Discourse Functions of Question Tags: Exploring the Right Periphery in English

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Question tags in English have received widespread attention in the literature. The discussion has often focused on issues concerning the polarity, intonation, speech functions (illocutionary force) of tags and their semantic-pragmatic properties. By examining spoken samples of two British English corpora, this chapter intends to contribute to the study of question tags from the main perspective of the discourse functions they perform in the context of spontaneous conversation, taking into account aspects of the interaction of information flow, which have been arguably less discussed in relation to tags. It also aims at contributing to studies that have addressed the meanings of linguistic expressions in the so-called right periphery. Question tags are shown to have epistemic, interactive and discourse-structuring meanings, including functions such as seeking agreement and recognition, reinforcing the common ground among the participants, performing a role in the co-construction of discourse, in relation to the expression of topic-shift, acting as dialogical markers and contributing to the spoken discourse segmentation. The study also explores the correlation of tags with evaluative statements and suggests that more attention should be given to two alternative constructions to question tags, which present some superficially-similar properties to canonical question tags but should be seen as constituting different phenomena. The chapter concludes by arguing in favour of the hypothesis that question tags can be seen as one type of discourse marker in English.