It is an agreed upon fact that language is mainly used to fulfil two basic functions: the first is the transactional function which is related to the communication of information and the other is the interactional function which is concerned with establishing and maintaining social relations between the members of a speech community (Brown and Yule 1983: 1). This latter function, which is also called the phatic communion, is of great importance since it is responsible for harmonizing people’s life.
Trudgill (1974: 1) states that when two English people who have never met before come face to face in, say, a train, they find it awkward not to speak to each other! Therefore, one of them will take the initiative and start a conversation about some general topic, typically the weather.
In this regard, there are particular expressions that are usually used by native speakers of English to start the conversation like: )1( What a lovely day, isn’t it ? )2( What awful weather we’re having today ! Such expressions, in addition to those that are related to other subjects, can be used to start a conversation, 2 respond to others, or to indicate a shift in topic.
Expressions like these are in general called gambits 1 . House (2010: 569) describes gambits as discourse markers or elements that can occur in “turn-initial”, “turn-internal” or “turn-final” position and which can be viewed as the different ways of telling what the speaker is saying and who is listening to them. For example, when giving an opinion, a speaker may initiate the speech by: )3( In my opinion … or in telling bad news by )4( I’m afraid I have some bad news …
Such gambits are found in all languages, though realized differently in different cultures. For example, it is well known that English people start a conversation with strangers by talking about weather (as mentioned above) while Arabs in similar situations usually start by the formal Islamic greeting then asking about health. It is because of this fact of culture-specificity of gambits that learners of a foreign language will not attain a native-like level unless they use these expressions naturally enough (web source 1. ( 2 . WHAT IS GAMBIT?
1 Nattinger and DeCarrico (1992) call such phrases “lexical phrases” stating that linguists have labeled them differently: they mention, for example, idioms (Fraser 1970), holophrases (Corder 1973), praxons (Bateson, 1975), preassembled speech (Bolinger, 1975), conventionalized forms (Yorio, 1980), and composites (Cowie 1988. ( 3 Etymologically, the word gambit goes back to ancient Italian word gambetto (meaning tripping).
It is this word which the Spanish priest Ruy Lopez de Segura applied to chess openings in (1561) taking it from the Italian expression dare il gambetto (meaning: to put a leg forward in order to trip someone). Priest Segura gave that Italian word its Spanish spelling form gambito which later led to French gambit appearing finally in English in that same form of spelling.
The broader sense of “opening move meant to gain advantage” was first recorded in English in (1855) (Web source 2). Although he agrees that gambit came in this form to English from French, Parridge (1966: 470) believes that the French gambit is taken from Late Latin cambi (meaning exchange) and not from Spanish. Dufon, (1995: 27), in this regard, reports that gambit was first used as a linguistic term by Keller and Warner (1976) in an analogy with the way it was used in chess. From then on, gambit has been used in linguistics to refer to expressions that are used to start a conversation.
Gambits, consequently, are formulaic expressions whose main function is not to convey information of any sort but rather to start a conversation. Later, the coverage of the term was expanded to refer to expressions having the same function but are found in the middle and/or at the end of conversations. Keller and Warner (1976: 27) state that, like other formulaic expressions, gambits are either completely fixed 4 (e. g. by the way), relatively fixed (e. g. a ….. ago ex. a day ago; a year ago; a long time ago; etc. ), or highly flexible frames allowing considerable variation (e. g. I’m (really)(very) sorry to hear that .. … .
(Generally, however, gambits are fixed phrases that represent conversational routines which provide ways to accomplish a range of conversational purposes (Thornbury and slade, 2007: 70). This means that they can be used to realize different (pragmatic) functions such as showing relevance (the cooperative principle), expressing uncertainty (hedging) achieving mitigation (politeness), etc.
3 . THE FUNCTION OF GAMBITS Danesi (2004: 123) asserts that the main function of gambits is to keep the conversation flowing smoothly with minimal effort. As a consequence, a gambit is that word or phrase used to open a conversation, to keep it going, to make it smooth, to repair any anomaly within it, and thus to maximize its economy. The following are examples of common English gambits: )5 (Uhhuh… yeah… hmm… aha … )6 (You agree with me, don’t you ? )7( May I ask you a question ?)
8 (He arrived Monday; sorry, I meant Tuesday . 5 The grunt-like expressions uttered in (5) are part of a strategy for acknowledging that one is listening to an interlocutor, especially on the phone. Total silence is not an appropriate gambit in English, although it may be in other languages. The gambit in (6) is called a tag question it is a questioning strategy that is designed to seek approval, agreement, consent, not an answer. Utterance (7) is an opening gambit for starting, taking a turn, or entering into a conversation. In English, expressions such as May I? Sorry, but could you tell me.. . ?
Excuse me? are all opening gambits. Utterance (8) is a gambit known as a repair. When there is a minor breakdown in a conversation, or something is not explained properly, then repairs allow the speaker to solve the problem. Yorio (1980: 437) consider gambits as those expressions that carry little meaning: they only introduce, link, or respond to a topic not express it. Their primary role is, thus, strategic not propositional since they act as a guide to the hearer through the discourse by semantically framing propositional information by means of marking discourse boundaries.
If, however, they are not used, speakers will appear too direct, abrupt, and even rude (Dufon, 1995: 27. ( For instance, instead of asking How much is this? it is more tactful to say something like: )9( Could you tell me how much this is please ? 6 or to sound like an English speaker do not just say I’m getting married. but introduce this statement with something like: )10( Are you sitting? You won’t believe this but .. … I’M GETTING MARRIED !
As such, gambits in language represent discoursal chunks of speech which are normally employed to organize the conversation and keep it going smoothly and unambiguously (Danesi, 2004: 123. ( In the same vein, Nattinger and DeCarrico, (1992: 64) explain that it has long been recognized that certain words and phrases function as formal links indicating a relationship between one section of a text and another: on the other hand; for this reason; for instance; for example.
There is now an increasing awareness of the role these words and phrases play in structuring even seemingly unstructured spoken discourse such as spontaneous conversation. Additionally, Nattinger and DeCarrico (ibid) point out that, although they are typical of written language, many gambits seem more usual of everyday conversation like: if you see what I mean; as far as I know; etc.
Tackling the same point, House (2010: 562) points out that in certain cases gambits are used for the sake of politeness. For example, a speaker might employ a tentative gambit like )11( Sorry, but I think you might want to keep an eye on that puppy. 7 Here, instead of using the direct ‘rude’ imperative (Watch your dog! ) the employment of the gambit Sorry, but I think you might want to… to mitigate the utterance serves a politeness function.
4 . TYPES OF GAMBITS Keller and Warner (1988: 4) states that the best way to make a conversation sound natural is by utilizing gambits which can be either words or phrases that help speakers to express what they are trying to say. Gambits are, thus, used to introduce a topic of a conversation, link what has already been said to what is going to said, agree or disagree, respond to what is expressed, etc. Yorio (1980: 437) mentions two major types of gambits: conversational gambits and organizational gambits. The former are used as strategies for conversational interactions. They are of many subtypes: a(Opening gambits: Pardon me, I think that, speaking of, surprise! guess what, etc;
b(Closing gambits: I’ve got to go now, I won’t take any more of your time, etc;. Organizational Gambits, on the other hand, are formulaic strategies that create or organize activities in a conversation: for example: let’s call it day; take five; we’ll now take questions from the floor; etc. Other organizational gambits include: i. game gambits: I pass, my turn, ready, set, go, etc; 8 ii. Text gambits (formulas that organize written or oral texts):
First of all, to summarize, finally, not only . . . but also, etc Keller and Warner (1988) describes a number of activities for second language learners that attempt to systematically deal with turn taking, topic nomination, closings, openings, and a few other categories of conversational interaction. In all the activities which he mentions, students have to use certain gambits which he classifies under three headings: opening, linking, and responding gambits.
4. 1 . Opening gambits From the title they carry, opening gambits are used to help the speaker to open a conversation and introduce ideas, thought, news, etc. into it. Accordingly, they are more related to the content of the conversation and this is why Yorio (1980: 437) calls them conversational gambits.
Usually, how to start something is quite difficult, and language is no exception. Starting with the right words is very important for a natural and “friendly” conversation since the wrong choice of words may lead to misunderstanding or, worse, an offence to hearers. Not to mention that most sources of misunderstanding are not due to what is said but how it is said (Krashen and Scarcella, 1978: 284 .
( 9 Litosseliti and Sunderland (2002: 80) cite a situation that sheds light on the importance of using an appropriate gambit: a famous poet found himself in conversation with a professor who starts the conversation with a gambit which suggests that he has never heard of him before. The poet responded very aggressively and impolitely because of the unfortunate gambit used by the professor (whether intentionally or not. ( It is for this reason that usually people pay special attention to how they start.
In other words, people habitually resort to using suitable gambits because they have social stable meanings and fixed discourse functions, the matter which lessens the likelihood of misunderstanding or offence. Yorio (1980: 437) mentions that there are many ways of starting a conversation, and most of them are fairly ritualized as, for example, in different sequences of greetings and introductions (e. g. How are you? / Fine thanks. And you? ).
Other ways of initiating a chat include questions (Excuse me, do you know . . ? ), comments on something present (That’s a nice little dog …. ) or on the weather (At last some sunshine! ), general complaints (The traffic in this city is simply incredible . . . ), social lines (Great party, isn’t it? ), etc.
Students often don’t know that they can turn a factual exchange (like buying something in a shop) into an informal conversation quite naturally by using some of these openings. 10 Keller and Warner (1988: 7- 34) list twenty-four activities, each with a number of gambits that English people regularly use, asking students to choose the right opening gambit in each situation mentioned.
Below are some of these activities and examples of the opening gambits used: a(Asking for information: Could you tell me … Do you happen to know … b(Breaking in: Excuse me for interrupting, but … May I interrupt you for a moment? Please .… c(Getting information on the phone: I was wondering if you could tell me … I’m calling to find out … d(A surprising fact: I’ve got news for you .… ! You may not believe it but .… e(Changing the subject: Oh, before I forget … That reminds me of …
f(A conviction I strongly believe that … I’m absolutely certain that … g(Personal opinion Not everyone will agree with me, but … I personally believe … h( Offering a suggestion Perhaps you could … Have you thought about … 11 4 . 2 . Linking gambits Keller and Warner (1988: 35) liken the speaker to the football player who runs in a certain direction but he would inevitably change that direction to maneuver or to pass the ball to another player. Likewise, in normal conversations, the speaker can only talk about the same topic for a short time after which he would either change the subject or give the floor to another speaker.
Linking gambits are used to prepare the hearers of the speaker’s views and arguments. They give indications whether someone agrees with others or not. Also, they make the speaker more easily understood. Keller and Warner (ibid: 36- 59) list twenty-two activities asking students to choose the right linking gambit in each situation mentioned. Below are some of these activities and examples of the linking gambits used: a(Emphasizing a point: But the real question is… This raises the problem of b(Adding things Perhaps I should mention… And another thing… , c(Giving reasons Not to mention the fact that… Not only that but…
d(Correcting oneself Let me put it another way… , What I’m trying to say is… e(Popular misconceptions You’ve probably heard that… 12 The truth of the matter is… f(Saying ‘no’ tactfully I don’t particularly like… I’d rather not… g(Demanding explanations Can you explain why… I don’t understand why… h(Illustrating a point To give you an idea… By way of illustration… i(Finishing a story To cut a long story short To put the whole thing in a nutshell…
4 . 3 . RESPONDING GAMBITS The way interlocutors respond to each other in conversations involves a number of important issues. In addition to the issues of informativity and politeness, it determines how the conversation develops and proceeds. This means that successful conversations depend partly on how we respond to what other people say (Keller and Warner, 1988: 61.
( The use of appropriate gambits is very helpful. For instance, if someone strongly disagrees with his interlocutor, he can respond by saying first: You must be joking ! Such a response would surely attenuate the face-threat inherent in expressing disagreement; besides, it lessens the impact of This time, Keller and Warner (ibid: 62- 85) list fifteen situations which require a response of some sort asking 13 students to choose the right responding gambit in each situation mentioned.
Below are some of these activities and examples of the responding gambits used: a(Right or wrong? You are right! No, I’m afraid not. b(Being sympathetic I’m really sorry to hear that. What a pity! c(Not catching a word Sorry, I couldn’t catch the last part. Would you mind repeating that? d(Accepting a compliment That’s very kind of you! Do you really think that? e(Can’t provide help I’m afraid I don’t know! It’s no good, I can’t remember!
5 . VARIABILITY AND FLEXIBILITY OF GAMBITS Gambits belong to a continuum: at one end they are fixed such as by the way, have a nice day! , etc. , which are not subject to alterations. Others, however, allow some degree of modification which may be syntactic or lexical. Sometimes the possible degree of syntactic modification is highly variable. For example, not only…. but also, and as well as are extremely flexible. Similarly, variation of lexical content within a syntactic structure is also a matter of degree.
For instance, a phrase like a _____ ago accepts variations such as a day ago, a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, and so on. But in this case variations are constrained in the sense that only nouns or noun phrases 14 may fill the slot. Other categories such as adjectives or adverbs are not possible (Web source 3. (It is evident that gambits enjoy different degrees of variability and flexibility.
To maximize the raw material these phrases offer for language development, teachers need to consider factors such as productivity, not only frequency of occurrence in concordance data, when selecting phrases. Focusing on fixed nonproductive phrases may have a hindering effect in the sense that there is no scope for expanding the frames as a way of enhancing learning. By contrast, more general, less fixed, more productive gambits allow different degrees of analyzability and act as a catalyst to encourage the acquisition of new phrases (ibid. ( 6 . Conclusions Having surveyed the available literature on gambits, the study arrives at the following conclusions:
1. Gambits are formulaic expressions that represent a highly significant prerequisite of successful and smooth communication. 15 2. At the beginning, the term gambit is linguistically employed to refer to phrases of fixed meaning used to start a conversation then it is extended in its scope to include similar expressions used medially and finally in conversations. 3. The major role gambits play is social in that they enhance and promote interpersonal relations between the members of a certain speech community.
4. Another important role gambits play is organizing discourse (whether written or spoken) especially by means of the linking gambits, in addition to the role played by the opening and responding gambits. 5. Gambits are universal (i. e. found in all languages) yet the way they are realized is culture-specific. 6. Gambits vary in their flexibility: some are frozen (fixed), others allow some syntactic or semantic variability. 7. Gambits are of different types and they can be classified according to position (opening, linking, and closing) or function (conversational and organizational .
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