Are you sitting comfortably?

Some of you will recognise the subject line of this post as a discourse marker, conventionally used to signal the opening of an oral narrative. So when you read it, were you expecting an oral narrative to follow? Presumably not. The context (this is a blog) would tell you that the discourse was not about to be oral. On the other hand you are probably aware that many text-types characteristic of new technology, such as email, text-messaging, and instant messaging share many characteristics with spoken language.

And were you really expecting a narrative? Probably not; certainly not the type of fictional story narrative that the utterance in that header would typically introduce.

And what about the implied audience? ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’ is, stereotypically at least, used to address an audience of children. Do you feel yourself included or excluded by that message header, then? I imagine you getting the irony I intended by starting that way. You’re not really children. I’m not really about to start telling you a story. But collocation and cohesion are important here. You know that the rhetorical question should not receive a meaningful answer from the audience (which may well not be co-present: the formula was popularised on radio), but instead is part of a formula in which the speaker leaves a pause for an imagined affirmative before continuing:

Then I’ll begin…

And it appears that I just have.

or
And it appears that I just did.

Which would you say? And what difference (if any) does it make?

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2 Responses to Are you sitting comfortably?

  1. Luke says:

    Hello sir, thought i would be the first to have a stab at this while i’m bored in ICT!
    I’d say ‘And it appears that i just have’, because the past participle ‘have’ suggests that the previous action is relevant to the present whereas ‘did’ doesn’t

  2. Mr Heald says:

    Good call, Luke.

    Your interpretation of the semantic difference between the two forms is good, although you’ve misplaced the terminology. The past participle isn’t actually there, owing to ellipsis (it would be ‘begun’). ‘Have’ here is an auxiliary verb.

    Good to see you doing something useful in ICT, by the way 😉 . (Did you notice the ellipsis there, too?)

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