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A Corpus-Based Investigation of the Discourse Particle Exactly and Its Synonym
山本 五郎 外国語教育研究センター
The objective of this paper is to investigate the usage and function of the discourse particles Exactly and its synonym Precisely using a corpus. Since the coining of the terminology “backchannel” by Yngve (1970), numerous studies have focused on the so-called backchannel expressions, both lexical and non-lexical. However, many previous studies have focused on expressions having a limited range, such as oh, uh-huh, wow, Really, and so forth, even though Yngve pointed out that any form including a sentential expression such as Oh, I can believe it could be a backchannel in discourse. Exactly and Precisely are some of the expressions that have not been exclusively investigated. The study by MaCarthy (2003), which broadened the range of target expressions and developed a list of lexical items, mentions Exactly as one of the most frequently used discourse particles in English oral communication; however, the study was not spared for the function or usage of this particular expression nor did it focus on comparisons between synonymous expressions. Although major ESL/EFL dictionaries widely recognize the usage of Exactly and Precisely as a listener’s response, the descriptions of these two expressions are limited and do not accurately capture the difference between the two. Especially, most of the contexts provided in the dictionaries show how the target expressions are used in relation to a preceding question alone.
To capture the functions of these two synonymous discourse particles, this study utilizes the proactive backchannelling theory proposed by Tolins and Tree (2014). Using the data from WordbanksOnline, this study sheds light on the relation of these discourse particles with the following utterance. The corpus data reveal some differences, as well as similarities, between Exactly and Precisely. Especially, the data show that Precisely is a marked discourse particle that is rarely used as a doublet, indicating that it is intentionally uttered to emphasize the listener’s complete agreement to what someone has said.