Cracking the chestnut

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This chapter argues against previous analyses of the Colloquial Singapore English (CSE) particle lah. While homonymic approaches (e.g. Wong 2004) conflate pragmatic function and semantic meaning, unitary approaches (e.g. Gupta 2006) ignore the systematic differences in function that correlate with tonal differences. Using a relevance-theoretic framework, this chapter proposes that lah describes the preceding proposition as being of high epistemic strength, and the hearer interprets this description as being either of an actual situation (signalled by the falling tone of a declarative), or of a thought that is desirable to the hearer (signalled by the rising tone of a interrogative). One phenomenon that this analysis explains is how lah can strengthen declaratives but weaken imperatives.


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