Midnight in Paris: Discourse markers

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Today my main task was to find examples of discourse markers in context in a movie trailer, explaining their functions in a given utterance. I chose Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen and, because it caught my imagination, transcribed and thought through more than necessary. It’s fun to examine a dialogue and make what is implicitly understood explicit. I’ve disregarded intonation here, but that would be another interesting look at this.

We’re been using an impressive grammar coursebook, Martin Parrott Grammar for English Language Teachers, these past few weeks, under Lindsay Clandfield’s tutelage. I’m looking forward to the face-to-face part of the course, because I’ve been lagging behind in the distance section. I’ve frankly found it exceedingly difficult to keep up discipline, especially with other work going on. Still, since this grammar module began I’ve started feeling more clued in. I have loads of gaps in grammar, but perhaps they’re easier to fill than in other areas, say: pronunciation, where I’ve been learning from scratch. Anyway, Martin Parrott teaches a “Virtual English Masterclass” on the BBC Learning English website here.

Transcript of trailer

Scene 1
Man 1: I mean, th-, this is unbelievable. There’s no city like this in the world.
Woman 1: You’re in love with a fantasy.
Man 1: I’m in love with you.
“This” refers to Monet’s garden, where they are walking, and all of Paris, the city they’ve just begun to experience. His stammer and “I mean” are expressions of his personal emotional involvement, which he communicates in an attempt to influence how his fiancé will react, getting her to share his enthusiasm.
Her very cool reaction shows that she isn’t willing to buy into his feelings.

Scene 2
Woman 2: What are you…?
Woman 1: //Oh, hey!//
Woman 2: … what are you doing here?
Woman 1: Dad’s here on business and we just decided to… freeload along!
Woman 2: (laughter) Oh!
Man 2: That’s great! We can spend some time together.
Woman 1://Oh, that’d be nice!//
Man 1://Oh, I don’t know, I think// we have a lot of commitments
Woman 1: (Silence)
Man 1: but I’m sure it’s, well
Woman 1: What?
Man 1:// (mumble)//
“Oh, I don’t know” is a hedge to buy time while the man tries to think of a way to stop the others from making plans to meet up. He makes up a phony excuse. Then he uses the contrasting, polite, non-committal, face-saving marker “But I’m sure” to repair any damage he may have caused by emphasizing their willingness to be friendly and sociable. However, while he is saying it, he notices that he’s misjudged the situation as his fiancé falls silent and fails to give him verbal support. Knowing he’s lost their common ground, he leaves the “repair” phrase dangling (well is another hedge), so that when she openly challenges him, saying “What?”, the conversation breaks down.

Scene 3
Man 2: If I’m not mistaken, Rodin’s work was influenced by his wife, Camille.
Expert: Rose was the wife!
Man 2: No, he was never married to Rose.
“If I’m not mistaken” is a conversation management marker that calls attention to and seeks to establish the authoritative knowledge of the speaker. Her word stress shows that she disagrees, and expresses disbelief. He defends his authority.

Scene 4
Woman 1: I hope you’re not going to be as anti-social tomorrow.
Man 1: I’m not quite as taken with him as you are. Well, he’s a pseudo-intellectual.

“As”: The two of them are criticizing each other using benchmarks for comparison (his “bad” behavior compared to the “good” behavior she wants from him tomorrow; her being “taken with” Man 2 as opposed to his disapproval). They’re competing for what they consider appropriate. “Well” is a discourse marker that expresses reservation, shows he is considering what she has said, indicates that he is thinking about and taking up the topic.

Scene 5
Man 2: Slightly more tannic than the ’59. I prefer a smoky feeling.

Scene 6
Man 2: Carol and I are gonna go dancing.
Woman 2: //Dancing!//
Woman 1: //Oh!//
Man 2: I know a great place. Interested?
Man 1: No,…
Woman 1: //Sure! yeah!//
Man 1: // no, no,// no, now, I don’t want to be a killjoy,
Woman 1: //Oh, come on!//
Man 1: // but I, I,// I, I need to get a little fresh air.
The man’s response is pure emotional hedging, preemptive apology, beating an escape.

Scene 7
Woman 1: What time did you get in last night?
Man 1: Not that late, and I’m planning on going on another little hike tonight.
He uses the adverb “that” and the adjective “little” to diminish the size of the affront, and humor ( the “healthy” connotations of going on a “hike” add a touch of irony) to try and charm her into letting him get away with it.

Scene 8
Mother: Where’s Bill run off to?
Woman 1: Been walking around Paris.
No discourse markers, but a telling register: The flippant question and her laconic, elliptical answer use distancing techniques.

Scene 9
Father: Where do you think he goes every night?
Mother: He walks and gets ideas.
Father: Uh-huh.
“Uh-huh” is an nterjection, here expressing disbelief.

Scene 10
Woman 1: Why are you so dressed up?
Man 1: I was just doing a little writing.
Woman 1: You… dressed up and put on cologne to write?
Man 1: Yeah, you know how I can think better in the shower, and I get the, the positive ions going in there.
Hedging, humor to charm her into letting him off the hook

Scene 11
Father: I had a private detective follow him.
Other woman: And what happened?
Father: I don’t know. The detective agency says the detective is missing.
“And” shows anticipation and the willingness to support the storyteller.

Scene 12
Man 1: I’m in very perplexing situation.
The word “a” is swallowed by an emotional pause filled with things he can’t talk about – perhaps “I’m in love” or “I’m in trouble”.

The trailer doesn’t give away too much, does it? Can’t wait to see the film! Comes recommended by Chris.


4 Responses

  1. Hi Anne, i think you will really enjoy this film – i don’t think my “review” was as good as i wanted it to be, i got distracted thinking about loving someone in a past.
    Its another story.
    Thanks for the link.
    Good luck with the course – i’m exhausted just reading about what you are doing!

  2. How’d you manage to see it so soon? It doesn’t premier here until August !

    (Sorry, didn’t want to exhaust you. Going to sleep off my own exhaustion in fall and winter.)

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