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Deborah Sue Schiffrin (May 30, 1951 – July 20, 2017)[1] was an American linguist who researched areas of discourse analysis and sociolinguistics, producing seminal work on the topic of English discourse markers.[2][3][4]

Born and raised in Philadelphia,[5] she earned a B.A. in sociology from Temple University (1972),[6] an MA in sociology also from Temple University (1975),[7] and her PhD in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania (1982) under the supervision of William Labov.[8] Schiffrin taught at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and at the University of California in Berkeley California.[9]

Throughout her career, Schiffrin wrote four books, edited five books, published over 51 articles and book chapters,[9] and supervised 44 successful Ph.D. dissertations, plus acted as a reader on 35 more.[10] She served on the faculty at Georgetown University from 1982 to 2013 teaching sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, and pragmatics, serving as chair of the department from 2003 to 2009.[6] As department chair, Schiffrin designed the department's Masters in Language and Communication program.[6]

Schiffrin served on the editorial board of academic journals including Language in Society, Journal of Pragmatics, Language and Communication, Discourse Processes, Pragmatics, Discourse Studies, and Storyworlds,[11] as well as the John Benjamins Publishing Company's academic book series Pragmatics and Beyond New Series.[12]

From personal words spoken with Alexandra Johnston, Schiffrin stated that the three main influential people of her academic career were, Noam Chomsky, William Labov, and Erving Goffman.[9] Thus, her areas of interest included sociolinguistics, pragmatics, discourse analysis, language interaction, narrative analysis, grammar in interaction, language and identity, and discourse and history.[9] Her expertise however lay within discourse markers.[9]

Discourse markers

Schiffrin's main area of study was discourse markers.[9] She looked at several different characteristics of discourse markers including: syntactic position, grammatical, stress, phonological reduction, and tone.[13] She conducted her analysis by interviewing primarily Jewish Americans in Philadelphia about their lives.[9] Her interview methods consisted of oral narratives produced by the participants,[9] (for more detail on Shiffrin's work with narrative analysis see the following section below).

Narrative analysis and discourse analysis

Schiffrin contributed to the understanding of both narrative analysis and discourse analysis by analyzing oral narratives produced by various Jewish Americans living in the Philadelphia area.[9] These oral narratives consisted of naturally occurring stories in everyday interactions, life stories, and oral histories.[9] She analyzed these different types of oral narratives for features of argument, sociolinguistic construction of identity, the retelling (how a single story is retold for different situations and/or purposes), how grammar serves communication, and change over time (how the story is retold over time and/if features of the story are changed).[9]

In the 1990s Schiffrin and a team received a grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate the different ways that people indicate what they are communicating, in which Schiffrin served as lead investigator.[9] From this investigative work Schiffrin developed and published her book Approaches to Discourse in 1994.

Approaches to Discourse (1994)

Approaches to Discourse (1994) exemplifies how discourse analysis uses methods from other disciplines, besides just linguistics, including anthropology, sociology, and philosophy.[9] The book compares and contrasts several different approaches of linguistic analysis in relation to discourse including: speech theory, pragmatics, conversation analysis, ethnography, interactional sociolinguistics, and variation analysis.[9] Within each approach described, Schiffrin includes her own analysis of the narratives used above in order to illustrate the similarities and differences of the various approaches.[9]


Dr. Schiffrin died on July 20, 2017, aged 66. At the time of her death, she was living in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.[9] She was survived by her husband, Dr. Louis Scavo, and their children, David and Laura Scavo, of Bethesda, Maryland.[14]

Speeches and addresses

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Publications (selected)


  1. ^ "Deborah Sue Schiffrin: View Obituary".
  2. ^ Simone Müller, 2005. Discourse Markers in Native and Non-native English Discourse. John Benjamins. p. 29.
  3. ^ Claudia Marcela Chapetón Castro. “The Use and Functions of Discourse Markers in EFL Classroom Interaction” [Los usos y las funciones de los marcadores del discurso en la interacción en el aula de inglés como lengua extranjera] Profile, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp. 57–77 (2009).
  4. ^ Lieven Buysse, 2010. Discourse Markers in the English of Flemish University Students. In, Witzcak-Plisiecka, Iwona (Ed.), Pragmatic Perspectives on Language and Linguistics, Vol. 1: Speech Actions in Theory and Applied Studies. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, p. 461.
  5. ^ Alexandra Johnston, "Deborah Schiffrin", The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics, November 5, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c "In Memoriam: Deborah Schiffrin". Linguistic Society of America. Georgetown University Linguistics Department. July 21, 2017.
  7. ^ "Background". Retrieved 2017-12-07.
  8. ^ Deborah, Schiffrin (July 30, 1982). "Discourse Markers: Semantic Resource for the Construction of Conversation". 1–484. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Johnston, Alexandra (2001). "Schiffrin,Deborah (1951–)". The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics: 5059–5062.
  10. ^ "Deborah Schiffrin CV". Retrieved 2017-07-30.
  11. ^ Fabula, Équipe de recherche. "Storyworlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies". Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  12. ^ "The Dynmaics of Language Use" (PDF). Retrieved 2017-07-30.
  13. ^ Muller, Simone (2005). Jucker, Andreas (ed.). Discourse Markers in Native and Non-native English Discourse. Vol. 138. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 4–5. ISBN 978-9027253811.
  14. ^ "In Memoriam: Deborah Schiffrin". Linguistic Society of America. July 21, 2017. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  15. ^ Schiffrin, Deborah (1988). Discourse Markers. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521357180. Retrieved 30 July 2017 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ "Change of Subject: I mean to say..." Retrieved 30 July 2017.