Gendered discourse in German chatroom conversations: the use of modal particles by young adults
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This dissertation investigates how German young adults use modal particles (MPs) when communicating in online chat forums. Simply stated, MPs help to clarify a speaker’s intent and mood, without having any syntactical function or adding specific semantic content. For many years, MPs were ignored, described as useless fill-words, or even regarded as "Lice in the fur of our language." (Reiners, 1967). During the last three decades though, their usefulness and importance has been recognized. It has long been established that the correct use of MPs in German causes spoken discourse to sound more fluent and warm, while spoken German without the use of MPs appears wooden and cold. Although various areas of MP research have been explored, the use of MPs by young adults has not yet received much attention. In order to provide a first account of how MPs are used by young adults in informal settings, online conversations (chats) were analyzed to determine the frequency of their MP use. Additionally, this research investigates whether gender differences for MP use in young adults exist, and relates the results within the framework of current research in the areas of pragmatics and gender specific language. The analyzed online conversations were collected from the German chat forum ‘meet-teens.de.’ Approx. 2,000 words of chat data, each from 15 male and 15 female young adult users aged between 16 and 21 were collected. The data consists of conversations between five male-male pairs, five female-female pairs, and five male-female pairs. The analyses of the data found that the female participants in this research used significantly more MPs than their male counterparts. Furthermore, the MPs ‘bloß’, ‘halt’, and ‘mal’ were used significantly more frequently by male participants, while the MPs ‘denn’, ‘eben’, and ‘wohl’ were significantly more frequently used by female participants. The analyses also found that female young adults speaking to other females used the MPs ‘denn’, ‘halt’, and ‘mal’ significantly more often than when speaking to their male counterparts, while male young adults, with the exception of the MP ‘bloß’, did not change their use of MPs depending on the gender of their conversational partner.