Document Type



Generational variation and contrasts in speech vs. writing are shown in usage of the discourse markers why and say across 20th century American English. Collocating with earlier 20th century address forms (e.g. say, pal rather then say, dude) these forms appear more dated than interjectional markers like oh, well, and so, Further, distinct subtypes of why and say show different frequencies across time. Using corpora of English from different eras, I present a diachronic description of these terms, and show evidence of new terms (e.g. hey and yo) taking over some of the functions that why and say once covered. I trace the disappearance of many uses of why and say from actual exchanges, but not from depictions of dialog, suggesting that while their current spoken usage declines, use in depicted conversations of fiction continues. I propose that this uneven distribution contributes to speakers’ inaccurate sense of the words’ productivity.


Linguistics | Social and Behavioral Sciences

Publication Date




Available for download on Wednesday, January 01, 3000

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Linguistics Commons