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There is an Irish English structural usage of the word so, that is I think unique to Ireland.

Are we going to the cinema, so?
Where is the dog, so?

The word so is unneeded and seems to mean 'then'. My wife, who is Scottish, used to want to wait for the rest of the sentence but it never came!

Is there a name for this structure?

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3  
As Father Jack Hackett would say, "Drink!" –  shinyspoongod Jun 20 '12 at 0:08
1  
You've got that right, innit. –  MετάEd Jun 22 '12 at 23:11

5 Answers 5

up vote 26 down vote accepted

This is a special form of tag question. Tag questions are typically (but not exclusively; see below) used to convert a declarative statement into an interrogative one. For example:

  • You’re done with supper now, aren’t you?
  • You’ve got something for me, eh?
  • That’s all you have, right?

Similar formulaic tag questions are easily found in other languages, like nicht wahr? in German, n’est-ce pas? in French, and ¿verdad? in Spanish.

Sometimes tag questions are used in a way that isn’t actually switching to asking a question, but rather are discourse particles inserted when one person is speaking to another. This includes tag questions and other little things like you see, you know, like, or even doncha know. This is often done to try to connect to the listener, perhaps inviting them to nod to show that they’re still following.

  • I went down to the corner to pick up a pack of cigs, right, but found I’d left my billfold at home.
  • We get up way early to milk the cows, doncha know, and it’s just too hard to watch the Late Show.

Sometimes tag question get used not to convert declaratives into interrogatives, but more as an emphatic particle:

  • Are you ready to go, eh?
  • Where’s the dog, eh?

The Irish “..., so?” seems more like those.

In Scots English, they’ll use ..., oh aye? at the end of a question to indicate that they strongly believe something they’re asking, or that they’re really expecting a positive answer, like

  • Do you agree, oh aye?

In which the speaker is meaning

  • You do agree, don’t you?

The Irish colloquial use of “..., so?” seems to be the same sort of thing. It’s actually a tag question used for one or another sort of emphasis, perhaps indicating eagerness, perhaps indicating an expectation of an affirmative response.

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A great answer. Shame I can't say with certainty whether it's true or not but it seems quite probable. +1 for excellent info and presentation, at the very least. –  Karl Jun 24 '12 at 7:58
    
I've never heard the "oh aye" in my 30+ years in Scotland. I've heard "but", "like" and "eh", not necessarily on the end of questions though. –  donothingsuccessfully Jun 24 '12 at 12:35
    
It's not a question tag, because we'll also use it in statements, "I'll comment with my objection to the answer, so". –  Jon Hanna Feb 3 at 23:52
    
@JonHannaI know whatcha mean but I don’t know to call it, eh. –  tchrist Feb 4 at 1:21

It sounds like the Irish are using "so" much the like Canadians use "eh," so?

Assuming that's correct, I did a little research, and found three possible terms:

  • interjection
  • politeness marker
  • articulated question mark

These all came from an entry in the Urban Dictionary:

eh - An interjection popular in Canadian speech. According to linguists, a "politeness marker."

Adding "eh" to a sentence can indicate the speaker's willingness to accept dissent or to invite further discussion. Has been referred to as an "articulated question mark."

The interpretation of "eh" as carrying meaning beyond other routine interjections (huh?) is supposed to be uniquely Canadian. "Ascertaining the comprehension, continued interest, agreement, etc., of the person or persons addressed" is how the Canadian Oxford Dictionary puts it.

  • "Let's do something, eh?" -- where 'eh' is 'do you agree?'
  • "We could get a pizza, eh?" -- where 'eh' is 'if you would like to'
  • "It's after last call, eh?" -- where 'eh' is 'were you aware'

This was an interesting passage, but, due to the source, I wanted to confirm the terms politeness marker and articulated question mark.

Several scholarly books and papers use the term politeness marker to refer to language intended to make a statement or question sound more polite. Politeness markers can be as simple as the addition of a single word (such as "please"), or they can involve a more complete rephrasing (e.g., changing "Go cut the lawn" to "Would you please mow the lawn?").

However, the term articulated question mark – although it sounds very straightforward – was harder to verify as a bona fide term. The Ngram was a flatline, there were only 5 matches found in Google Books, and even the Google everything search only turned up very few hits (the top one being the Urban Dictionary's entry for eh).

In short, I suppose you could call it an interjection used as a politeness marker – assuming it's meant to be cordial when it's used.

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it's certainly not uniquely Canadian to have a marker like that. A South African officemate of mine used "hey" in exactly the same way. And you could argue for "innit" serving a similar purpose. –  Kate Gregory Mar 24 '12 at 18:17
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Actually, in French, depending on the region (of France or anywhere else), it's also quite common tu use the equivalents of 'so' donc, 'then' alors, or 'eh' hein in the same way, ie. at the end of the sentences, making them mid-finished but still mid-opened for a continuation ... I wouldn't say it's politeness marker, in any case, and I think the phenomenon is very specific to spoken, even colloquial language, so maybe NGrams won't help a lot here –  cedbeu Jun 21 '12 at 9:46
    
It’s not just Canadians, eh. –  tchrist Feb 4 at 1:21

Are we going to the cinema, so?

means the same thing as

So are we going to the cinema then?

The word is needed (adds meaning) and it's just an adverb. Also, it's not special to questions; the answer might equally be

We'll go to the cinema, so.

The only colloquial thing is the word order.

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It is, as tchrist states, a question tag.They are described as either 'variant tags', where the tag's form changes to match the subject of the sentence ("he's crazy, isn't he?", "they did it, didn't they?"). This is the most common way to construct a question tag in 'standard' English. Or as invariant tags, which means its form does not change to match the subject or the sentence, like 'so'. Other common invariant tags are: 'innit?', 'you know?', 'eh?' and 'like' -which is a more common Irish form than 'so', from my experience.

Invariant tags are 'all purpose tags' and common features of second language learners, who often use these forms as they may match the tags in their first language. So, 'isn't it' may be applied universally, in order to bypass the need to learn the variant forms in 'standard' English -call it an expedient or efficient communication strategy.

Question tags in other languages often are invariant, e.g. 'oder' in German, 'n'est-ce pas?' in French (as in tchrist's post above). Indian English has an invariant tag 'isn't it?' and this is also a feature of some Welsh speakers (although I could be thinking of this Pot Noodle advert with welsh voice over http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrNuT9sn0Gc -and it can't be viewed as invariant in this case.

They may appear as unnecessary ('unneeded') and in some senses they are. Linguists would term the OP's 'so' as a discourse marker and of little practical meaning, syntax independent and making no change to the meaning of the main sentence.

However, tags can express a 'commenting or questioning function' (McArthur 1992) or as 'phatic communion' -a device in language to demonstrate feelings or sociability -'social oil' in the art of conversation to facilitate inclusion and intimacy. In female speech their use is characterised as a help in the co-construction of dialogue (Cameron D, 2001 Working With Spoken Discourse). On this theme, Tannen (1990) claims that female subculture uses language to build equal relationships, while male subculture uses language to build hierarchical relationships. Tag questions are a observed feature of female spoken discourse (see Lackoff ,1975, as well).

If anyone is interested there is a tonne (metric) of research available investigating question tags from many angles. Google search and an Athens account will yield many papers and articles comparing use, meaning and significance.

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It is used instead of then.

e.g.

John: "I am thirsty." Mary: "I'll pour you a drink so."

The "so" part of Mary's sentence says that Mary is going to pour John a drink because he is thirsty.

Another way of writing Mary's sentence would be "Because you are thirsty, I'll pour you a drink". But that just sounds silly :)

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+1. The original question only asked about use in questions, which led answerers to think it was a question tag, but as you point out, in Hiberno-English there's a sense of so that matches the sense of then meaning "in that case; in those circumstances; if that be (or were) the fact; if so; when that happens". –  Jon Hanna Feb 3 at 23:54

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