Functions of formulaic sequences

Functions of formulaic sequences

Functions of formulaic sequences After examining the aspects of formulaic sequences, it is essential to understand functions of formulaic sequences. These functions are viewed differently by different researchers. Wray (2000) broadly describes the functions of formulaic sequences aptly as “a tool put to many uses” (p. 9), and further elaborates two main functions of formulaic sequences: to aid the speaker’s production and to aid the hearer’s comprehension. When considering the speaker’s production, “speakers use formulaic sequences to manipulate information, buy time for processing, provide textual bulk, create a shorter processing route, as well as organise and signal the organization of discourse” (Wray, 2000, p. 478). Examples of formulaic sequences that aid the speaker’s production are ‘let’s see’ to buy time, or ‘ok, next one’ to indicate the speaker’s organization of the discourse to show that something is to follow. When considered from the hearer’s comprehension, formulaic sequences such as ‘ok, next one’ can aid the hearer’s comprehension in that it is an indication to the hearer of what comes after. Viewed from a different perspective, formulaic sequences, according to Nattinger and DeCarrico (1992), could be used as part of a social interaction, discourse devices, and/or part of a necessary topic. For example, ‘well done’ could be seen as a device for a social orientation, or ‘ok, let’s see’ could serve a pedagogical purpose. More specifically to the classroom are the functions proposed by Bahns, Burmeister, and Vogel (1986). The functions could be seen as:

1) Directives: classroom commands or show state of mind (‘help me’, ‘sit down’)

 2) Game: introduce a new activity or give instructions (‘need to’, ‘the first’)

3) Phatic: part of the social interaction and general utterances (‘are you finished’, ‘over here’)

4) Expressive: show the teachers’ emotions or feedback (‘good job’, ‘very good ok’)

5) Questioning: eliciting information (‘what is’, ‘who can’, and ‘what about’) 6) Polyfunctional: more than one semantic –pragmatic function (‘are you finished’, ‘let’s see’)

 The views on formulaic sequences from Bahns, Burmeister, and Vogel (1986), Nattinger and DeCarrico (1992), and Wray (2000), although different, provide us with an integrated understanding of the functions of formulaic sequences from broad to specific levels. In short, these functions are described by Wray (2000) and Nattinger and DeCarrico (1992) as supporting the hearer’s comprehension or the speaker’s production to have the formulaic sequences act as a discourse device, part of a necessary topic or as part of a social interaction. Not only would these formulaic sequences have specific functions, but they would also be used within certain situations such as a question, an expressive, a directive, part of a game, or as a phatic.

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