Language over time
Some old and new uses of OKAY in American English
This paper demonstrates how the tools of Interactional Linguistics can be applied to the study of change in language use. It examines the particle OKAY as used in everyday American English interaction at two different points in time, the 1960s and the 1990s/early 2000s. The focus is on the remarkable increase of OKAY as a response in epistemically driven sequences. Three uses of epistemic OKAY are identified in the newer data, one of which is unattested in the older data: OKAY in response to information that has no implications for the recipient’s agenda or expressed beliefs. This novel use of OKAY appears in the newer data where OH would have occurred earlier, although OH is still attested with displays of affect such as surprise and empathy. The study concludes by arguing for an examination of ‘possibility spaces’, the set of options for filling a given sequential slot in conversational structure, at different points in time as a means for identifying changes in language use.
Keywords: OKAY, epistemics, response, informing, correction, longitudinal
This article is available free of charge.
Published online: 16 April 2021
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