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The newcomer quotative 'like'

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2014 22 Seiten

Anglistik - Linguistik


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Precautions for the Linguistic Study .
2.1 How like was elicited in previous studies
2.2 The report of a short scene from a TV series to evoke the use of like as a quotative
2.3. The particular scene in detail.
2.4 Reasons for choosing the scene

3. Description of the Linguistic Study
3.1 Procedure
3.2 The subject cohort

4. Results of the reports
4.1 Attitudinal Survey

5. Conclusion

6. References

1. Introduction

The aim of this paper will be to examine the word like as a newcomer quotative in the English-speaking world and to test results from previous studies on like as a quotative. Thus, it remains to be seen whether previous findings can still be confirmed. Speakers always have several options to report something and they are free to choose from different quotatives or verba dicendi in order to be able to introduce dialogues. Over the last years the number of quotatives which are at speakers’ disposal increased as new quotatives ‘came into being’. According to Buchstaller "The occurrence of new quotative variants across linguistic systems raises questions about their attestation in the multiplicity of English varieties"1 and also serves as the basis for differing associations with language groups and ideologies. As preceding studies on to be + like as a quotative already lead to numerous new insights, this paper seeks to test those latest findings and hypotheses. Among these are for instance that the verbum dicendi to say is still the most predominant in reported speech or that women use to be + like more often than men do to report speech.

In order to be able to find answers to the questions raised by Buchstaller and other linguists a qualitative linguistic study with English-native speakers will be conducted. The study possesses a relatively unstandardized approach as it investigates how speakers behave linguistically when they are told to report something. By letting speakers report something, attestations of to be + like can be examined and interrelated to prior findings. Furthermore the transcripts of the reports illustrate how many times verba dicendi are used, which quotatives were preferred by the speakers, whether there is another newcomer quotative which is used besides like and which gender uses the construction to be + like more often in the function of a verb of saying. In addition to that, the usage of direct versus indirect quotations can be studied in greater detail as well as.

In a first step, the precautions for conducting the study will be highlighted with taking into account how previous linguists managed to evoke the use of verba dicendi. The main focus will hereby lie on the quotative like. In a next step, the basis for the survey, namely the report of a short scene from a TV-series to evoke the use of like, is elucidated in depth. Afterwards the scene from the series will be clarified before it’s suitability for the study’s goals will be illustrated.

Subsequently the study itself will be described in detail with emphasis on its procedure and the subject cohort. What follows is a presentation of the results of the study which will take into account important aspects like gender, region and highest academic qualification of subjects. Subsequently, attitudes towards like as a quotative will be examined and interpreted before a conclusion is drawn.

2. Precautions for the Linguistic Study

2.1 How like was elicited in previous studies

The word like is known "for its functional complexity and distributional versatility"2 ; nevertheless the focus of this study clearly lies on one function of like only: namely its function as a verbum dicendi which came up recently. The phenomenon of new verba dicendi is not only emerging in English-speaking contexts but is also known in other languages as well. For instance in German the word so increasingly functions as a verb as well (e.g. as in: ‘Und er dann so: “Na, alles klar?”). Yet, it did not receive the same attention that was paid to its English counterpart like.

Romaine and Lange have stated in their study from 1991 that topics, which can be a matter of discussion or which touch speakers personally, function as contexts in which the use of to be + like as a quotative is most likely to occur.3 As the goal of this study cannot be to evoke the use of like artificially, the conclusion was drawn that it might be easiest to have native speakers retell something they have seen or heard which was similarly was similarly done earlier by Hickmann in 1993.4 After careful consideration, the linguistic set up was changed from the retelling of constructed dialogue as Hickmann did in her study with adults and children, to the reporting of a short scene from a TV series. TV-series cover important topics which are relevant in people’s everyday lives and thus create a personal connection to the issues and topics covered.5 Scenes and people depicted appear to be true to life and very realistic and so TV-series can serve as the ideal template to evoke the use of like as a quotative in a more kind of natural way. Via using this approach it shall be tested if the results preceding studies had propagated can be confirmed or have to be slightly adapted. Among previous views on like is for example the assumption that most users of like belong to younger age bands. Moreover, most linguists agreed that the newcomer quotative like is mainly used by female speakers mostly coming from America although in general the form is used in the whole English-speaking world. In addition, linguists managed to show that with the evolvement of like as a quotative several attitudes towards the innovative form emerged. By testing those attitudes, numerous insights on the impact and perception of like could be gained as well as many stereotypes challenged. Therefore this study also seeks to present the different attitudes towards like in order to be able to draw a comparison with earlier outcomes. The issues that will be analyzed in detail are especially the perceived and actual education of the like user as well as their nationality.

2.2 The report of a short scene from a TV series to evoke the use of like as a quotative

By letting subjects report a short scene from a TV-series a qualitative research approach is pursued. This relatively free approach with the only instruction to report the dialogues seen in the film clip is necessary as the use of newcomer quotatives as the word like cannot be elicited in predetermined patterns without significantly influencing the subject cohort. Evoking the use of quotatives in an artificial way by e.g. giving subjects subsets or by providing them with a list with all the different known verba dicendi could lead to a falsification of research results. Hence, in order to create a natural speech situation, subjects have to talk freely without any major defaults or subsets. This is the only way to ensure that persons questioned are not behaving differently from their normal speech behavior and are using the forms they normally tend to apply.6 Apart from the approach of the study itself, the scene for the linguistic study has to be chosen very carefully as well as it should be a scene which does neither require any previous knowledge of the plot of the series nor of its characters. Besides, there are various other factors which should be taken into consideration: Firstly, it is highly important that the topics and issues which will be covered are easy to understand and that subjects directly comprehend what is happening in the particular film clip. Secondly, the characters playing a major role in the scene should be appealing for both sexes and offer to be an object of projection for both males and females. Hence it would be ideal to have both male and female characters in the scene whose amount of speech would stand in an appropriate balance. That the characters are appealing to both sexes goes hand in hand with the topics which are covered in the film clip. The topic should not exclude one sex from having an opinion about the scene or the action which takes place. What is more is that given that the scene should lead the subjects to report the direct dialogues from the clip, it is without question that the driving force in the clip should mainly lie in conversations and not so much in actions. That means that the scene should rather be conversation driven than just showing characters doing something.

In order to not falsify the results of the study it is important that in the scene itself, none of the characters uses like as a quotative or filler to not unnaturally stimulate the use of like with the subjects. Using a scene which does not contain like as a verbum dicendi is a way to ensure that the use of like is natural and was not caused by the mere repetition of words from the scene. Taking into consideration all those important factors, I decided on a scene from the TV-series ‘Friends’. ‘Friends’ is an old American TV-series which treats the lives of six young friends in Manhattan, New York and was aired between the years 1994-2004 in television.7 Although the use of like as a quotative was already present in the US in the 1990s8, it is not frequently prevalent in the series although some characters make use of the form in occasional episodes (for example: season 2, episode 11). It should be noted at this point that the series is of course fully scripted and that although we have some spoken attestations of like as a verbum dicendi it does not necessarily enter movies or series as a full quotative at the beginning. As the series was -among other countries- aired in the US as well as the UK, Australia and New Zealand it is an ideal fit for the study as it does not privilege a certain group of speakers. Taking into account the age brackets from the subjects, it is very likely that subjects might know the series already and thus feel more comfortable to retell the dialogues from the scene.

2.3 The particular scene in detail

The chosen clip is a scene from ‘Friends’ season 8 episode 23.9 The episode is called: “The one where Rachel has a baby” and as the name already suggests one of the female characters, Rachel Green, is going to have a baby with her friend/boyfriend Ross Geller. The scene starts with Ross pushing Rachel, who is seated in a wheelchair, into the waiting hall of a hospital. Whereas he seems to be really excited about the fact, that they reached the hospital so quickly, Rachel appears to be slightly annoyed and mocks Ross by ironically saying that the hard part is truly over. He remains undisturbed and praises himself for being so quick. In the meantime their friends Monica and Phoebe come around the corner and express their joy that Ross and Rachel finally arrived. Ross is astonished and wants to know why his sister Monica and his friend Phoebe could be in the hospital so quickly. Monica then dryly says that she and Phoebe took a taxi and wants to know whether Ross and Rachel did walk. In that instant Chandler and Joey (some other friends of Ross and Rachel) come around the other corner of the waiting hall and also express their joy that Ross and Rachel finally arrived. Ross then is asking if there would be a magic tunnel to the hospital as he clearly cannot understand why everyone was in the hospital before him and Rachel. Rachel again is annoyed by him and wheels herself over to the reception saying that Ross can stand there and talk while in the meantime she would have the baby. He then accompanies her and introduces her and himself to the nurse at the desk. The nurse welcomes them and explains them that there would be a semi-private labor- room prepared for them. Rachel interrupts her and tells her that she asked for a private room. The nurse then responds that she knows that but that they do not have any private rooms available at the moment. Chandler then inserts that Rachel might have got her private room if she and Ross would have came to the hospital sooner. Rachel asks the nurse to give them a second and wants Ross to bribe the nurse in order to receive a private room. Ross is reluctant as he is convinced that there are no private rooms available in the hospital anymore. Rachel does not want to believe that as she thinks that the hospital is reserving the private rooms for more important people. Although he disagrees with her, Ross goes back to the counter and tries to bribe the nurse. The nurse is not amused by his behavior and reprimands Ross by her view and her tone. Rachel then wheels herself back to the counter, stands up and confronts the nurse with her unfriendly tone. Rachel states that the hospital would not be the only one in the city and that she would have no problem to go somewhere else. However, before she can even finish her last sentence, she has contractions and has to sit down again, her face marked with pain. The nurse then just asks her nonchalantly if she would like to see a semi- private room. Rachel then concedes and says that it could not hurt to have a look.

2.4 Reasons for choosing the scene

The scene is designed in a way which makes it an ideal fit for the purposes of the study as it contains many dialogues and the action is mainly expressed through direct speech. Although the topic of pregnancy and childbirth is normally more interesting for women, in this scene it is definitely engaging for both sexes as it is treated in a comic and funny way. What is more is that not the actual childbirth is depicted but rather the preparation and the differences future mothers and fathers have to face. The age cohort being between the ages 23-28 is usually the cohort that already thinks about getting married or having children10 and thus should be interested in the topic. Moreover it is very likely that females can identify themselves with the character of Rachel who is concerned to have to give birth in a semi-private room and the males might fully understand the character of Ross who seems to not really understand the need for a private room and therefore cannot fully comprehend Rachel’s angry mood. The comic elements in the scene will also contribute to the subjects feeling more comfortable with the task and thus it is to hope that subjects will linguistically behave in a natural way.

3. Description of the Linguistic Study

3.1 Procedure

In the beginning, a number of English-native speakers will be asked to participate in the study. Once the natives agree to take part, qualitative interviews are scheduled. During the individual interviews subjects are handed out the study sheets11 and are asked to only read the first page. The first page informs them that they are taking part in a linguistic study conducted by Isabelle Steinmetz at the Ludwig Maximilians-University in Munich. They are instructed to not look ahead in the survey sheet as that might bias their answers. On the second page of the survey questionnaire they are asked to watch a short film clip. After having watched the scene twice, subjects are instructed to report the direct dialogues. For research reasons and interpretation the reports are recorded on tape. After the retelling of the dialogues, subjects are asked to fill in a questionnaire. The questionnaire is adapted from Buchstaller and asks the persons questioned for personal information as age, sex, nationality and their highest academic qualification.


1 Buchstaller (2013: 89)

2 Andersen (2001: 210)

3 Romaine Suzanne (1991: 238)

4 Hickmann (1993: 63-90)

5 Wolling (2004: 177)

6 Flick et al. (2004: 176)

7 Encyclopædia Britannica (2014: 1)

8 Andersen (1997: 45)

9 The clip was available on but was removed due to copyright issues

10 Ruckdeschel (2007: 217)

11 For more information about the utilized version of the questionnaire see appendix


ISBN (eBook)
560 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Linguistics Anglistik Quotatives Like reported speech valley girl verba dicendi



Titel: The newcomer quotative 'like'