So does it annoy you when people start sentences with 'so'?

It seems like everyone is doing it. So... we asked a linguistics expert where this usage of the word 'so' fits into the English language.

Is 'so' the new u'um'?

John Maytham receives numerous emails and messages from listeners saying that it annoys them when people answer questions beginning their sentence with 'so'.

He asked Prof. Mark de Vos Associate Professor at RU Linguistics Department about this usage in the English language.

de Vos says the earliest usage of 'so' stretches at least as far back as Old English and has been used by the likes of Chaucer and Shakespeare.

There are 40 different definitions of the word 'so in the Oxford dictionary, and I saw that number 10b is actually the 'so' that we are talking about, where we use the word 'so' to introduce a topic, or a topic change.

Prof. Mark de Vos Associate Professor at RU Linguistics Department

'So, what are you doing on Friday night?' is an example of this and de Vos says in linguistics it can be used as a discourse marker, and it's function is phatic. Phatic communication means making communication channels clearer.

I have a feeling it may be linked to a phenomenon which begins sentences with 'and' or 'but'...and it may have reinvigorated this usage of 'so'.

Prof. Mark de Vos Associate Professor at RU Linguistics Department

Periods like the 1960s and 70s saw a progressive loosening up of control over those who would control the language.

Now with Facebook and Whatsapp, there are even more changes. New usages of languages are coming to the fore because of social media which is so prevalent in our society.

Listen to the entire conversation below:


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