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Hva hedder det as a change-of-topic marker 

The expression hva hedder det ’what is it called’ (and variations thereof such as hva det hedder ’what it’s called’, and hva er det det hedder ’what is it it’s called’) seem to have three main functions: word search, topic change, and to signal reservation due to reflection. This entry is about its function as a change-of-topic marker. 

When hva hedder det is used to change the topic in an ongoing conversation, it is the first thing the person utters, occurring in the so-called pre-beginning position. The change-of-topic marker thus occurs right before the actual content of the turn-at-talk. It can stand alone or along with, e.g., hesitation markers and/or inhalations and exhalations as in the example below from a telephone conversation: 

AULing | trappen | L215 ((telefon)) 

01   BO:    >bliver vi hentet< i bus ⁎ø:h⁎ i nyborg↘ 
            ‘we are being picked up by bus in uhm Nyborg’

02          (1.0)

03   MOR:   ↑nå→ 

04          (0.2) 

05   MOR:   ↑okay↘ 

06          (0.3) 

07   MOR:   ↑yes yes↘ 
            ‘yes yes’ 

08          (0.4) 

09   BO:    ∙hhh m hva  hedder        det  
                   what be.called-PRS it.N 

10          vi kommer   lige forbi her
            we come-PRS just over here  
            ‘hhh m what’s it called we are going to stop by here’ 

11         en gang i eftermiddag→ 
           ‘sometime this afternoon’ 

12   MOR:   ↑ja 

BO and MOR have been talking about their plans for the following day, and they end this topic in lines 1-7. Then, in line 8, there is a 0,4 seconds long pause after which BO inhales, utters the hesitation marker m and then hva hedder det changing the topic to something which is supposed to happen the same day as the telephone call. 

Although the word order of hva hedder det is interrogative, we can see in the example that it is not used as a question requesting information from the other speaker. The statement vi kommer lige forbi her en gang i eftermiddag (’we’re going to stop by here sometime this afternoon’) is new information provided by BO directed at MOR, who in turn says ja (‘yes’) to signal that she has received the information. In this case, hva hedder det functions exclusively as a change-of-topic marker. 

Sources and further readings

Clausen and Pedersen (2017) is a thorough review of hva hedder det

Relevant entries

Forms > Clauses and sentences > Main clauses and subcclauses

Forms > Clauses and sentences > Sentence diagrams 

Functions > Actions > Opening and closing of actions > Change of activity

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