Article published in:Certainty and Uncertainty in Dialogue
Edited by Andrzej Zuczkowski
[Language and Dialogue 4:1] 2014
► pp. 7–23
Certainty, uncertainty and unexpectedness in English and French
Towards a redefinition of the epistemic stance
The present contrastive English-French case study examines interactions in which an unexpected factor triggers a verbal reaction of surprise, hence affecting a speaker’s level of certainty. We focus on why-would questions in English and their equivalents in French and analyse them from a pragmatic viewpoint. The dialogues under scrutiny, drawn from the American series Desperate Housewives, show that the epistemic stance of speakers engaged in verbal interaction is constantly negotiated and co-constructed as the exchange unfolds, and that the traditional binary opposition between certainty and uncertainty may not constitute an adequate theoretical model. A distinct epistemic stance is called for, i.e. modal remoteness. This stance does exist in both languages. And yet it does not relate to certainty and uncertainty in the same way in English and in French.
Keywords: certainty, uncertainty, question, surprise, unexpectedness, modal remoteness, epistemic stance
Published online: 20 May 2014
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