basis for a

3.2. The content of particle meanings.

3.2.1. How to present the meanings?

Before discussing in more detail a few particle meanings, I shall allow myself some
general comments on the presentability of particle semantics. I support the idea that


so-called different meanings can be reduced to a single semantic nucleus. This

monosemantic approach is discussed in various places, from Weydt (1969) on, and
it has been well shown, for example, in Foolens book (1993). An additional
problem, however, is how to express this meaning, how to describe it in an
understandable form.
When looking for a way to present of the semantic definition, it would be ideal to
find a form which is easily comprehensible, ideally in such a way that it can be
understood by lay people, such as teachers and students of German (English,
Dutch) as a second language.
Widely used ways of presentation, so far, are either notations in symbolic logic or
paraphrases. Logical notation has the disadvantage of causing additional work.
First, one has to discover the semantics and, then, in a second step, one has to
translate it into the respective logical language. The paraphrasing of particle
meaning is a comment on the level of metalanguage. But, as such, it does not
preserve the original impact. Being linguistic descriptions, the sentences which
express the particle meaning do not serve the purpose of intersubjective
communication,. The meaning of the German particle denn can be correctly
paraphrased by (I ask this), because the situation makes me think that you know
the answer. In normal contexts a w-question with denn sounds more amiable than
without a particle or, for example, with the particle eigentlich. Wie heit du denn? is
a bit more friendly than Wie heit du eigentlich? and much more friendly than Wie
heit du? This impact can be explained on the basis of its meaning. The semantic
paraphrase, however, does not have the same effect. Ich frage Dich, wie du heit,
weil etwas in der Situation mich motiviert, die Frage zu stellen ('Im asking you


your name because something within the situation motivates me to ask this
question') is just awkward and not amiable at all.

3.2.2. Some examples

The following examples attempt to demonstrate the overall meaning and show that
they do not contain friendly elements within themselves. They may help to make
better explain the monosemantic approach.

(1) denn (~ 'for', 'then')

Denn appears as a coordinative causal conjunction (e.g.: Er a ein Wurstbrot,
denn er war sehr hungrig. ('He ate a sandwich for he was very hungry') and as
a stressed or unstressed Abtnungspartikel in w-questions (Wie hEIt Du
denn? (unstressed denn) ('What is your name?'), Wie heit Du dEnn? (stressed
denn), the latter being used if the name previously given was wrong. It also
appears in yes-no-questions (Warst Du denn noch nie wirklich verliebt?, 'Were
you really never in love?' (expressing surprise)). All these usages of denn may
be reduced to one single semantic nucleus, illustrated by figure 3.

Fig. 3: Illustration of the meaning structure of denn

Denn indicates that the content of the sentence in which it appears points back
to something that can be found in the preceding context (for a more detailed


explanation see Weydt and Hentschel (1983) and Hentschel and Weydt

(2) auch (~'also', 'too')

Auch appears in sentences such as: Gnter will nchste Woche auch in Ferien
fahren ('Gnter also wants to go on vacation next week'), and as an
Abtnungspartikel in rhetorical questions (Warum auch?, may be translated by
'Why should I?').
The function of auch is to join two ideas, a and b, in such a way that they are
no longer seen as isolated but are subsumed under a common denominator
("c.d." in figure 4). One of the two elements may be implicit (symbolized by
parentheses) and must be reconstructed from the context. Fig. 4 may help to
make the function clear.

Fig. 4: Illustration of the semantic structure of auch.

(3) eh / ohnehin / sowieso (~ 'anyway')

eh / ohnehin / sowieso are cognitive synonyms and differ only in speech
Ex.: A: Wir knnen nchste Woche nicht an den Strand fahren. B: Macht
nichts, ich muss sowieso / ohnehin / eh frs Examen arbeiten. ('A: We cannot
go to the beach next week. B: That does not matter, I have sowieso/
(~anyway) to work for my examen.')


Fig. 5 may explain the semantic structure:


Fig. 5: Illustration of the meaning structure of eh (ohnehin, sowieso).

There are two potential reasons, a and a', for b (not going to the beach). a' is
not the decisive one, because a alone causes b (' that you want to cancel the
trip is not the important point, but the fact that I have no time').

(4) jedenfalls (~'in any event')

Example: Ich wei nicht, ob Maria intelligent ist, jedenfalls habe ich noch
nichts Kluges von ihr gehrt. ('I don't know if Maria is intelligent, jedenfalls
(in any event) so far I have not heard anything intelligent from her') Jedenfalls
can be explained by figure 6:


Fig.6 : Illustration of the semantic structure of jedenfalls.

It reads as follows: there is a relatively far-reaching claim. The dotted circle

symbolizes it here. The speaker can not fully affirm it (here: he cannot deny
Maria's intelligence). But he can guarantee a weaker claim which is part of it
(the fact that he never had a corroboration of her intelligence), symbolized by
the full circle. Both claims stand in an inclusive opposition.

(5) immerhin: (~ after all)

Immerhin appears in affirmative sentences. Example: Hans hat ziemlich viele
Fehler in der bersetzung, aber immerhin hat er das Examen bestanden.
('Hans made quite a few mistakes in his translation, but he immerhin passed
the test').
The particle positions the content of the sentence in which it stands between
two expectations. A first high expectation (a) is not met and as a consequence,
one might form a very low expectation (b). Compared to this second
expectation, the reality of the actual occurrence is still higher.


high initial


low initial

Fig. 7: Illustration of the meaning structure of immerhin.

3.3 Why we use Abtnungspartikeln

Let's return to the question posited in section 2 of how an amiable effect is brought
You see that dialogue A is full of elements which position the utterance in the
context. We have indictors like:

-I say this and I know that you know the answer. Its precisely your preceding
utterance which made me ask you this: denn.

I say this, knowing that you know it already, and that you agree: ja (summary
of shared idea).

I say this and I am surprised about the extension of the fact which is expressed
in the sentence: aber.

Saying this I presume that you will be surprised about what Im saying
because it is new for you: vielleicht.


These particles have in common that they create a network of relationships between
the actual hearer and the actual speaker. They transform the dialogue into a
common speech, make it become more than a simple sequence of: I say - you say.
The actual speaker, A, expresses that he not only makes his contribution in an
authentic way, but models it in such a way that it takes into account the other's, B's,
perspective. Instead of making an independent statement, he continues Bs idea. He
is aware of what B thinks and believes, and he bases his contribution on Bs
assumed state of mind. Therefore, the dialogue, instead of being an exchange of
independent turns, let alone of mutual feedings with bits of information (I give you
some information, and then you give me some information, etc.) becomes a
cooperative process of both interlocutors. Each in turn expresses by use of
Abtnungspartikeln that she/he respects and/or considers the other's view; each
utterance is based on the preceding one. In a certain sense, the dialogue, even in its
individual steps, is a common work, a creation of both partners.
When such a dialogue occurs, it conveys to the partners a feeling of profound
satisfaction. The feeling exists, even if they disagree in content, because they
realize that the one understands (or at least tries to understand) the other. They
cooperate in the effort to understand each other and try to make each other
understood. It is this very feeling which is an important factor in bringing about the
features of friendliness and amiability.
In summary: Abtnungspartikeln and related linguistic elements are used as
specific instruments for the partners' cooperation. They help them to make the
actual intention of an utterance clear and to assign it its function in the developing


interplay. Speakers who express by using particles that they earnestly try to
cooperate, are conceived of as friendly, sociable, amiable and able to make contact.

4. Broader perspective

4.1 Politeness versus friendliness

Friendliness and sociability are not to be identified as equal to politeness. Though

dialogue A is friendlier than dialogue B, it can hardly be said to be politer. In our
explanation of verbal friendliness, we dont use the patterns of FTAs and of FTA
avoiding, which are common in politeness research. There is no danger of FTA in
the speakers utterances and the particles dont serve the purpose of neutralizing
FTAs. An interpretation of particle effects, based on FTA conception, would miss
the essential point.7

4.2 The question of equivalence and language comparison

There are languages which have a large inventory of Abtnungspartikeln and their
speakers use them frequently (languages like German, Dutch, White Mountain
Apache, Guaran, Toura, Kera) and others which dont (like English and the
Romance languages). No one, however, would claim that only Germans, Dutch,
Touras, Kera, and Guaran-speakers are able to be friendly and amiable when


speaking and conversing with each other. This raises an interesting new problem for
comparative linguistics, namely how to deal with the tertium comparationis
friendliness in language comparison. If someone has to judge a translation of a
literary work, where, for example in the German original a friendly speaker shows
his good intentions by using Abtnungspartikeln, then he has to ask how the same
effect is brought about in the target language. It may be reached by means which
are specific for that particular language.
Without going into details, let me just mention two specific means in other
languages which are candidates for this purpose.8 In French (the hexagonal
variation, not the Canadian), using a form of reference to the partner is much more
common than in other languages. It is rather unpersonal and unfriendly to say: Au
revoir ('Good bye'), instead of Au revoir, Madame. One may even omit Au revoir or
Bonjour and just greet: Madame! or Monsieur. French mothers correct their
children ironically repeating the phrase: Au revoir qui? ('Good bye, who?'). The
social process is essentially the same. By using the partner's name or title, the
speaker shows that he takes his specific presence into account.
In Spanish, the threefold pronoun system esto, eso, aquello which expresses if the
thing belongs to the own sphere, to the partner's or to neither of them may serve the
same purpose.



Berger, T.
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Brown, P. and Levinson, S. C.

1988 Politeness. Some universals in language use. Cambridge: Cambridge
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Foolen, A.
1993 De betekenis van partikels. Nijmegen: PhD. Diss.

Grevisse, M.
1993 Le bon usage. (Treizime dition refondue par A. Goosse). Paris: Duculot.

Glich, E.
1970 Makrosyntax der Gliederungssignale im gesprochenen Franzsisch.
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Held, G. (ed.)
(forthcoming) Partikeln und Hflichkeit.

Hentschel, E.
1986 Funktion und Geschichte deutscher Partikeln. Ja, doch, halt und eben.
Tbingen: Niemeyer.


Hentschel, E.
1991 Aspect versus particle: Contrasting German and Serbo-Croatian.
Multilingua 101 (2): 139-149.

Hentschel, E.
(forthcoming) Wenn Partikeln frech werden. In Partikeln und Hflichkeit, G.
Held (ed.).

Hentschel, E. and Weydt, H.

1983 Der pragmatische Mechanismus: denn und eigentlich. In Partikeln und
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Hentschel, E.and Weydt, H.

1989 Wortartenprobleme bei Partikeln. In Sprechen mit Partikeln, H. Weydt
(ed.): 3-18.

Hentschel, E. and Weydt, H.

1995 Die Wortarten des Deutschen. In Grammatik und deutsche Grammatiken.
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James, A. R.
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Mtrich, R.
1993 Lexicographie bilingue des particules illocutoires de l'allemand. Gppingen:

Sasse, H.-J.
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Weydt, H.
1969 Abtnungspartikel. Die deutschen Modalwrter und ihre franzsischen
Entsprechungen. Bad Homburg vor der Hhe: Gehlen.

Weydt, H.
1983 Aber, mais und but. In Partikeln und Interaktion, H. Weydt (ed.), 148-159.

Weydt, H.
1984 Techniques of request: In quest of its universality. In The Tenth LACUS


Forum 1983, A. Manning, P. Martin, K. McCalla (eds.), 333-341. Columbia:

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Weydt, H.
1993 Was ist ein gutes Gesprch? In Dialoganalyse, IV. Referate der 4.
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Weydt, H. et al.
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Weydt, H. and Hentschel, E.

1981 Ein Experiment zur Entwicklung der verbalen Interaktionsfhigkeit bei
Kindern. Zeitsschrift fr germanistische Linguistik 326-331.

Weydt, H. and Hentschel, E.

1983 Kleines Abtnungswrterbuch. In Partikeln und Interaktion, H. Weydt
(ed.), 3-24.

For the criteria and problems of classification see Hentschel and Weydt (2002).

For a cross linguistic definition of "particle" see Hentschel and Weydt (1995) and Weydt (2001).

For a discussion of this problem and the potential criteria of definition see Weydt (2001: 2.1 Zum

Problem der Einzelsprachlichkeit des Begriffs Partikel).


translation: kontaktschwach - 'difficult to make contact with'

I dont know where the origin of the term down toner as a linguistic term lies. It may be a calque, a

loan translation, of the German Ab-tnung (ab = down, Tnung = toner). If that were the case, it would
be a rather bad translation, German ab- here, not having the meaning of down, tnen not of to tone.
The expression abtnen was taken from the art of painting, where abtnende Farben means
shadowing colors. These paints lend the painting a certain nuance.

As an example see Mtrich (1993: 398 ff).

The fact that particles often appear without polite effects is pointed out in Berger (1998) and

Hentschel (forthcoming).

A third is analyzed in Hentschel (1991).