Social inferences from the use of just as an exclusive particle

William C. Thomas


Recent work has begun to investigate the interaction between semantics and social meaning. This study contributes to that line of inquiry by investigating how particular social meanings that are popularly believed to arise from the English discourse particle just are related to the conventional semantic meaning of just. In addition to proposing an inferential process by which the social meanings associated with just arise, this paper reports the results of a social perception experiment designed to test whether those social inferences arise when just is used in particular speech acts and whether they depend on the speaker’s gender and level of authority relative to the addressee. The use of just was found to significantly increase the perceived insecurity of men but not of women. This suggests that listeners may more strongly perceive speaker qualities that stereotypes cause them not to expect.


social meaning; exclusives; gender; English

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