Canonical tag questions in English, Spanish and Portuguese

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This chapter compares and contrasts the patterns of variation exhibited by canonical tag questions ((C)TQs) in English (e.g. ‘That’s enough, isn’t it?’) with those presented by their analogous constructions in Spanish (Es suficiente, ¿no?/ ¿verdad?) and Portuguese (É suficiente, não é?/não?) across a variety of spoken genres that represent the monologic-dialogic, formal-informal and private-public oppositions. The aim is to provide previously lacking comparative statistics that emerge from this trilingual comparison along four parameters: (i) frequencies, (ii) formal features, (iii) distribution across genres, and (iv) functional characteristics. It will be observed that English CTQs are less frequent than analogous constructions in Spanish and particularly in Portuguese. A tag/polarity-based scale will also be proposed in which Portuguese situates itself at one extreme in displaying the widest array of variant and invariant tag types; at the other extreme is Spanish allowing for invariant tags only, whereas English occupies a middle position as it admits both invariant and variant tags but the latter exhibit less variability in kind than their Portuguese counterparts. Lastly, it will be shown that English CTQs display less distributional and functional flexibility than the analogous constructions in the two Romance languages under analysis.


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