Echo-question as a means of information gaps elimination: pragmatic aspect

The echo-question as a peculiar type of interrogative response-statements. Pragmatic types of echo-questions, their correlation with its ability to eliminate information gaps of various nature. Communicative effect of echo-question on the listeners.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
Вид статья
Язык английский
Дата добавления 08.05.2018
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Don State Technical University

Echo-question as a means of information gaps elimination: pragmatic aspect

Avedova R.P., Boyko A.K.,

Velichko E.V., Moysova O.B.


The article studies a peculiar type of interrogative response-statements - echo-question. Due to its pragmatic potential it can be applied by the speaker as an efficient communicative tool, enabling the speaker to channel the course of interaction the way intentionally advantageous for achieving the speaker's communicative goals. The article analyses echo-question in correlation with its ability to eliminate information gaps of various nature. The authors distinguish several pragmatic types of echo-question and conduct their thorough analysis, considering communicative effect on the listener, correlation between their structure and pragmatic performance in information deficiency elimination.

Keywords: interaction environment, interrogative response-statement, echo-question, information gap, communicative effect, pragmatic performance, clarifying echo-questions, information deficiency, excessive information.


В статье исследуется особый вид реплик-реакций - вопрос-переспрос. Благодаря своему прагматическому потенциалу, данный вид ответных реплик может выступать в качестве эффективного средства воздействия и позволяет говорящему управлять ходом взаимодействия в зависимости от своего интенционального замысла и поставленных им целей. В статье исследуется способность данного вида реактивных реплик устранять информационную недостаточность, обусловленную различными факторами. Авторы выделяют несколько прагматических типов вопроса-переспроса и проводят детальный анализ способности каждого из них воздействовать на реципиента, а также исследуют взаимосвязь между их структурой и прагматическим потенциалом, позволяющим устранять информационную лакунарность.

Ключевые слова: коммуникативная ситуация, вопросительная реплика-реакция, вопрос-переспрос, информационные лакуны, коммуникативный эффект, прагматический потенциал, уточняющий вопрос-переспрос, информационная недостаточность, избыточная информация.

Globalization processes and the growing informatization of social life in the 21-st century stimulate scientific community to study more detailed such a multifunctional phenomenon as communication in all its spheres. The interest of researchers to one of the most important aspects of communication - ways and tools of the speaker's influence on the listener has been increased of late. One of such tools enabling the participants of communicative process to manage the interaction is a special kind of remarks-reactions - echo-question. Echo-question is a specific pragmatic marker of different communicative situations in English dialogs, which functional-semantic features cause pragmatic modalization of a dialog, implementing various communication strategies, enabling modification of the speech illocutionary force.

The echo-question being a jet replica in the process of verbal interaction in English dialogs has two main functions: informative-motivational and manipulative. In dialogs, where the appearance of the echo-question is due to the lack of replica-stimulus awareness, the echo-question aims at the information lacunarity elimination. This feature we will discuss in our article.

There are different interpretations of the term “gaps”. L. S. Barkhudarov, I. A. Belov, Y. S. Stepanov, I. V. Tomasheva, K. Hale, etc. understand the gaps as a language inconsistencies in various languages and distinguish verbal (phonetic, lexical, phraseological, grammatical, stylistic), cognitive (perceptual, ethno-geographical, routine, conceptual), motivational (psychological, aesthetic, religious), emotional and articulation (facial, gestural) gaps [1]. However, in this study, the term “gaps” is considered in the framework of one language, and is used in relation to information gaps in sender's message.

Generally, the occurrence of information gaps in dialogs, where an echo-question is used as a response replica, is due to the lack of replica-stimulus information needed for further communication. Lack of information can be a result of various reasons. It may occur as a result of the fact that the sender tells the recipient less information than is needed for a successful development of a communication. Information deficiency can occur due to different conditions of the communicative situation where the interaction takes place. In addition, information gaps can be caused by various kinds of extra-linguistic factors. Such extra-linguistic factors of information gaps are situations in which the addressee by any psychological reason was not able to perceive adequately the contents of the replica, or it seemed to him incredible or implausible. As a result, he wants to obtain additional information, clarification or confirmation of what he has heard before.

Elimination of information gaps can be made by the influence of communicant on his companion with various types of echo-question. Each of the considered types of question responses has a corresponding influence potential. This feature of the echo-questions explains the fact that not all types of echo-questions can eliminate information gaps equally. In this regard, we distinguish and consider separately several types of echo-questions responses, which are characterized by different ability to influence the recipient to eliminate information gaps.

In order to understand what determines the specificity of impact on the recipient of each type of echo-questions and research the peculiarities of their use in different contexts we shall analyse the factors that lead to the emergence of information gaps causing the use of echo-questions to eliminate them and therefore, defining the pragmatic nature of the echo-question, as a means of information gaps elimination.

One of the factors predetermining the use of echo-questions as the means of information gaps elimination is the need to clarify the information given in the initial statement. Echo-questions pragmatically aimed at remedying information deficiency caused by the need to specify data are called clarifying echo-questions. Clarifying echo-questions induce the speaker define the meaning of the statement which failed to provide the addressee with sufficient information. Information deficiency of the statement can result from hints, omissions on the part of the speaker or misunderstanding. The later might arise from the addressee's emotional state or overall interaction environment which made it impossible for the addressee to perceive properly the information delivered by the speaker or he didn't intend to give full information as it might be unfavorable for him.

There is a certain correlation between pragmatic purpose of clarifying echo-questions and their structure. The structure of clarifying echo-questions accentuates the part of the statement and the exact information that requires clarification. Excessive information that is not relevant for the speaker is not reflected in the question's structure.

Let's analyze a dialogue, displaying information gap elimination:

- You think I should be as forgiving as you are? We can't all be saints and martyrs.

- Grow up, Jacob.

- I wish I could.

- I stared at him, trying to make sense of his response. `You what?'

- One of those many strange things I mentioned.

- You . . . can't . . . grow up? You're what? Not . . . aging? Is that a joke? - Nope [2].

Initial incentive statement was mentioned by the speaker just in passing. The speaker didn't intend to draw the listener's attention to the information provided by his statement I wish I could which was produced by him spontaneously and resulted from tribulations torturing him. Nevertheless the statements arouse the listener's interest and he is willing to get explanation and further information to clear his misunderstanding. The echo-question induces the speaker to clarify his statement and thus helps to eradicate information gap. The clarifying echo-question is represented by a reduced structure that accentuates only the part of the initial statement which arouses the information gap.

Echo-question's pragmatic potential can be characterized not only by its capacity to induce speaker's clarification of the information given previously. The addressee can turn to echo-questions in order to evoke the speaker's confirmation or denial of the statement which appears doubtful and provokes astonishment, disbelief or perplexity on behalf of the addressee. Echo-question helps the speaker to fill the information gap prompted by unexpected statement delivered in the initial remark. That in turn contributes to the fluent conversation flow which is important for both speakers.

The confirmation / denial function is performed by one of the echo-question's functional varieties - confirmative echo-question, that can be represented by two structures: replica (full or partial replica of the initial statement) or constructions like Really?. The structural types of confirmative echo-question are determined by their pragmatic function. Though completely different by their structure both types result from the addressee's being not able to thoroughly perceive the information delivered in the initial statement and are aimed at making the speaker confirm or refute whether his interpretation of the initial statement was correct or not.

Let's analyze the use of confirmative echo-question:

- Sam had it so much harder than the rest of us. There was no one there to recognize the signs. The first time it happened - the first time he phased - he thought he'd gone insane. It took him two weeks to calm down enough to change back… Sam's mother and Leah Clearwater had the forest rangers searching for him, the police…

- `Leah?' I asked, surprised. - Yeah. Leah and Sam were high school sweethearts. They started dating when she was just a freshman. She was frantic when he disappeared [3].

In the above mentioned example the speaker delivers quite unexpected message. The addressee applies confirmative echo-question represented by partial replica of the initial statement. The echo-question induces the speaker confirm that the information is perceived correctly and prompts him eliminate information gap arisen by unawareness about relationships once existing between the heroes. The example also proves that confirmative echo-question's structural peculiarities reflect its main pragmatic function: the addressee replicates initial statement fully or partially depending on what information from the previous statement he would like to confirm thus abandoning all the data considered irrelevant.

As it has been already noted, the confirming function can also perform interrogative word-sentences like Really?, to which, besides responsive replicas proper Really ?, can be referred the following constructions Indeed?, Yes?, So? , Is that so?, Seriously? and suchlike, as well as brief questions, consisting of an auxiliary verb and a personal pronoun, which designate an inquiry for the correctness or incorrectness of the information contained in the initial statement.

Interrogative echo-question replicas, apart from pragmatic focus on information vacuum elimination caused by the necessity to clarify or confirm/refute the information of the initial statement, can also be used by the communicators in order to eliminate the consequences of influence on information gaps emergence of emotional-psychological state of the recipient, as well as influence on communicative act development of communicators' personal characteristic features, their inherent qualities and traits of character. This pragmatic purpose is typical of echo-questions like Beg your pardon?. In order to understand the way of information gaps elimination under suchlike conditions, let's consider the following example:

- Not bad, not bad at all. The name's Lenny by the way, Leonard Evans. I think I've got a bit of Welsh in me somewhere back down the line. I must do a family tree sometime. And your name is?

- Sorry? (A bit taken aback by his forthcoming manner)

- Your name?

- Sorry yeah, it's Waters, Kevin Waters [4].

In the cited example the echo-question Sorry? arises as consequence of the fact that the interlocutor, being an unsociable man, is unable to absorb the flow of information pouring down on him, that is why he cannot properly perceive the question set to him by his interlocutor, and misses a certain part of the reported information. This is fact which causes information gaps emergence. To eliminate them the addresser by means of echo-question Sorry? demonstrates his embarrassment which ultimately makes the interlocutor repeat his question, and the arisen information gaps turn out to be eliminated as both communicating parts reach understanding.

Echo-questions like Beg your pardon? can also eliminate information gaps, the emergence of which was influenced by communicative situation peculiarities in which the interaction between the communicators took place. Thus, for example, information deficiency may occur as a result that the initial replica was uttered by the person unknown to the addressee. The unexpected addresser's interference into addressee's private space gives an impetus to the emergence of echo-question like Beg your pardon?, aiming at giving a boost to addresser's information doubling contained in initial replica, which was not received properly due to the fact that the addressee was not ready to communicate.

Thus, such questions are considered to be a very effective means of information gaps elimination in communicative situations in which the emergence of gaps is the result of the interlocutor's sudden reaction or a sudden change of the subject as well as a return to a subject which was touched upon earlier, but subsequently was changed.

Another pragmatic characteristic feature of echo-questions is the ability to eliminate information gaps, appeared due to the slurred pronunciation messages, remarks aside, the comments of the author, etc. We also have such echo-questions as Well in the meaning of “attention marks”. This helps the interlocutors develop their communication and interaction environment.

So, having considered the pragmatic potential specifics of the echo-question as a means of eliminating information gaps we have found out that this type of jet replicas helps eliminate information gaps in situational contexts in which lacunarity is a consequence of the need to clarify information, confirm or refuse. Interrogative statements, possessing highly significant pragmatic potential, let eliminate the effects of emotional, psychological state, personal characteristics of communicants and the peculiarities of communicative situation in which the interaction between the participants is being carrying out; facilitate the realization of communicative intentions of the message sender, the positive effect of speech influence, interaction and productive continuation of communication.

echo question pragmatic communicative


1. Jejnullaeva E. A. Lakuny v strukture jazykovoj lichnosti i ih zapolnenie v mezhkul'turnoj kommunikacii (Na primere anglijskogo i russkogo jazykov) [Gaps in communicative person's structure and their filling in intercultural communication (On the basis of English and Russian languages)]: Dis. … kand. filol. Nauk. [dis. …of PhD in Philology] , 2003. [in Russian]

2. Meyer S. Eclipse / S. Meyer. - New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008.-576p.

3. Cussen R. The Night Watchman. EServer. - 1992. [Electronic resource]- Access mode. -URL: (accessed: 20.10.2016). [in Russian]

4. Rowling J. K. Goblet of fire. NY: Scholastic Paperbacks, 2002. - 752p.

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