Interjections and the Language Functions Debate
Bulletin - the Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas
Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication (ACLC)
Five views of the function of interjections, developed in the first half of the 20th century by the psychologist-linguist
Bühler, the linguists Gardiner, and Jakobson, and the psychologists Révész and Duijker, are discussed. All five scholars reject
the earlier psychologism that reinforced the traditional emotion-expressive view of interjections; all of them argue for a
listener-directed, communicative view of language in general, and all include a specific appeal-to-the-listener-function in
their model of language functions. My original hypothesis was therefore that these scholars would reject the one-sided traditional
view that interjections mainly express the speaker’s emotions, acknowledging instead that the central function of most interjections
is to make some appeal to the listener (a view supported by recent investigation of a corpus of spoken Dutch, which shows
that only 7% fulfils a purely expressive function). As it turns out, however, all five scholars support the traditional view
and attributed an expressive function to interjections. In this paper I try to explain this unexpected result.
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