Discourse markers in Colombian Spanish: A study in polysemy.

Discourse markers in Colombian Spanish: A study in polysemy. By Catherine E. Travis. (Cognitive linguistics research.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2005. Pp. xiii, 327. ISBN 3110181614. $128 (Hb).

Reviewed by Barbara de Cock, University of Leuven

In Discourse markers in Colombian Spanish, Catherine E. Travis provides an overview of current research on discourse markers, with special attention to Spanish, as well as new insights through the analysis of the polysemy of four Spanish discourse markers.

First, T outlines some basic research questions on discourse markers (Ch. 1) and describes her data set of spontaneous conversation in Colombian Spanish as well as her methods of transcription (Ch. 2). She then provides an exhaustive review of the literature, including research from both the Anglo-Saxon and the Spanish research traditions, and addresses the terminological labyrinth in the field of discourse markers (Ch. 3). In addition to this critical state of the art, the chapter highlights some of the most important prosodic, syntactic, and semantic features of discourse markers. Finally, T briefly introduces the natural semantic metalanguage (NSM) approach (which is used in Chs. 4–7) in which ‘meaning is equated with conceptualisation, and with this focus on conceptualisation it fits into the broader arena of cognitive linguistics’ (61).


These more general chapters are of interest to any linguist in search of a good and critical overview of research on discourse markers. The case studies (Chs. 4–7) may appeal to a more limited audience, but in any case they show T’s accurateness in processing both her own corpus data as well as other researchers’ insights and comments. The cases of bueno (Ch. 4), o sea (Ch. 5), entonces (Ch. 6), and pues (Ch. 7) are described as follows. First, the author sketches the diachronic development of the discourse markers. She then presents previous research before proceeding to a description of the markers’ different functions, using examples from her corpus data. The NSM definitions of these four discourse markers are also summarized in an appendix. These analyses bring the author to a more general description of discourse markers in terms of multifunctionality—based on semantic and pragmatic information—and polysemy, ‘a shared component of meaning, or partial semantic invariant, evident across the range of use of the marker’ (288).


The conclusions summarize the analyses both of the four case studies and of the various theoretical approaches, indicating the main difficulties and the directions for future research. Thus, the volume provides a critical overview of research on discourse markers and opens new paths for work in this domain.