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The German Discourse Marker na and its Collocations


The German discourse marker na has mostly been neglected by particle researchers thus far. In German colloquial speech, it is frequently used, both as a stand-alone turn-initial marker ("Na, wenn du meinst" "Na, if you think so") and as part of several collocations such as na gut, na also, na dann, and na los. This dissertation uses a Conversation Analytic approach to find the function(s) and meaning(s) of the marker. We find that even though well is frequently provided as a translation for na, the two words do not share many functions.

Na-prefacing is used to qualify a statement and to return to a topic after going off on a tangent. Na can precede terms of endearment and conversation openers, and it precedes questions to make them sound more casual. Many of those na-prefaced turns are sequential departures where na alerts the hearer that something unexpected is coming. The collocations with na mostly have sequence management functions (sequential departure, sequence closure, topic shift).

Overall, na is a shift marker: It indicates that some kind of shift is coming up (a shift towards a new topic, a departure from the agenda of the conversation, etc.). The second component of the na-collocations allows for contextual fine-tuning, specifying the shift, and leading to a wider scope than the shifts indicated by a stand-alone na.

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