On interpersonal meaning potential of English speech verbs


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Nana JIN


Awarding Institution
Award date3 Oct 2014


This dissertation studies English speech verbs from an ontological perspective, focusing on how speech verbs’ meanings are parsed; how speech verbs are used in different genres of discourse; and what the ontology of speech verbs should be. Based on the ontological structures of WordNet and FrameNet, and using the authentic written and spoken texts in British National Corpus(BNC) as the data, the study builds an ontology for English speech verbs and investigates some speech verbs’ frame evoking tendencies among genres. Verbs not only form the core of a clause, but also integrate various types of information about participants and circumstances to constitute a particular event type of experience. Systemic Functional Linguistics(SFL), and Speech Act Theory are two significant approaches to speech verbs' study. The former focuses on speech verbs' transitivity and projecting feature, and the latter emphasizes speech verbs' performative functions and pragmatic meaning. Among the six event types of physical experience in SFL, speech verbs are primarily used to construe Verbal Process. However, speech verbs contain various meanings while expressing speech events. The choice of one of these meanings is decisive in expressing speakers' attitudes. This is referred to as interpersonal meaning potential in this study. This research studies the relation between meaning realization and meaning potential. A selection of speech verbs for the study is based on Wierzbicka's study, in which she made an exhaustive study of 277 speech act verbs. The study of speech verbs' evaluation potential is based on Thompson's research, which studied speech verbs from their reporting nature, focusing on grammatical features of speech verbs. However, no studies have been carried out systematically on how speech verbs' evaluation meaning is connected with lexical meaning. This research selects 101 speech verbs for study according to their significant reporting features and frequencies in BNC (no less than ten per million words). By mapping these verbs into their potential frames in FrameNet, the study generates a working ontological schema of speech verbs' frames, which shows how speech verbs are connected hierarchically. The statistical analyses on speech verbs' frequencies in five genres (spoken, fiction, magazine, newspaper, and academic) imply that speech verbs are sensitive to genres, i.e. some speech verbs are more significant in one genre than in another. Three further case studies on the evoked frames of the verbs say, tell, and accuse in different genres draw this conclusion: there exists a tendency of frame evoking in a particular genre. In conclusion, this research constructs an ontological schema of speech verbs' frames, identifies the significant speech verbs in different genres, and pilots a way to the exploration of speech verbs through frame evoking tendencies, which together explain how speech verbs are used in an evaluative way to meet speakers/writers' aims.

    Research areas

  • Interpersonal communication, English language, Speech acts (Linguistics), Verb