Friday 6 January 2012
by Ken Paterson
Part of the research for ‘A Handbook of Spoken Grammar’ (follow the links ‘Titles’ and ‘Language Practice’ on the DELTA website for details) involved going through pages of the language that we had reformulated for our students on speakings skills courses, highlighting recurring features. One thing that would come up now and again were examples of ‘exaggerated language’ (e.g. ‘I’m dying for a holiday!’).
Researching around the subject, I came across a fascinating article by Michael McCarthy and Ronald Carter entitled ‘There’s millions of them: hyperbole in everyday conversation’ (Journal of Pragmatics 36, 149-184). Amongst other things, they suggest that two areas of meaning are particulary productive of exaggerated language:
- numbers/amounts, e.g. ‘I can think of a hundred reasons not to go.’
- time/space, e.g. ‘You know that meal will take you years to prepare, don’t you?’
In the book, we focus on these two areas, looking at the patterns that lie under
the most common examples, and we also cover extreme adjectives and adverbs (‘absolutely vast’ pizzas, and bosses who are ‘total slave drivers’).
A couple of interesting things we came across:
- when we’re talking about time, we always seem to use the numbers two and five (e.g. ‘It’ll only take two minutes’; ‘Have you got five seconds?’)
- the metric system doesn’t seem to get a look in: there’s still ‘acres’ of space in
the spare room, and spiders are always about a ‘foot’ wide!
Next time ….. how a small group of words replace speech marks in conversation.
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