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Multi-functionality and syncretism of pragmatic functions in Present-day English

In a dynamic language system the set of units performing the same functions does not remain static. Within the set of existing functions the changes can be of various nature. In the sphere of pragmatic functions multi-functional and syncretic phenomena are the most distinct. Changes in categorical semantics, leading to alterations in the compatibility of words, foster a shift in the functioning of units which genetically perform the same functions, but in certain contexts represent different ones. The opposite direction of such a change is also evident. The accumulation of these tendencies leads to the rise of words, word groups and sentences revealing new connotations or emotions, e.g. like rabbit in Just look! Rabbit! Have a look at it! (stating with a neutral attitude) >RgШf! (reacting with a negative attitude); or a bit in Have a bit of a cake (stating)>I was a bit surprised (qualifying). Language units of such kinds can represent both their pragmatic functions in discourse.

For instance, a qualifying function is basically performed by adverbs of degree, but the specificity of this function in discourse allows other units which belong to other groups of English lexis reveal their hidden potencies. This function is performed not only by adverbs of degree, but also by lexical and phraseological units indicating the attribute’s degree. The function of these units is to express figurative and emotional evaluation of the degree. Language means, which express the degree of a certain quality, possess a solid possibility for pragmatic charge. It is revealed in emotional representation when the function of the language unit is limited solely to the transfer of emotional impact. Moreover, such units can modify the pragmatic meaning of the whole utterance: strengthen the truthfulness of the utterance, make it more persuasive for a speaker/listener, increase its perlocutionary effect and focus the listener’s/reader’s attention to the subject-matter of discourse: When he come out, he was in a hell of a hurry, and he was carrying a doll (E. McBain); “I don’t trust you half an inch, ” I said (J. Fowles); “His nephew is known to be desperately hard up” (A. Christie); “My God, you’re dead right ... ” (J. le Carre); She was clearly terrified to be left alone (A. Christie).

Within the process of communication, a particular role is performed by pragmatic meaning modifications, which represent either a decrease or an increase of categoricity. These units acquire their importance in the pragmatics of speech acts and are characterized by the following pragmatic functions: a) modal-they help the speakers/writers to express their attitude towards a component of reality with regard to its desirability and truthfulness, e.g. “I’m a bit short of fat” (P. Abrahams); b) characterological-they express peculiarities of the person’s communicative style, e.g. “He’s got this goddam superior attitude all the time,” Ackley said (J. D. Salinger); c) contact forming-they facilitate the ease of communication, e.g. “He’s a New-Yorker enough to appreciate it” (E. McBain); d) evaluating-they evaluate the degree of display of a certain criterion, e.g. “They were paying half as much again for the same sort o’stuff veneers and inlays, not a bit better, here in London” (J. B. Priestley).

Multi-functionality and syncretism are fostered by the diffusivity of ideas and notions. The absence of semantic and emotional boundaries also enhances these with regard to the following factors: 1) reality has no boundaries, but has a substantial potential for gradual transformations;

  • 2) changes of reality are reflected in its perception by consciousness;
  • 3) notions transform into one another; 4) relative self-representation of reality by individual; 5) the meaning of words comprises an extensive periphery with possible components; 6) non-limitation of meaning has an individual component-differences in perceptions of the same object by various people and groups (Kharchenko 1989: 31-32).

The variety of meanings as a ground of transition phenomena leads to the rise of “the syncretism zone”. Syncretic groups are characterized by different combinations of qualities. While classifying semantic and pragmatic functions one can identify transitional (syncretic) links which combine language elements into a dynamic system of interacting units.

We can state that practically the whole system of language units, which perform definite pragmatic functions in Present-day English, is of a hybrid nature. Speaking about the problem of transition in the system of various functions, we deem this problem as a particular case of a more widespread phenomenon-functional re-orientation, i.e. implementation of the functional potential of a certain language unit.

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