The pragmatic markers anyway, okay, and shame: A South African English corpus study

Kate Huddlestone, Melanie Fairhurst


Pragmatic markers are “a class of short, recurrent linguistic items that generally have little lexical import but serve significant pragmatic functions in conversation” (Andersen 2001:39). While pragmatic markers are receiving growing consideration in the literature, pragmatic markers in South African English have been given little attention compared to other varieties of English. This paper provides a description of the distribution and functions of the pragmatic markers okay, anyway and shame as they occur in the spoken component of the South African version of the International Corpus of English (ICE). Using the commercially available Concordance program, WordSmith Tools, all instances of okay, anyway and shame were identified in the corpus and all non-pragmatic marker instances were then excluded. The remaining instances of okay, anyway and shame were then hand-coded to determine the primary functions that these elements exhibit. The classification of the functions of the pragmatic markers was carried out according to Fraser’s (1996, 1999, 2006) framework for identification of pragmatic markers. The findings of the corpus investigation included identifying the functions of okay as both a conversation-management marker and a basic marker, as well as its role in turn-taking. Anyway was found to function as an interjection, a mitigation marker, a conversation-management marker and a discourse marker. Shame, as a uniquely South African pragmatic marker, was found to function both as an interjection and as a solidarity marker, as an expression of sympathy or sentiment.


discourse markers, pragmatic markers, South African English, corpus linguistics

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ISSN 2224-3380 (online); 1726-541X (print)

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