LINGUIST List 13.2999

Mon Nov 18 2002

Review: Socioling: Boxer (2002)

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  1. Pentti Haddington, Boxer (2002) Applying Sociolinguistics

Message 1: Boxer (2002) Applying Sociolinguistics

Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2002 17:11:18 +0000
From: Pentti Haddington <>
Subject: Boxer (2002) Applying Sociolinguistics

Boxer, Diana (2002)
Applying Sociolinguistics: Domains and Face-to-Face Interaction.
John Benjamins Publishing Company, x+239pp, paperback ISBN 1-58811-198-9,
$35.95, Impact: Studies in Language and Society 15

Book Announcement on Linguist: 

Pentti Haddington, University of Oulu, Finland


''Applying Sociolinguistics: Domains and Face-to-Face Interaction''
takes a look at real world of verbal interaction. The book aims to
demonstrate what can be learned from the study of face-to-face
interaction and inform readers of the possibilities of applying
knowledge from this kind of research in order to optimize interaction
in everyday interaction (1).

Boxer (henceforth B) introduces several linguistic and sociological
fields and approaches that study face-to-face interaction in one way
or the other (e.g. Conversation analysis, Discourse analysis,
Ethnography of communication). The author also builds upon a vast
array of other studies in language and talk (Gricean pragmatics,
speech acts, anthropological linguistics, etc). However, her main
influences clearly stem from critical approaches in applied
linguistics and sociolinguistics. The book is organized into chapters
that each investigate a particular domain (e.g. family, social, work,
etc), following Joshua Fishman's (1972) categorization of day-to-day
language use into ''domains.'' Each chapter provides an up-to-date
overview of current studies in the domain in question and then a more
detailed account of B's original research in the same domain.

This volume should interest a wide audience of linguists and
sociologists, but perhaps mainly finds its readers from the fields of
applied linguistics and sociolinguistcs and those interested in the
relationships between gender, ethnicity, race and speech; language and
power; or ... power in language.'


1. Introduction (1-20)

In the introduction B introduces several fields that study and are
related to face-to-face interaction and lays out the aims of the book
(mentioned above in the overview). The author states that she orients
to a practical application in the study of face-to-face interaction
and lays out a view to usage-based, empirically grounded doing of
sociolinguistic analysis that relies widely on other studies of
language and talk (also mentioned in the overview). B also considers
the distinction between studying macro and micro phenomena and says
the distinction is a fuzzy one.

The author has organized the volume so that it follows Fishman's
(1972) categorization of day-to-day language into ''domains'' and
studies these domains mainly in North American settings. The domains
are: family, social, education, religious, and workplace domain. In
addition to the different domains, B provides an additional chapter
that considers face-to-face encounters in cross-cultural
situations. She sets out to study the domains and cross-cultural
situations by connecting face-to-face interaction with sociocultural
values and thereby looking at how different speaking patterns reflect
or perpetuate these values.

B finds applying Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (Norman Fairclough,
Teun Van Dijk, Ruth Wodak) and thus finding to expose and study
societal problems stemming from manipulative and discriminatory
language use by powerful groups as an important way of doing
sociolinguistics (7). However, B states that while ''the thrust of CDA
is essentially the issue of language and power, the thrust of this
book is somewhat different.'' (8) She characterizes the thrust of her
book as ''power in language'' and means that she intents to provide
examples of results of ordinary interactions that will help speakers
achieve power in language. In other words, ''the sort of power here is
not that of dominance; it is the power to present ourselves as we wish
and thereby negotiate more successfully through the important domains
of our lives'' (8).

2. Face-to-face in the family domain (21-46)

B claims that talk in the family is first of all very important for
our daily lives since it involves the people that are close to us and
with whom we generally interact the most. Secondly, B says that talk
with family members differs in striking ways from the ways we talk
with people who are more distant to us. She also says that as speakers
we recognize the importance of interacting with our family members in
constructive and fruitful ways. (21) In light of the above she
discusses ''dinner table talk,'' ''couples talk'', and ''nagging.''

On the basis of prior studies on dinner table talk, B discusses how
the transformations in modern family dinner practices may have an
effect on language socialization for children. She also discusses the
importance of reported speech as showing gender differences in dinner
table talk, and also other gender roles in dinner time conversations
(22-30). In the section on couples talk, B provides for an overview on
some studies that have shown how women try to keep up conversations in
couples talk, whereas men are more ''patronizing,'' ''teachy'' and
interrupt others more, for example. B also discusses the use of humor
to negotiate conflicts (30-32). In the section on nagging, B claims
that nagging is ubiquitous in the family domain and that she would
like to ask the question why nagging is so ubiquitous in the domestic
context. She focuses on analyzing nagging in relation to gender,
social distance, social status and power and states that the reason
for why some parents nag while others need not do so ''must lie in the
family members' perceptions of power of the person issuing the request
(39). She also says that women may expect compliance with reasonable
requests, but that due to the hierarchical style of boys and men, it
doesn't work. Consequently, requests become repeated reminders that
turn into nagging. She summarizes that nagging prevails in the family
area and is a source of a good deal of conflict within the domestic

She concludes the chapter by saying that children are socialized into
adults in the familial domain then become members of their speech
communities. Models for arguments and nagging, for example, may cause
problems and perpetuate through to the next generation. She also says
that children learn gendered roles (father, mother) at home.

3. Face-to-face in the social domain (47-88)

In the chapter on social life B discusses, for example, the phrase
''how are you'' and the different social functions the phrase may
have. The author also discusses previous studies on US/Japanese
differences in refusal strategies (52), telephone partings (52),
offers (53), invitations (54), complimenting (54-55), advice-giving
(59-61), and troubles-telling (59-61). In her overview to
complimenting she discusses Pomerantz's (1978) work on compliment
responses and at the same time briefly discusses the methodologies and
advantages and disadvantages of Conversation Analysis (cf. Sacks et
al. 1974) and ethnographic approaches to face-to-face interaction.

In her own study on troubles talk and complaints B found out that the
preferred response to such talk is commiseration and that this sort of
troubles-telling is frequently undertaken by interlocutors to open and
sustain conversations and relationships (58). B also discusses the
idea of dominance in feminist linguistics and that differences in
linguistic practices often stem from differences in access to social
power (67).

Another example of B's own work in the social domain concerns a
co-study with Florencia Cort├ęs-Conde on conversational joking,
teasing and identity display. B discusses for example different types
of conversational joking, joking about absent others, self-denigrating
humor, self-teasing, joking that bonds and so on. She discusses the
above phenomena with reference to sociolinguistic variables, such as
gender in order to shed light on phenomena such as exclusion,
discrimination and sexual harassment.

4. Face-to-face in the education domain (89-124)

In her discussion on the education domain, B concentrates on higher
education. First she gives a view based on literature in higher
education which includes studies of how face-to-face discourse
analysis elucidates the social construction of self as part to the
academic world. She looks at statuses of individuals in the academe,
in different situations (e.g. advising situations and colloquia),
based on the level of experience different individuals have. She
states that those lower in the ''power scale'' display their
intellectual identities less in colloquia, for example.

The chapter also includes an analysis of the use of sarcasm in higher
education classrooms (done in co-operation with Jodi Nelms). She
discusses the functions of sarcasm in college classrooms and finds
that there are both positive, negative and neutral uses of sarcasm
(104-115). She states that sarcasm is used to convey messages that
could be done more directly in ordinary interactional
situations. Sarcasm also has multiple functions: to build rapport, to
make a point, to ridicule, among others. The use of sarcasm can be
perceived as positive, negative or neutral by students, depending on
what the target of the sarcastic comment is.

She concludes that professors and teachers need to make conscious
efforts to ascertain how their speech behaviors are perceived by
others (123). Negative uses of sarcasm should be avoided, whereas
positive uses of sarcasm in fact can be useful. In sum, sarcasm is not
necessarily just a negative kind of speech behavior.

5. Face-to-face in the religious domain (125-146)

B gives an overview of prior studies on religious discourse, for
example, on prayer meetings. She also looks at interactional
situations and details from different religious traditions. B lists
some consistent findings in this domain. First of all, interaction in
the religious domain is generally face-to-faces. She says that the
aspect of face-to-face interaction in the domain of religion borders
on social interaction. According to B, it is sometimes difficult to
disambiguate the social aspect of religious groups. When people
participate in the religious domain they do it to satisfy both
spiritual, intellectual and social needs.

B's own work of the religious domain considers face-to-face language
of a Bat/Bar Mitzvah (the Jewish rite of passage of youth into
adulthood at the age of thirteen). In this section she demonstrates
how the spiritual, intellectual and social spheres interact, and how
the social interaction in the rite of passage is significant for the

She concludes that religious interaction is an important part of
people's lives in North American speech communities and that
communicative competence in religious interaction encompasses knowing
the structure of religious services (when to pray, recite, etc).

6. Face-to-face in the workplace domain (147-175)

B says that the aim of the chapter on workplace interaction is to
offer insights into how communicative competence in workplace and
institutional encounters can help people to interact in this
domain. She discusses several prior studies on talk in service
encounters (how to build tab in restaurant interactions, how to get
what you want in hairdresser encounters, how to present witness
testimony in order to get across a desired point, etc), institutional
encounters (911 calls, police officers handling domestic violence) and
talk at work.

B also looks at previous studies on female and male ability in the
workplace and comes to the conclusion that women's affiliative style
has positive implications for the workplace. She also says that more
studies should be done, for example, on the problems where women don't
have enough power in the workplaces, and on humor in workplaces.

B's own work looks at face-to-face interaction in a predominantly male
brokerage house (co-authored with Andrea DeCapua). She considers such
(male) speech behavior as bragging, boasting and bravado at work, and
looks at boastful humor and analyzes gender sequences of such
humor. She concludes that appropriately assertive speech as opposed to
weak speech or aggressive speech can demonstrate that women's style
may indeed be a more humanitarian and effective (175).

7. Face-to-face in cross-cultural interactions (177-210)

In this chapter B considers examples of cross-cultural face-to-face
interaction. First the author provides for a view on some prior
studies on the subject area. She focuses on cross-cultural pragmatics
approach (instead of interlanguage pragmatics) to solve real world
communication problems in the shrinking planet (181) and considers the
approach by looking at social life, educational life and workplace

She also provides for an overview on her own work on complaining in
conversations between speakers of US English and speakers of Japanese
and showed, for example, that Japanese speakers used much more
backchannel cues that English speakers. This caused some confusion and
frustration in the speakers. B also discusses value of silence in some
contexts and social parameters of saying ''no'' and the different
underlying values of this in different societies

In the section on cross-cultural interactions in work life B looks, by
taking a functional grammatical perspective, research of the differing
uses of language between Chinese and Westerners and what practical
implications the differences have for interaction.

In the section on cross-cultural interactions in educational life B
looks at higher education in the US based on her co-study with Andrea
Tyler about interactional environment including international teaching
assistances (ITAs) and the problems that occurred with the ITAs. The
researchers concluded that the identity of the ITA (race, ethnicity,
gender) appeared to play a major role and that for the ITAs, their
power is diminished compared to native teachers. This is due to, for
example, the fact that they are not native speakers of English.

In section 2, B offers an in-depth analysis (co-study with Christina
Overstreet) of cross-cultural speech behavior, which investigates the
key role that staff members of a large university play in helping
students gain entry into campus life. The researchers focus on
gatekeeping encounters between staff members and students from varying
cultural backgrounds by looking at the dynamics of ''Gesellschaft''
(contractual, rational, instrumental discourse system) and
''Gemeinschaft'' (discourse system that we are born into; relational
system) (195). The study takes an ethnography of speaking approach
(cf. Hymes 1962) to the collection and analysis of data. The data was
also validated through in-depth ethnographic interviews. The
researchers looked at data by isolating elements of 1) official,
utilitarian language or bureaucratic jargon and 2) relational talk
(e.g. use of endearment terms). They found out for example that some
staff members used terms of endearment with students, students did not
use these reciprocally with staff. This indicated, according to B, the
inherent superiority of the staff members in that particular
interactional context, which did not serve to build rapport between
the interactants, but rather to emphasize power relationships
(198-199). Later (200-201), B also says that endearment terms can also
increase Relational Identity and they have dual functions. Finally, B
says that interaction is a two-way street and that the non-native
speakers' lack of knowledge of English can cause interactional

B concludes that even though staff members that have the potential to
counter the official, informational use of language with words and
that express interest in and concern for the personal well-being of
the newcomer, there is a real danger of falling back to cultural
stereotypes with possible unfavourable consequences.

8. Conclusion (211-223)

In the conclusion B says how sociolinguistics can be applied to
develop a sense of community. She adds that knowing how talk functions
within each domain helps speakers to negotiate appropriate and
felicitous participation (211). Face-to-face discourse in the
different domains discussed in the book have far-reaching implications
for how speakers can become more connected in their speech
communities. This can potentially have great implications and
consequences for child socialization, ''with benefits to accrue for
generations to come'' (222).

She also claims that issues of dominance and power are important. B
says that the view she has outlined is perhaps wider deals not only
with language and power but also with ''power in language'' (222).


This book is well-written and accessible, but deals with its topics in
much detail. It follows a consistent structuring throughout so that
each chapter outlines some background and objectives, and reviews
prior work of face-to-face encounters in the different social
domains. Each chapter is then concluded with the author's own more
detailed work on a particular aspect within the domain. This structure
is extremely clear and is surely helpful for a reader who does not
have detailed knowledge of research done of face-to-face interaction
within the fields of applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. The
author has also succeeded in providing a coherent view to an
extensively large area of six separate domains. Still, B is able to
focus on particular interesting details in her overviews on prior
research and in her own work. The general overview in each chapter of
the seminal work in the different interactional domains acts as a good
starting point for ideas and references for further research in
applied sociolinguistics. Occasionally, however, the author could have
benefited from studies that were not considered in the book. For
example, in chapter 6, Zimmerman's (1992) and Whalen and Zimmerman's
(1998) work on 911 emergency calls would have been useful to discuss.

The book reflects the author's knowledge within the wide field of
applied sociolinguistics. The author is clearly influenced by
Faircloughian Critical Discourse Analysis, although with a slightly
different take on the concept. This influence can be seen throughout
the book. On par with this, the author states as her and the entire
sociolinguistics' objective the using of the results of this kind of
research to optimize everyday encounters and finally the enhancement
of ''world peace'' (223). She thus connects the research on
face-to-face interaction with a look to sociocultural values and aims
to looks at how different speaking patterns reflect or perpetuate
these valuesan approach that is very interesting, but also very
challenging and difficult.

B's decision to view face-to-face interaction through different social
domains proposes to be both interesting and useful, because these
domains surely cover widely us humans' everyday life and the
interactional situations we encounter every day. The author frequently
refers to different sociological variables such as gender, age and
ethnicity and how these affect face-to-face encounters. Additionally,
as mentioned above, she also views her data through such concepts as
''power'' and ''power in language''. Generally speaking, the author
then connects these variables and concepts to the question of ''why''
certain things happen in interaction. B maintains her approach
well. She raises questions and states her points in a coherent fashion
and often avoids, what could be potential pitfallsperhaps sometimes by
not actually providing clear answers to the question ''why''. In light
of this, the discussions on ''dinner table talk'', children's
socialization into adults in their speech community through language
use (family domain), US/Japanese differences in refusal strategies,
troubles talk (social domain), the different uses of sarcasm at school
by teachers (educational domain), the study on the use of backchannel
cues between US and Japanese speakers (cross-cultural interactions),
among others, are very insightful and interesting.

However, at some points, asking ''why'' something occurs or doesn't
occur in interaction proves to be a very difficult question. For me as
person coming from a slightly different research tradition asking
''why'' things happen can be as problematic as it might be
revealing. Consequently, there are potential dangerous elements of
taking this approach to study face-to-face encounteres.

Occasionally, perhaps as a ''because'' to the ''why'', B claims that
different sociological variables or access to power contribute to
certain interactional phenomena (for example, access to power having
an impact on who ''nags''; uses of endearment terms in gatekeeping
encounters between staff members and international students at a
campus emphasizing already existing power relationships; gender
(i.e. being male) contributing to who ''boasts'' and ''brags'' at
work), but at the same time excluding other variables. What about
those males who do not brag and boast at work? What about the fact
that in campus gatekeeping encounters the international students were
not native speakers of English? Could that have an effect on whether
they use endearment terms with the staff or not?

For me, this begs the question: how can we be sure that claims such as
the above do not just perpetuate existing and often just widely and
commonly accepted stereotypes? In fact, in the chapter on face-to-face
interaction in the workplace that discussed male bravado at work,
there might have been an example of a male who did not brag. He was
excluded from the analysis, because he had a profile that didn't fit
the other subjects: i.e. he was from Nigeria (the others being
American), not a member of the ''in-group'' (e.g. ex-college football
players), didn't socialize with others, was a born-again Christian and
active in his congregation, didn't dance, drink or engage in mating
rituals (163). Was he excluded from the analysis, because he didn't
fit a stereotypical view of a bragging male?

Many readers (at least I) would also be interested in such questions
as ''what happens'' in the interaction and ''how'' that what happens
does happen. A closer interactional analysis of sequences of nagging
in the family and bravado at work prior to the consideration of power
and sociological variables could tell the analyst more about the
nature of these activities. After this, one couldif one wants
toconsider other sociological variables and factors contributing to
these activities. This is what some variants Conversation Analysis
do. For example, Kitzinger (2002) succeeds in showing how a social
identity becomes sequentially relevant in gay coming-out sequences,
but by not a priori assuming that it will.

In sum, B's book is interesting and worth reading. It should interest
linguists widely, but especially those who are interested in the
intersection of language, sociology and culture, and especially those
interested in applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. Since the book
offers in each chapter an overview on previous studies in face-to-face
interaction, but also a view to recent work by the author, it works
both as an introduction for scholars and students to the field of
face-to-face interaction in applied linguistics / sociolinguistics and
as way to acquiant oneself with the more recent work in the field.

REFERENCES (A bibliography of the works cited)

Fishman, J. (1972). Domains and the relationship between micro and
macrosociolinguistics. In Gumperz, J. and D. Hymes (ed.) Directions in
Sociolinguistics, 435-453. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hymes, D. (1962). The ethnography of speaking. In Gladwin, T. and W.C.
Sturdevant (eds.) Anthropology and Human Behavior, 15-53. The Hague:

Kitzinger, Celia. 2002 ''Doing feminist conversation analysis''. In
Talking Gender and Sexuality, P. McIlvenny (ed), 49-77. Amsterdam,
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Pomerantz, A. (1978) Compliment Responses: Notes on the Co-operation
of Multiple Constraints. In Schenkein, J. (ed.) Studies in the
organization of conversational interaction, 79-112. New York: Academic

Sacks, H., E.A. Schegloff, and G. Jefferson. (1974) A Simplest
Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation. In
Language 50: 696-735.

Zimmerman, Don H. 1992 ''The Interactional Organization of Call for
Emergency Assistance''. In Talk at Work, P. Drew and J. Heritage
(eds), 418-69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Whalen, Jack and Zimmerman, Don H. 1998 ''Observations on the Display
and Management of Emotion in Naturally Occurring Activities: The Case
of 'Hysteria' in Calls to 9-1-1''. Social Psychology Quarterly 61:


Pentti Haddington is a graduate student at the University of Oulu,
Finland and in the Langnet Graduate School for Language Students. He
works on Functional Linguistics, Conversation Analysis and is
preparing his dissertation on how categorization and
identity-ascriptions are used in stance taking activities in news
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