07 September 2005

Pragmatic

As usual, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the days when I meet up with the undergrad class in which I am a teaching assistant. Did I mention that there are two TAs in the class? The class sits about a 100, so the number is quite big. One of my tasks is collecting the in-class assignments and checking who did them and who did not. So I utilized the spreadsheet and input all the names in the system (Question: is there a word "inputed"? I want to express the verb "to input" in past tense. Or is there no such thing as a verb "to input"? I am not a native speaker of English as you can see, my first encounter with the English kind was around age 2.) . So there I went for thirty minutes this evening, typing the names of the students alphabetically, and then using the second column, just putting a mark for the ones who turned in their assignments.

After that, I read an article about discourse structure. It basically deals with the different intentions of discourse, the attentional states, and other technical stuff that even I don't fully grasp yet. Let me practice it a little on my own discourse, say, the paragraph above.

The first sentence is my Intention 1, henceforth I1. It's main purpose is backgrounding. It covers the whole paragraph. I2 begins with my question "Did I mention...". It is under I1, of course. I3 is stated on the sentence "The class sits...", and its role is to provide justification to I2. It is thus a subordinate of I2 and is in a Justify relationship with I2. I4 ("One of my tasks...") is not subordinate to I2, but to the higher intention, I1. I5 ("So I utilized...") is subordinate to I4, this time the relationship is Motivation. I4 motivates the intention of I5. Without I4, there would be no reason to intend I5. I6 (Question...") is a subordinate of I5, since the query arises only because of I5. I7 ("I want to express...") justifies the query. I8 ("I am not...") is also a justification. Both I7 and I8 are subordinates of I6. And I9 ("my first encounter...") is a subordinate of I8, which acts as an elaboration. Then you have I10 ("So I went...in their assignments.") which is a narrative consequence of I5.

As you can see, my dear readers, human discourse is complex and structurally constructed. One can make a diagram on the different relations of the intentions that can be found in our discourse. And the amazing thing is that we can make these complex discourse without even thinking about it. Everything we say makes sense without very careful planning. I didn't take time to plan what I wrote in the first paragraph. I just wrote, and after a few minutes, took time in analyzing the structure of what I wrote. And as evidenced above, it has a structure. Or else what I would write wouldn't make sense.

To illustrate:

1) John will go to Istanbul tomorrow.
2) He will be back a week later.

These two sentences when uttered in that order makes perfect sense.

Now try this.

1) John will go to Istanbul tomorrow.
2) He loves carrots.

The appearance of the second sentence is not justified. It doesn't have a relation to the first sentence. In layperson's terms, it doesn't make sense.

Oops, this is supposed to be a blog, not my term paper.

Discourse-pragmatics is fun, as evidenced by this entry. Too bad my class only meets every Friday for three hours. Well, I can think of it as a way to look forward to the weekend.

It is a wonder how the human brain thinks. This entry has become like a conversation, with fleeting topics and unstructured agenda. Only it is a written monologue. Oh I'm doing it again, so I will stop. This thought thread is slowly leading to psycholinguistics, and that is a different lecture, ehem, entry.

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