Expressing opinions in French and Australian English discourse

Expressing opinions in French and Australian English discourse: A semantic and interactional analysis. By Kerry Mullan. (Pragmatics and beyond new series 200.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. xvii, 282. ISBN 9789027256041. $143 (Hb).

Reviewed by James Murphy, University of Manchester

In this adaptation of her 2007 doctoral thesis, Mullan provides a thorough account of how native French and Australian English (AE) speakers express their opinions. To do this, M analyzes a ten-hour corpus of spoken dyadic interaction of native French and AE speakers, and does so using a variety of complementary approaches, including interactional sociolinguistics, politeness theory, and conversation analysis.

The first two chapters are introductory in nature, exploring the aims of the study and the methodology employed. M also outlines how the data was collected (i.e. how native speakers of the two languages were selected, but how age/gender/social class was not controlled for in these selections). The transcription methods are also outlined here. Ch. 3 discusses the theory behind the study and starts with a discussion of French and AE interactional style and is based on the reflections and comments made by her informants as well as previous research on cultural scripts. M then explores how ‘I think’ and its three French equivalents ‘je pense’, ‘je crois’, and ‘je trouve’ can be thought of as discourse markers and are on the way to being grammaticalized.

Ch. 4 explores the function of ‘I think’ in AE (and English more generally). M discusses previous studies into hedging in English and explores cultural scripts involving ‘I think’. M then turns to occurrences found in her corpus and outlines where ‘I think’ is positioned within turns and intonation units. A detailed discussion of the functions of ‘I think’ in all possible discourse positions then follows with the phrase found to have either organizational, primarily semantic, or primarily pragmatic roles. ‘I think’ is found to be more common than the three French expressions combined in the corpus and is predominantly used to organize discourse (e.g. to initiate a topic, to signal turn completion, or to mark a contrast with a previous turn).

Ch. 5 essentially reviews the previous literature on ‘je pense’, ‘je crois’, and ‘je trouve’, and provides the reader with the relevant background knowledge on these expressions. Chs. 6–8 are structured in the same way as Ch. 4, with M providing the analysis for the occurrences of the French expressions found in her corpus. In Ch. 6, M finds that ‘je pense’ functions not only as an organizational device but also as a semantic marker of expressing personal opinion. In Ch. 7, ‘je crois’ is found to function in a similar way to AE ‘I think’ and Ch. 8 discusses how ‘je trouve’ has mainly held on to the function of expressing speaker opinion. Ch. 9 summarizes the major findings in the study and makes suggestions for further work, including an intercultural study along the same lines as this one.

Not only will teachers/learners of French find this monograph useful but so, too, will those with interests in intercultural communication, politeness theory, and interactional sociolinguistics more broadly. It is an extremely thorough study and the multidisciplinary methodology is to be commended.