Between Certainty and Uncertainty: Ba’s(吧) as a interactional resource from perspectives of epistemics and sequentiality

Author: Shihong Zhou (Beijing Normal University, China)
Speaker: Shihong Zhou
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
The GLOCAL CALA 2022 General Session


“This paper investigates ba(吧)in Mandarin in talk-in-interaction, through a framework of interactional linguistics, using data from talk and video media. The paper proposes, ba is not a question marker, but an epistemic marker, as “being close to fully knowledgeable (K+).” In the Ba-tagged utterance’s interactive function, the speaker makes a statement with some reservation.
The different facet of its epistemic stance (that is “close but not sufficient”) is salient. When in the initial position of Questioning (Ka〈 Kb), the ba marked statement forms a relatively shallow epistemic gradient vis-a-vis the recipient’s Kb+ position (compared to other questions, it is more closed to certainty. In these activitiessuch as soliciting confirmation, agreement, and approval, Ba’s proposes a statement and seeks alignment in the epistemic stance of the recipient.
In the response sequence, ba is used in the respondent’s utterance to resist the questioner’s assumption of Ka. In the response position, ba’s insufficiency of certainty in the epistemic stance is highlighted, making the utterance dispreferred response.
This paper tries to offer a unified account of previously proposed interpretations of ba in various interactional activities, including both asymmetric conversation, and in the asymmetric conversation (narrative) as a pause/topic marker.”

Keywords: ba (吧), epistemic modulator, certainty/uncertainty, unified account