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Altså as a turn-initiating particle

2020.04.21 | Samtalegrammatik.dk

The Danish particle altså is frequently used in the beginning of utterances. There is no English equivalent to this word, but sometimes it can be translated as ‘that is’, ‘that is to say’, ‘so’, ‘well’, and sometimes not at all. Altså can also be an adverb, but in the utterance-initial position, it acts as a particle. Furthermore, the word is never stressed in this position, and is often pronounced weakened (from [alsʌ] to [asʌ] and further weakened into [əs]). It occurs in the beginning of utterances that constitute a break from the expected, that is, utterances that explain, correct or clarify something. Altså signals that although the following utterance is unexpected, it is still relevant for the turn, and thus can be justified.

In the following extract we see altså right before a repair. Regitze has called the boss of a ferry company to book seats for her friends.

Heinemann & Steensig 2018:445-446, extract 8:

01   Reg:   Ka jeg bestille en plads→
          can I order a seat
02          (0.4)
03   Fie:   Jerh→
          yeah
04   Reg:   til (0.1) e- ø::h >nogen< (0.3)
          for u::h some friends of ours
05          >venner af os→< 
06   Fie:   Jerh→ Hvornår↗
          yeah when
07          (0.4)
08   Reg:   til: søndag aften↘
          fo:r Sunday night
09          (0.1)
10   Fie:   >•cl altså< nu på sønd[ag→
          ALTSÅ this Sunday
11   Reg:                         [Jerh↘
12          (0.3) 
13   Fie:   Jerh↘
          yeah

Regitze’s answer in line 8 is not clear enough for Fie, which leads her to ask for a clarification in line 10. This repair utterance is initiated with altså. Fie could have said e.g. mener du nu på søndag? (’do you mean this Sunday?’), but by using altså, she indicates that there is no immediate problem with Regitzes answer, and that Regitze cannot be held accountable for the small departure in their conversation. Fie merely wishes to get confirmed which Sunday Regitze is referring to. Thus, altså becomes a linguistic tool which can be used to justify a departure from the course of a conversation without “blaming” anyone for it.

Apart from being used at the beginning of repair-utterances which call for a clarification, altså is also used at the beginning of a self-repair sequence; in different types of questions; answers to questions, and in some cases also before longer narratives which perform an unexpected action in that moment.


Sources and further reading

Heinemann & Steensig (2018) describes altså and its functions in the opening of a turn-at-talk.

Steensig & Heinemann (2013) describes a certain type of answer to yes/no-questions.


Relevant entries

Forms > Word classes > Interjections and particles

Functions > Actions > Questions and answers > Other-initiation of repair

Functions > Actions > Questions and answers > Reqest for information

Functions > Actions > Questions and answers > Request for confirmation

Functions > Actions > Other actions > Storytelling

Interjektioner og partikler, Register, Anmodning om bekræftelse, Anmodning om information, Historiefortælling