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First Certificate Speaking: Part 2. Avoiding
"ermmm": Adding coherence to spoken discourse
using discourse markers
by Jonny Frank
- 2

1. Contrast
Use:
We use these to draw attention to (apparent) inconsistency.
They are normally positioned at the initial point of a clause.
General use:
However; in fact; on the other hand; rather; in contrast; on the contrary; still
Mainly used in speaking
Though; actually; all the same; anyway; as a matter of a fact; at the same time

Meaning:
The most frequently used discourse marker for contrast is however; less frequently used are nevertheless, nonetheless and yet.
Being a fire fighter is even scarier, however, so I think that would have me scared to death
It is, nevertheless/nonetheless¸ a recommended read
These markers can also change position, without a change in meaning, to the initial point of the clause:
However, being a fire fighter is even scarier, so..
Nevertheless, it is consistent with previous reports which…

We use though to mark that something contrasts with what has gone before, usually at the end of point we are making.
I still think he's probably climbing, though

We use actually, as a matter of a fact and in fact when we want to contrast what people may have imagined with the reality. These markers are positioned either at the beginning or at the end, as demonstrated below:
It looks like it's a man flying, actually/as a matter of a fact
Actually/As a matter of a fact, it looks like a man flying

We use on the other hand to introduce a contrasting opinion or point of view:
..Working as an English teacher, on the other hand, is less demanding than working as a doctor

At the same time and All the same are very informal markers, which are also used to indicate the arrival of a contrasting idea. These markers are positioned in the centre of the clause, usually preceded by but:
I'm not that keen on laptops but at the same time/all the same, they are useful

2. Markers for gaining time
Let me see; let's see; well; you know; I don't know; I mean; kind of; sort of; yeah

Use:
Give the speaker time to think or process in spontaneous discourse. They tend to come at the initial point of the clause, or in a central juncture.

Meaning:
These discourse markers lack an explicit meaning. They are used by speakers to gain time whilst processing information:
- Why did you do that?
-- Oh, well, you know, I don't know, really, I mean, it just sort of seemed a good idea

Thornbury compares using yeah and well to starting a manoeuvre in a car, indicating the start of the clause (Thornbury, 2005: 66). He also states that I mean "signals that some kind of clarification is going to follow" (Thornbury, 2005: 66); a particularly useful marker for a learner of English to master, given that it allows time to process the clarification that is to come. Other markers like sort of and you know – in non-interactive discourse such as the solo turn in part two of the FC exam – can be used by learners to gesture at words or phrases they do know.

3. Causes and results
Use
To draw attention to the fact that something is caused by or naturally comes from something else.
They are normally placed in-between two clauses to introduce the causal aspect.
General Use:
So, then, because

Mainly used in formal contexts:
Consequently; therefore; thus; hence

Mainly used in speaking:
As a result; in that case; consequently

We use therefore and consequently in more formal contexts. Thus and hence are particularly formal, and also less frequent. As a result and consequently are more often used in spoken discourse than the aforementioned
He is English so he speaks English
I think therefore [consequently/as a result] I am
I didn't do it because I ran out of time

Meaning:
These markers connect a statement with a causal or resultant factor:
I missed the train so /as a result/consequently/therefore I had to catch a taxi

4. Dismissal of previous discourse
anyhow; at any rate; in any case anyway
Use:
The above markers appear to dismiss previous discourse to move on to another part of discourse.

Meaning:
These markers, found in Swan's unit on discourse markers, denote "What was said before doesn't matter – the main point is as follows" (Swan, 2005: 141)
Yeah, that's what he was probably on about, anyway/anyhow/in any case, what are you up to tonight?

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