LINGUIST List 14.1666

Thu Jun 12 2003

Review: Pragmatics: Luke & Pavlidou, ed. (2002)

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  1. Anne Barron, Telephone Calls: Unity and Diversity in Conversational Structure

Message 1: Telephone Calls: Unity and Diversity in Conversational Structure

Date: Thu, 12 Jun 2003 14:26:40 +0000
From: Anne Barron <>
Subject: Telephone Calls: Unity and Diversity in Conversational Structure

Luke, Kang Kwong and Pavlidou, Theodossia-Soula, ed. (2002) Telephone
Calls: Unity and Diversity in Conversational Structure Across
Languages and Cultures, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Pragmatics
and Beyond New Series 101.

Announced at

Anne Barron, University of Bonn (Germany)


The present volume is devoted to the study of language use in
telephone calls across cultures. It has its beginnings in a panel of
the same title organised by the editors, Kang Kwong Luke and
Theodossia-Soula Pavlidou, at the 6th International Pragmatics
Conference held in Reims in July 1998. Complementing those papers
presented on this occasion are three further papers written by Emanuel
A. Schegloff, Paul ten Have and Yong-Yae Park. The main aim of the
volume is, as the editors also state (p. 18), to ''bring together
studies of telephone conversations in different languages and cultures
in order to facilitate comparisons across both linguistic and cultural
boundaries''. In so doing, they wish to highlight areas of cultural
variation and also to arrive at reliable generalisations regarding
telephone interaction across cultures.

The volume comprises an introduction, three main sections consisting
of a total of nine papers written by an international group of ten
researchers from three continents, and a subject and name index. While
Cantonese, Greek, Japanese, Korean, and Persian are the primary
languages under investigation, data from American English, Danish,
Dutch, Ecuadorian Spanish and German is also discussed. The approaches
employed vary, and include research from a conversational analytical
and ethnographical, discourse analytical framework but the
conversational analytical work conducted by Harvey Sacks and Emanuel
Schegloff forms the starting point for most of the empirical
papers. Finally, it should be noted that the majority of papers
concentrate on the description of naturally-occurring telephone call
data in one particular culture although Rasmussen and Wagner
investigate aspects of international telephone calls.

The book begins with a comprehensive introduction by the editors in
which they outline the aims and focus of interest of different
approaches (sociological, methodological and intercultural) which have
been taken to the study of telephone calls. A short overview is also
given of previous research on telephone calls, particularly in view of
universal and culture-specific aspects of such interactions. Gaps in
the research are also highlighted and the agenda for the edited volume

Section one is the longest of the three sections, encompassing 106
pages and four papers. It is devoted to the opening phases of
telephone calls, the most comprehensively researched aspect of
telephone conversations to date. The first contribution in section one
is entitled ''Recognition and identification in Japanese and Korean
telephone conversation openings.'' Here, in an analysis of 120
Japanese and 120 Korean telephone openings, Yong-Yae Park focuses on
the identification/recognition sequence, one of four sequences found
by Emanuel Schegloff to occur in the opening section of telephone
calls. Park's particular focus is on self-identification but she notes
that contrary to prescriptive work in Japanese, and also contrary to
Korean folk-etiquette, other-recognition does also occur in both
languages when the relationship between the caller and recipient is
very close. Self-identification is, however, strongly preferred,
particularly in Japanese. Park identifies two types of
self-identification in Japanese and Korean. The first type involves
the use of ''nuntey'' or ''kedo'', linguistic particles in Korean and
Japanese respectively, which mark a projected subsequent action. This
type of self-identification is found to give an interaction a
business-like tone since the use of ''nuntey'' or ''kedo'' marks
self-identification as a preliminary action to an action to a
subsequent action (i.e. giving the reason for the call or performing a
switchboard request). In the second type of self-identification, on
the other hand, ''kedo'' or ''nuntey'' are not present. Consequently,
it is the self-identification itself which is portrayed as the primary
activity in such cases. In this way, the interaction achieves the
status of an informal, ''just to say hi'', exchange.

The starting point of Maria Sifianou's paper, ''On the telephone
again! Telephone conversation openings in Greek'', is also
Schegloff's research on American telephone calls. Her analysis is
based on 121 telephone openings in Greek recorded from five adults and
675 recordings collected by students of their own interactions. This
data base consists predominantly of personal or familiar
conversations. Unlike Park's analysis, Sifianou analyses her data in
terms of all four core sequences of the canonical opening identified
by Schegloff (summons-answer, identification or recognition, greeting
and lastly, initial inquiries and responses to these). She finds that
while all four sequences can occur, they do so only rarely in Greek
telephone calls and only in cases of social distance. Moreover, in
such situations the sequences tend to be organised in an interlocking
manner rather than according to the principle of serial organisation
- in other words, a number of sequences may be compressed into one
turn. Sifianou also shows that the most common sequence between close
interlocutors in her data is a two-sequence canonical pattern,
consisting of a summons-answer and a how-are-you. Preemptive/
situation-specific moves which introduce the first topic prior to the
end of the opening phases are also a feature of her data. In
conclusion, Sifianou argues that it is not possible to identify the
same order in Greek telephone openings as in North American openings
given a large degree of situation-specificity in the canonical
structure in Greek which she finds linked to a high level of
spontaneity and verbal play. These findings are suggested to relate
to the strong interpersonal role of telephone calls in Greece
(cf. also Antonopoulou/Sifianou 2003 on humour in Greek telephone

The third contribution in this section, ''Telephone conversation
openings in Persian'' is written by Carmen Taleghani-Nikazm. Her data
is drawn from a total of 87 telephone interactions from seven
individuals located in Iran, and includes both formal (characterised
by social distance and social dominance) and informal (close
relationship between interlocutors) conversations. Similar to
Sifianou, Taleghani-Nikazm employs Schegloff's framework to structure
her analysis. She focuses on the differences between formal and
informal interactions from the point of view of ''taarof'', a
politeness behaviour in Persian according to which each participant
employs verbal and non-verbal means to indicate their own lower status
relative to that of their interlocutor and to show their
interlocutor's relative higher status. Differences motivated by
''taarof'' are found to exist between formal and informal telephone
interactions on the level of the identification/ recognition, greeting
and how-are-you sequences, as, e.g., in the choice of linguistic
routines. In addition, lengthy, ritualised how-are-you sequences
directed towards the co-participant and his/her family are found to be
a feature of both formal and informal interactions.

The fourth and last paper in this section on openings, ''Language
choice in international telephone conversations'' by Gitte Rasmussen
and Johannes Wagner, differs somewhat from the previous three in that
it concerns language choice in telephone openings in an international
business context. Data is drawn from telephone conversations made by
employees in a Danish company to employees of various other companies
in Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Sweden and the United
Kingdom. The choice of language is found to be made quickly and very
early on in the call. Most frequently, it is the language of the
answerer which dictates the language of the call. However, in cases
where the caller's language competence is insufficient, e.g., s/he may
reject the answerer's choice and instead switch to his/her preferred
language of communication, hoping that his/her interlocutor will
recognise and be competent in it. Another possibility is when
participants communicate a wish to draw on a previous language choice
by simply identifying themselves. The authors rightly caution that
these results may not apply to telephone interactions initiated by
native speakers of major languages, such as English or German. Further
research is required.

Section two concentrates on problem solving, topic management and
closing phases in telephone interactions. Yotsukura's chapter,
''Reporting problems and offering assistance in Japanese business
telephone conversations'', is the first contribution in this
section. The paper provides an analysis of the reporting of
service-related problems by two employees in Japan, experienced in
institutional interactions. Openings are addressed and indeed,
complement Park's paper in this volume, but Yotsukura's main focus is
on the way in which problems are reported in her data and the manner
in which solutions are offered. Yotsukura finds that there is a
tendency for her callers to avoid producing an FTA bald on the record
when reporting problems. Instead callers engage in linguistic framing
of important details relating to the problem at hand in order to guide
the service provider to infer the nature of the problem him/
herself. Yotsukura comments that such linguistic behaviour is also in
line with the Japanese notion of ''enryo-sasshi'' according to which
the direct expression of thoughts and feelings is dispreferred in
favour of anticipation of such thoughts and feelings by
others. Despite previous experience of institutional calls,
misalignments are, however, found to occur between the participants
due, in Jefferson/Lee's (1981) terms, to ''interactional asymmetry''
in the expectations of the participants.

The second paper in this section, ''The initiation and introduction of
first topics in Hong Kong telephone calls'' by Kang Kwong Luke, shows
topic organisation in telephone conversations in Hong Kong (105 calls
between family and friends + 28 business calls) to be strikingly
similar to previous descriptions of American English. Kang Kwong Luke
finds, namely, that the reason for the call is usually the first topic
in his Cantonese data and that this is also introduced at the anchor
position. In addition, in most cases, it is the caller who introduces
the reason for the call although the recipient may also be involved in
this process, i.e. either in topic initiation (''dim aa?'' (what's
up?)) or introduction (e.g. when returning a call). Preemptions and
deferrals of the reason for call are, however, also found possible in
both cultures but these are of an exceptional nature. Finally, Luke
notes that the topic markers employed in Cantonese and American
English are semantically and functionally similar.

''Moving towards closing. Greek telephone calls between familiars'' is
the final paper in the second section. Here, Theodossia-Soula Pavlidou
addresses the need for research on the closing phases of telephone
calls with an investigation of the transition from last topic to
closing section in Greek. She analyses 65 naturally occurring informal
calls between friends and relatives recorded at home by nine young
adults (undergraduate or postgraduate students of hers). Pavlidou
finds that while the canonical closings identified by Schegloff, which
show a clear-cut distinction between the closing part and the last
topic, do occur in Greek telephone interactions, they represent the
marked case, only occurring in exceptional situations where there is a
demand for an ''interactionally economical solution''. Such situations
include those characterised by urgency or by situational constraints
(e.g. a non-work-related conversation in the office). Rather, the
unmarked case in Greek telephone conversations is to ''move towards
the closing'' gradually. This is done, Pavlidou finds, by employing a
wide variety of devices which focus on interactional
aspects. Interactants are found, e.g., to highlight any agreement
existing between them, and also to use possible pre-closings along
with other conversational features, such as latching, simultaneity, or
particles of familiarity -- all strategies to prepare the closing and
to assure the co-participant that termination of the call is not a
sign of rejection. While the findings here echo previous research on
the importance of building relationships and showing solidarity in
Greek language use and also point to a contrast between telephone
language use in Greek and Ecuadorian Spanish on the one hand and
Finnish or German on the other, Pavlidou warns of the dangers of
forming premature generalisations and instead underlines the need for
further research in different cultures with similar informants.

The last section, section three, is the shortest of the three
sections, encompassing only two papers and covering a total of 48
pages. It is concerned with theoretical and methodological
considerations of the analysis of telephone calls. In the first
contribution here, ''Comparing telephone call openings: Theoretical
and methodological reflections'', Paul ten Have, taking the case of
telephone openings, cautions against comparing research undertaken
within different frameworks and under differing
assumptions. Specifically, and with direct reference to a number of
papers in the volume under discussion, he criticises a tendency to
take Schegloff's canonical descriptions at face value. In this
context, ten Have, with reference to previous research findings on
Dutch, in particular, suggests that the current focus on structural
issues of telephone calls should be replaced by a functional
perspective according to which the analysis of telephone openings
would focus on three functions, also identified by Schegloff, namely
connection work, relation work and topic work. Ten Have argues that
while there will be variation in forms across culture and time, these
functions will remain constant.

Similar to the contribution by Paul ten Have, the final paper in the
volume, ''Reflections on research on telephone conversation: Issues of
cross-cultural scope and scholarly exchange, interactional import and
consequences'' by Emanuel A. Schegloff, presents a critical assessment
of the empirical papers in the present volume and indeed of recent
research in the analysis of telephone calls. Schegloff first stresses
the value of a template, such as the canonical opening, in guiding
analyses of telephone interactions in different cultures, arguing that
the literature to date, while revealing variation across culture, also
points to the existence of a common underlying structure. Indeed, the
function of presenting the canonical opening in Schegloff (1986) was,
he explains, not to claim universality but rather to guide further
analysis by highlighting the default option, and in so doing alerting
analysts to the importance of departures from this structure in
particular interactions. Recent research has, however, Schegloff
notes, ignored the importance of analysing single phases of a
telephone conversation, e.g. openings, with regard to their function
in the particular interaction as a whole and instead tended to engage
in contrastive analyses of openings or closings in their own right
with the sole intention of highlighting national characteristics or
cultural differences. An appeal is made for further research to
concentrate on the role of particular forms (or the absence thereof)
in the particular interaction and cultural context under
analysis. Only when such research exists for a number of cultural
contexts, can comparisons be made. Finally, Schegloff addresses
aspects of presentation in research articles concerned with languages
other than the language of the article. He argues that while
translations and glosses are necessary, caution should be exercised in
the choice of equivalent and research on language use consulted.


Telephone communication has been the subject of much research to date,
with an increase in contrastive analyses since the late 1980s,
concentrating in particular on telephone openings. The volume at hand
continues this trend towards cross-cultural analyses by contrasting
findings for one culture with those of other investigations in the
same volume and also with previous research findings for other
languages and cultures. Although the research prejudice towards
openings is clearly seen (four of the seven empirical papers dealing
with opening sequences), closings and topic organisation, both areas
which have only received limited attention to date, are also addressed
in the present volume. This contribution to the existing knowledge of
differing conversational structures in different cultures is of
particularly invaluable benefit in today's world in the light of the
recent growth in communication between different cultures in Europe
and indeed internationally since although it may not be necessary or
even desirable for a particular party to adopt a native-speaker norm
in communication with interactants of other cultures
(cf. Enomoto/Marriott 1994:155f, House/Kasper 2000:113f, Kasper
1998:200), an awareness of differences is a valuable aid to avoiding
potential misunderstandings. Indeed, it is also suggested that foreign
language teaching materials should embrace such descriptions and
contrastive findings particularly in the light of the sparse attention
paid to pragmatics in foreign language teaching to date (cf. Judd
1999), the imprecision found in the representation of pragmatic issues
in teaching materials (cf. Bardovi-Harlig 2001, Bardovi-Harlig et
al. 1991, Hassall 1997:154ff), and importantly in the light of
research revealing the general teachability of pragmatics (cf. Kasper
1997, 2000:388f, 2001:17).

Not only do its contrastive focus, the wide applicability of its
findings or the wide coverage of languages analysed make this volume a
worthwhile collection of papers. Rather, the particularly unique
aspect of the book is the breath of perspectives which it offers on
telephone communication. Particularly admirable and noteworthy in
this regard is the editors' inclusion of a criticism of the volume's
empirical papers by Paul ten Have and Emanuel Schegloff, both eminent
researchers in the field of conversational analysis. These researchers
pose important questions regarding the assumptions and methodology
employed in the empirical papers of the volume and in previous
telephone research, and propose suggestions for approaching further
research. There is no doubt but that telephone research can only
benefit from such an exchange of perspectives and the interesting
discussion which results.

Some issues I would like to comment on:

Firstly, it is disappointing that none of the papers take the effect
of recent developments in telephone technology, such as caller number
display (or caller name display), into account. Such developments, it
is suggested, will increasingly influence the structure of telephone
calls since caller display, e.g., will make the identification/
recognition sequence superfluous at times and also possibly change the
nature of the summons-answer sequence. Further research is required on
this issue. Related to this matter is the volume's somewhat narrow
concentration on traditional telephone interactions despite the fact
that the editors note in the introduction to the volume that ''More
recently the cellular telephone has become widely available and is
taking over many countries by storm'' (p. 4), suggesting subsequently
that this fact contributes to the claim that ''telephone calls have
become another primordial site of speech communication and fully
deserve to be studied extensively and in depth.'' Indeed, caution
should be advised in equating mobile/ cellular phone communication
with traditional telephoning since the high cost per minute, the
frequent lower quality reception and the variable location may, e.g.,
trigger changes in conversational structure. An opening phase may,
e.g., involve routine requests for information (e.g. ''Where are
you?'') and reports on actions (e.g. I'm in a traffic jam). In
addition, lack of speaker identification is a further frequent feature
given the caller display function, as Bodomo has found for mobile
phone interactions in Cantonese (cf. Bodomo 2001).

A further drawback of the volume, in my opinion, is the lack of
information or discussion concerning how recordings were actually
carried out -- in the interest of replicability this would have been
welcomed (cf., e.g., references such as Engdahl 2001). Papers either
make no mention of the technology employed or reference is only made
in passing, as is the case in Yotsukura's paper (''? tape recorders
were connected directly to the incoming telephone line with a special
adapter?) and Park's paper (''The recording device I used recorded
both outgoing and incoming calls automatically''). No further
information is given on such ''special adapters.''

Finally, with the exception of the paper by Maria Sifianou, the
conversational structure of telephone conversations in a particular
culture is largely viewed in a vacuum without reference to the
structure of face-to-face communication in that culture (cf. e.g.,
research by Aston 1995, House 1982, Laver 1981, L�ger 1993 on, e.g.,
openings and closings in everyday communication). This is
understandable given the focus of the present volume on cross-cultural
issues. However, it is suggested that such a comparison would aid in
highlighting the specificities of telephone communication.


Notwithstanding these criticisms, this is a first-class volume,
representing an important contribution to the study of language in
use, and to the contrastive study of telephone calls in
particular. The editors should be credited for a very well edited
volume not only on the level of style and format, but also of content,
the overall coherence achieved by a commendable focus and extensive
cross-referencing between papers. All contributions are well-written
and comparatively easy to read, making the volume accessible to a wide
range of audiences. The book is of particular interest to those
students and researchers of language use across culture, but its
findings may be applied to the foreign language classroom.


Antonopoulou, E./Sifianou, M. (2003), Conversational dynamics of
humour: The telephone game in Greek. Journal of Pragmatics 35,

Aston, G. (1995), Say 'thank you': Some pragmatic constraints in
conversational closings. Applied Linguistics 16, 1, 57-86.

Bardovi-Harlig, K. (2001), Evaluating the empirical evidence: Grounds
for instruction in pragmatics? In: Rose, K. R. & Kasper, G. (eds.),
Pragmatics in language teaching. NY: Cambridge University Press:

Bardovi-Harlig, K., Hartford, B. A. S., Mahan-Taylor, R., Morgan,
M. J. & Reynolds, D.W. (1991), Developing pragmatic awareness: Closing
the conversation. ELT Journal 45, 1, 4-15.

Bodomo, A. (2001), Linguistic features of MPC [mobile phone Cantonese]
- Voice. Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong. Retrieved 2003-06-02 from
the World Wide Web:

Engdahl, T. (2001), Telephone line audio interface circuits. Espoo:
Helsinki University of Technology. Retrieved 2003-06-09 from the World
Wide Web:

Enomoto, S. & Marriott, H. (1994), Investigating evaluative behaviour
in Japanese tour guiding interaction. Multilingua 13, 1-2, 131-161.

Hassall, T. J. (1997), Requests by Australian learners of Indonesian.
Unpublished PhD dissertation, Australian National University.

House, J. (1982), Opening and closing phases in German and English
dialogues. Grazer Linguistische Studien 16, 52-82.

House, J. & Kasper, G. (2000), How to remain a non-native speaker. In:
Riemer, C. (ed.), Kognitive Aspekte des Lehrens und Lernens von
Fremdsprachen. Cognitive aspects of foreign language learning and
teaching: Festschrift fuer Willis J. Edmondson zum 60. Geburtstag.
Tuebingen: Narr: 101-118.

Judd, E. L. (1999), Some issues in the teaching of pragmatic
competence. In: Hinkel, E. (ed.), Culture in second language teaching
and learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 152-166.

Kasper, G. (1997), Can pragmatic competence be taught? (NetWork #6)
[HTML document]. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i, Second Language
Teaching & Curriculum Center. Retrieved 2003-06-09 from the World Wide

Kasper, G. (1998), Interlanguage pragmatics. In: Byrnes, H. (ed.),
Learning foreign and second languages: Perspectives in research and
scholarship. NY: Modern Language Association: 183-208.

Kasper, G. (2000), Unterrichtsforschung zur Lernersprachenpragmatik -
eine Forschungsluecke. In: Helbig, B., Kleppin, K. & Koenigs,
F. G. (eds.), Sprachlehrforschung im Wandel: Beitraege zur Erforschung
des Lehrens und Lernens von Fremdsprachen. Festschrift fuer
Karl-Richard Bausch zum 60. Geburtstag. Tuebingen: Stauffenburg:

Kasper, G. (2001), Learning pragmatics in the L2 classroom. In:
Bouton, L.F. (ed.), Pragmatics and language learning, vol. 10. Urbana,
IL: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Division of English as
an International Language: 1-25.

Laver, J. (1981), Linguistic routines and politeness in greeting and
parting. In: Coulmas, F. (ed.), Conversational routine. Explorations
in standardized communication situations and prepatterned speech. The
Hague, etc.: Mouton: 289-304.

L�ger, H.-H. (1993), Routinen und Rituale in der
Alltagskommunikation. Fernstudieneinheit 6. Berlin, etc.:


Anne Barron is Assistant Professor in the English Department of the
University of Bonn, Germany. Her main research interests include
interlanguage pragmatics, cross-cultural pragmatics (particularly
pragmatic variation within English), sociolinguistics and language in
the media. She has recently published the monograph "Acquisition in
Interlanguage Pragmatics. Learning how to do things with words in a
study abroad context" with Benjamins (2003).
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