LINGUIST List 13.1645

Tue Jun 11 2002

Review: Discourse Analysis: Selting & Couper-Kuhlen

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  1. Niladri Sekhar Dash, Selting & Couper-Kuhlen (2001) Studies in Interactional Linguistics

Message 1: Selting & Couper-Kuhlen (2001) Studies in Interactional Linguistics

Date: Tue, 11 Jun 2002 01:39:25 +0000
From: Niladri Sekhar Dash <>
Subject: Selting & Couper-Kuhlen (2001) Studies in Interactional Linguistics

Selting, Margaret, and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, ed. (2001)
Studies in Interactional Linguistics.
John Benjamins Publishing Company, viii+438pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-097-4,
USD 109.00 or EUR 120.00, Studies in Discourse and Grammar 10.

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Niladri Sekhar Dash, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India


Interactional Linguistics (IL), a field of discourse analysis, has
been an area of considerable research and experiment for more than
three decades now. In due course we have come across a few good
volumes in this area in recent past, including Sudnow (1972), Goodwin
(1981), Levinson (1983), Fox (1987), Sacks (1992), Weber (1993) Ford
(1993), Couper-Kuhlen and Selting (1996), Ochs, Schegloff and Thompson
(1996). With the publication of this anthology it seems that the field
is gradually crystallizing around some systematic themes which are all
proportionately represented in the volume. After a brief "Foreword" by
Sandra A. Thompson we are presented with a good introduction by the
editors of the volume that gives us a brief history on the birth,
growth and identity of IL, its relevance with general linguistics, and
the value of cross-linguistic study in IL. It ends with brief
reference to the papers included in the volume.

The volume is divided into 2 sections. In Section I (Language
structure in interaction) the interface between language and
interaction is estimated from the angle of language structure. Some
papers show how a single structure can serve for both turn and
sequence construction, exhibiting a swing-song between planned and
occasioned syntax which have important role in language
development. Other papers show how some functional lexical units can
serve as resources for conducting linguistic interaction, and how they
depend on turn position and sequential context for exhibiting their
semantic variety.

In "Noun phrases and clauses as a syntactic resource for interaction"
(Pp. 25-50), Marja-Liisa Helasvuo examines the clause and the noun
phrase in Finnish and English to show how they are used as resources
for interaction. Both in Finnish and English the oblique arguments are
found in intonation units separated from clause cores. Her findings
are close to the observations of Fox and Jesperson's (1995) on the
lack of relevance of the verb phrase for conversational self-repair.

In "At the intersection of turn and sequence" (Pp. 51-79), Cecilia
E. Ford examines the occurrence of negative markers in
turn-constructional units (TCU) in English conversation. Here, she
finds a kind of rhetorical combination where units with negative
markers are usually backed up by a following unit which works for
elaborating the negation. Such TCUs usually do their own pragmatic
projection but they are not complete until the elaborating unit is

In "The implementation of possible cognitive shifts in Japanese
conversation" (Pp. 81-109), Hiroko Tanaka shows how the Japanese
complementizer 'to' is developed at the intersection of turn and
sequence construction in conversational interaction. It usually
appears after a stretch of talk and is used to re-shape a part of
prior talk by turning it into the direct object of an upcoming
verb. Thus development of 'to' in Japanese conversation makes it
possible to accomplish a type of action-repair without restoring to
grammatical repair.

In "On causal clause combining: the case of 'weil' in spoken German"
(Pp. 111-139), Hannes Scheutz studies the use of the German
subordinating conjunction 'weil' in a large corpus of spoken everyday
conversation. He verifies earlier observations on the form-function
correlation between verb position and type of causality, and finds
little support in his data. Scheutz finds that it is the degree of
syntactic integration that determines the type (positional or
epistemic) of causality.

In "Dutch 'but' as a sequential conjunction: its use as a resumption
marker" (Pp. 141-169), Harrie Mazeland and Mike Huiskes address the
meaning of the Dutch conjunction 'maar' "but" in sequential
conjunction that links turns at talk. They argue that 'maar' is used
as a device for resuming a topic which is temporarily abandoned in
favor of an extended repair sequence or completing a topic. Thus,
'maar' frames the resumptive turn of an abandoned talk as well as
reinstalls a situation from which more talk can ensue. They also show
that the use of 'maar' contributes to repeatedly occurring,
constructionally specific types of utterances.

In "On some uses of the discourse particle 'kyl(la)' in Finnish
conversation" (Pp. 171-198), Auli Hakulinen deals with the Finnish
particle 'kylla', a response item which is typically found to be used
at turn-initial and utterance-initial positions. He observes that
'kylla' is mostly used with a full sentence response to yes-no
questions to display an alignment with the positive alternatives. At
front position of turn it shows alignment in response to offers; it
moves further into the turn if the alignment is less definite; and
shifts to final position in situations of overt or covert

In "Interactional linguistics and language development: a conversation
analytic perspective on emergent syntax" (Pp. 199-225), Juliette
Corin, Clare Tarplee and Bill Wells present a study on the emergence
of grammar in child-adult conversation. They argue that the production
of a first sentence by children depends upon the emergence of turn
organization because the latter serves as an occasion for the
former. They identify several strategies (eye gaze, gestural pointing,
mid or mid-level final pitch, etc.) which children usually deploy to
accomplish their goal. When the syntactic semantic unit construction
is not complete the pitch signal works as a turn-continuation device
that allow them enough interactional space for syntactically complex

In Section II (Interactional order and linguistic practice) various
linguistic interactions (mostly in spoken form) are analyzed from the
point of interactional order on three different types of
conversational task: (i) turn projection turn and turn-unit
completion, (ii) starting up turns with 'non-beginnings', and (iii)

In "Fragments of units as deviant cases of unit production in
conversational talk" (Pp. 229-258), Margret Selting studies the
formation small turns in interaction, turn-constructional units and
their realization by the participants. She examines a few cut-off,
trailed-by-new-unit and incomplete stretches of talk which are the
results of various kinds of unfulfilled projection having syntactic,
prosodic, semantic/pragmatic and sequential nature. While trying to
identify the contribution of each type to projection Selting finds
that inferences about syntactic and prosodic completion are always
made context-sensitively in the light of the semantic/pragmatic and
sequential context.

In "Notes on turn-construction methods in Danish and Turkish
conversation" (Pp. 259-286), Jakob Steensig focuses on relative
contribution of grammatical, prosodic and pragmatic cues to projection
in two typologically unrelated languages: Danish - a verb-second and
inflectional language and Turkish - a verb-final and agglutinating
language. He shows that speakers of both languages use turn projection
but they do have their difference at positions in the
constructions. Similarly, prosody is quite active both in Turkish and
Danish but again with two distinctly separate functions in the turns
of conversations.

In "An exploration of prosody and turn projection in English
conversation" (Pp. 287-315), Barbara Fox studies turn projection with
special reference to pitch peaks in two-peaked English conversational
utterances. Her study includes clauses containing two or more pitch
accents with pitch peaks, one of which is close to the end of the
turn. Various phonetic dimensions (e.g., syllable length, word length,
peak alignment, slope, change in pitch, size of pitch step-up or
step-down, amplitude etc.) are measured systematically in both peaks
to show that syllables with final pitch peaks are longer in duration
than syllables with non-final ones.

In "Postposition-initiated utterances in Japanese conversation: An
interactional account of a grammatical practice" (317-343), Makoto
Hayashi shows that Japanese speakers use a postpositional item in
turn-initial position to link up with a preceding utterance or to
redirect that trajectory of the developing course of action. This is
mostly done to seal off intervention, to pursue a response from a
recipient, to latch talk onto that of a co-participant for the purpose
of modification or correction.

In "Confirming intersubjectivity through retroactive elaboration:
Organization of phrasal units in other-initiated repair sequences in
Korean conversation" (Pp. 345-372), Kyu-hyun Kim deals with the
addition of phrasal units to preceding elliptical utterances following
other-initiation of repair in Korean conversation. The normal Korean
practice is to use elliptical forms in topic-initial position for
making repairs. Their use of phrasal units as repairs points to the
domains of shared knowledge and experience which hints for
continuation of talks between the participants.

In "Some arguments for the relevance of syntax to same-sentence
self-repair in everyday German conversation" (Pp. 373-404) Susanne
Uhmann focuses on self-initiated self-repair in same-sentence in
everyday German conversation. This self-repairing process does not
destroy the syntactic integrity of the sentence. She finds that
repairing is done in a very systematic way which is constrained by the
'functional head' of the sentence. Speakers usually recycle from the
functional head of the phrase that contains the repairable element.

In "Simple answers to polar questions: the case of Finnish"
(Pp. 405-431), Marja-Leena Sorjonen deals with a type answering in
various questioning activities in Finnish. She shows how Finnish
speakers employ a mixed system while giving positive
answers. Different answer types are used to get different types of
interactional work accomplished. For example, finite verb is repeated
in case of affirmation or providing new information; particle 'joo' is
used in confirming or treating the information as a known event to the
recipient; and particle 'niin' is used to confirm a prior utterance
and to express the relevance of continuation. However, all these forms
have their respective prototypical contextual functions use in the

All the papers are richly substantiated with notes, reference and
appendix for our easy understudying. The volume ends with the list of
contributors and an index of terms.


After going through the papers compiled in this volume we can discern
several issues around which the present cycle of interactional
linguistic research rotates. From the point of the interactional
order the papers reflect a systematic focus on four main different
tasks which are important in any conversational tasks: (1) turn
projection or turn-unit completion, (2) starting up turns with
non-beginnings, (3) lexical items as resources for interaction, and
(4) self-repair.

In case of the first issue, several authors (Selting, Steensig, and
Fox others) observe that a complex interplay of linguistic cues are
active for signaling and identifying of upcoming Transition Relevance
Places (TRPs). But the practice of turn projection in
non-Indo-European languages ask for different treatment for
language-internal reasons. Selting argues that it is not the units to
which the participants orient, but the unit- and turn-constructional
acts which they are involved. Steensig shows that 'possible last
accents' are more important prosodic cue than final intonational
configuration. Moreover, for cross-linguistic studies grammar, prosody
and pragmatics are three important means for constructing turns and
signaling projection. Fox, on the other hand, argues that phonetic
entities are mostly to be realized not singly but in clusters through
syntactic, semantic and sequential positions in which they occur. Such
findings can substantiate Selting's (1996) claims.

In case of the second issue, our interest lies on the interactional
practice of starting up turns with 'non-beginning'. Various
interactional situations can make this a useful technique. Here,
Hayashi shows how Japanese provides postpositionals - a resource for
pre-emptively deflecting a potentially problematic action - to tie up
with prior talk (See, Schgloff 1996). Many interactional concerns can
shape the grammatical structure of talk in Japanese because
postposition-initiated utterances are built up on a preceding
utterance and draw on its as a resource for their comprehension. Also
in Korean, according to Kim, speakers exploit agglutinative syntax and
add phrasal units to initially elliptical utterances to initiate
turns. They can thus retroactively build on a prior turn deleting
intervening talk. Such repair initiation can be thought to be similar
to Japanese use of postpositions which are mostly designed to be used
in trouble-source turn rather than in response to repair-initiating
turns. Mazeland and Huiskes, with the description of Dutch 'maar',
show that action governs how the linguistic elements of the utterance
are dealt with when they are made in interaction. Their study put up a
strong challenge against traditional theories of lexicon. Some other
contributions in this volume (Ford; Tanaka; Corrin, Tarplee and Wells)
also show some interesting play-off between sequence organization and
turn organization.

In case of the third issue, we find that languages provide relevant
syntactic structures as well as some specific lexical items as
resources for conducting conversational interactions. These items, (in
papers by Scheutz, Mazeland and Huiskes, Hakulien and Sorjonen) depend
on turn positions and sequential contexts for their meaning and
functional potentials. These lexical items can be considered as parts
of larger constructional schemas which themselves derive their
inference-cueing potential from situated use in the service of
recurrent interactional tasks. German 'weil', Dutch 'maar', Finnish
'kylla', 'joo', 'niin', etc. help speakers to accomplish various
interactional tasks, such as expanding a turn, recycling an abandoned
talk, reassuringly responding to a questioning pre-sequence, treating
an answer as known to the recipient, etc. Such cross-linguistic
studies of language structure in interaction thus show that there are
sets of task for interactions for all language but different
language deploy different resources for accomplishing them.

Finally, relating with the fourth issue, we note a sharp focus on
'self-repair', particularly on the syntactic regularities evidenced by
self-repairing speakers. Earlier studies by Fox and Jesperson (1995),
and Fox, Hayashi and Jesperson (1996) have revealed significant
differences between English and Japanese in the syntax of
self-repair. Uhmann's study in this volume enriches this area by
adding evidence from the more richly inflecting German language. She
shows that the syntax as well as morphology of a language have
significant roles on speaker's practices of self-repair. From a
cross-linguistic perspective, her suggestions might have relevance in
languages having relatively free word order as well as in languages
having relatively rich case morphology.

Most of the papers in this volume emphasize that all cross-linguistic
studies of conversational interaction are ordered by some way or
other. All common interactional tasks may be served by quite different
linguistic practices distinct for each typologically different
language. With interdisciplinary and cross-linguistic examination of
interactions, Interactional Linguistics "offers a good opportunity for
investigating the trade-off between language and interaction
universals on the one hand and language - and language-type specific
linguistic practices on the other" (Kuhlen and Selting, p. 18, this

The publication of the volume marks the introduction of a
comparatively new domain of linguistics research with wider scope for
future analysis and investigation. The field of discourse analysis in
linguistics gaining ground day by day with regular expanse of its
scope of analysis and application. And in this new field of study the
importance of both speech and text corpora are becoming
indispensable. It is assumed is that both speech and text corpora
which have the ability to reflect the language as it is actually used
in innumerable 'living fields and domains' are not only useful for
verification of grammatical analysis, but also useful for
understanding how the regularities we think of as grammar emerge from
communicative needs. The papers in this volume prove our assumption to
be right and the results obtained from numerous case studies justify
our argument that empirical language study is far more reliable and
authentic than those done under simple assumption or intuition.


Couper-Kuhlen, E. and Selting. M. (eds.) (1996) Prosody in
Conversation. Interactional Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Ford, F. C. (1993) Grammar in Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Fox, B. (1987) Discourse Structure and Anaphora. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Fox, B. and Jesperson, R. (1995) "A syntactic exploration of repair in
English conversation". In P. W. Davis (ed.) Alternative Linguistics:
Descriptive and Theoretical Modes. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Pp. 77-134.

Fox, B., Hayashi, M. and Jesperson, R. (1996) "Resources and repair: A
cross-linguistic study of syntax and repair". In E. Ochs,
E.A. Schegloff and S.A. Thompson (eds.) Interaction and
Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 185-237.

Goodwin, C. (1981) Conversational Organization: The Interaction
between Speakers and Hearers. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Levinson, S. C. (1983) Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ochs, E., Schegloff, E. A. and Thompson, S. A. (eds.) (1996)
Interaction and Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sacks, H. (1992) Lectures on Conversation (Vol. I and II). In
G. Jefferson (ed.) Oxford: Blackwell.

Selting, M. (1996) "On repeats and responses in Finnish
conversations". In Ochs et al., 277-327.

Sudnow, D.(ed.) (1972) Studies in Social Interaction. New York: Free Press.

Weber, E. (1993) Varieties of Questions in English
Conversation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Dr. Niladri Sekhar Dash works as a Linguist in Computer Vision and
Pattern Recognition Unit of Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata,
India. His research interest includes corpus linguistics, discourse
and pragmatics, lexical semantics, lexicography, morphology,
etc. Presently he is working on corpus-based lexicography and
word-sense disambiguation in Bangla.
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