International Journal of Applied Linguistics

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Volume 10 Issue 1 (June 2000), Pages 3-158

The functions of I think in political discourse (pages 41-63)

The expression I (don't) think has in recent years received a fair amount of attention from different viewpoints and in different linguistic frameworks. After a brief survey of the most important literature on the subject, this article examines the occurrence of I think in political discourse as compared with its use in informal conversation. On the basis of two samples of 100 instances each from casual conversations and radio political interviews, the expression is looked at from the points of view of syntax, intonation, the semantics of the proposition, collocation, and the wider context of the interaction taking place. It is shown that the expression has a complex of meanings which cannot simply be labelled ‘uncertainty’or ‘lack of commitment’. Depending on the context, it can signal a tentative attitude or authoritative deliberation. It is further argued that an understanding of the extralinguistic situation and the cultural meaning of the genre, including the power and status of interactants, is essential if one wishes to interpret the selection of I think in individual instances.

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