Certainty and Uncertainty in Dialogue
  • ISSN 2210-4119
  • E-ISSN: 2210-4127
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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.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): certainty; epistemic stance; modal remoteness; question; surprise; uncertainty; unexpectedness
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