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LINGUIST List 25.2335

Tue May 27 2014

Review: Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics; Socioling: Thielemann & Kosta (2013)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <monicalinguistlist.org>

Date: 10-Feb-2014
From: Dorota Lockyer <dlockyeralumni.ubc.ca>
Subject: Approaches to Slavic Interaction
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-3472.html

EDITOR: Nadine Thielemann
EDITOR: Peter Kosta
TITLE: Approaches to Slavic Interaction
SERIES TITLE: Dialogue Studies 20
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Dorota Lockyer, University of British Columbia


This book is an edited collection of papers that broadly fall under the scope of face-to-face interaction within discourse analysis and interactional linguistics. It is a useful book to acquaint scholars of various linguistic and Slavic backgrounds with “current research conducted on verbal interaction between Slavic as well as bilingual interlocutors” (1). Accordingly, all data discussed within this book examine one or more of the Polish, Russian and Czech languages. The volume contains fifteen articles divided into five sections, in addition to an introduction/overview.

The introduction, written by Nadine Thielemann and Peter Kosta, situates the volume within its methodological and linguistic framework. They begin by briefly describing current methodological frameworks and theories within the broad scope of linguistic pragmatics and explaining how the papers in the volume “analyze Slavic interaction primarily from a mostly Western perspective” (3). In the last part of the introduction, they present an overview of the book by briefly summarizing each paper and explaining how the papers fit into each section of the volume.


1. ‘Talking out of turn: (Co)-constructing Russian conversation’ (Lenore Grenoble), pp. 17-33.

This paper discusses the use of co-constructions, defined by Grenoble as syntactic units “created within a single turn construction unit but by multiple speakers” (17). The study uses a Conversation Analysis framework to analyze Russian conversation recorded in Brighton Beach, New York and from radio interviews on Radio Echo Moscow. Grenoble shows that co-constructions can be used to “‘fill in’ missing words” (24) or manipulate the conversation by attempting to redirect the topic or statement made by a speaker. The marked difference between conversation in Brighton Beach and in political interviews is that while the co-constructions in political interviews are highly manipulative, the co-constructions used in interviews made at Brighton Beach serve “to enhance participation and to signal heightened involvement” (31). The results of Grenoble’s study show the possibilities for co-constructions in the morphologically-rich language of Russian and also reinforce the communicative, social, collaborative and interactive nature of conversation.

2. ‘Reanimating responsibility: The weź-V2 (take-V2) double imperative in Polish interaction’ (Jörg Zinken), pp. 36-61.

This paper discusses the functions of the Polish ‘weź-V2’ double imperative construction from a Conversation Analysis and Interactional Sociolinguistics approach. Using a corpus of video-taped naturally-occurring interactions that occurred in the homes of six Polish families, Zinken examines requests of here-and-now actions to show the two main reasons for the use of the double imperative. First, it “is commonly selected when the request recipient carries some co-responsibility for the relevant business, but isn’t currently attending to it” (59). In this way, the speaker who uses the double imperative conveys some level of criticism and expresses the speaker’s opinion regarding the action the recipient should be performing. Second, the “double imperative often creates a situation in which a person becomes newly enlisted for some socially beneficial action” (59). Broadly, Zinken shows that the type of social action performed is highly relevant to the specific grammatical constructions that are used by the speaker.

3. ‘Eye behavior in Russian spoken interaction and its correlation with affirmation and negation’ (Elena Grishina), pp. 62-83.

The Multimodal Russian Corpus (MURCO) provides the data for this paper’s comprehensive analysis of eye behavior in connection with Russian words of negation and affirmation, specifically ‘da’ and ‘net’ (‘yes’ and ‘no’). Grishina analyzes her data in relation to three main concepts, namely that of gaze grammar, eye closing, and blinking. First, the paper analyzes the corpus with respect to gaze grammar at cue boundaries, ‘da’/‘net’ cues, eye closing (EC) as full gestures, and gesture ligatures. Grishina proposes that the EC with ‘da’ or ‘net’ are ‘embedded gestures’, which must be situated within a context and paired with full gestures and speech to have meaning. It is argued that the EC with ‘da’ is “the backup gesture which metonymically duplicates the nod of agreement” (75), while ‘net’ connects the EC with disappearance and the breaking-off of communication. Next, the paper investigates blinking with pauses and stressed syllables, and proposes that blinking follows the same pattern as the previous EC embedded gestures. Last, the results lead to the conclusion that “‘da’/’net’ reactions, or affirmation and negation, are the basic driving forces that influence eye behavior in Russian dialogue at all possible levels” (81).

4. ‘Hesitation markers in transitions within (story)telling sequences of Russian television shows’ (Hanna Laitinen), pp. 85-102.

Using samples from television shows, Laitinen applies Conversation Analysis, Labov’s minimal narrative and several psycholinguistic models to locate hesitation markers (HMs) in storytelling sequences, and specifically in each turn-constructional unit (TCU). In her analysis, HMs are shown occur at the beginning and end of a telling sequence (e.g. between abstract and either orientation or evaluation). Laitinen suggests that problems may occur at these points due to shifts in consciousness, the concept of tellability and/or misunderstandings that may occur at the end of the telling. The paper concludes by suggesting that HMs are a widespread phenomenon, and that “a shift in a storytelling or telling sequence appears to be both a pragmatic and a cognitive action that may cause hesitation” (99).


5. ‘Russian everyday utterances: the top lists and some statistics’ (Tatiana Sherstinova) pp. 105-116.

Using audio data from the Russian ORD speech corpus, Sherstinova examines the length of utterances and compiles a list of Russian everyday utterances. The shortest utterances of one word (e.g. da ‘yes’) are shown to be most frequent in Russian, followed in frequency by two-word (e.g. nu da ‘well yes’), three-word (e.g. nu ne znaju ‘well I don’t know’), four-word (e.g. kak u tebe dela? ‘how are you?’), and progressively longer utterances. Of the most frequent utterances, those expressing evaluation or salutation were unsurprisingly at the top, followed by the two-word utterances that begin with particles or conjunctions. In addition, discourse particles are shown to appear often within the most frequent utterances. Sherstinova also examines the link between duration of utterances and syllable duration, and shows that one- and two-syllable utterances are the most predictable by having the least variation.

6. ‘Speech rate as reflection of speaker’s social characteristics’ (Svetlana B. Stepanova) pp. 117-129.

Through an analysis of spontaneous Russian speech from the Speech Corpus of Russian Everyday Communication (ORD), Stepanova’s contribution confirms many conclusions about the influence of factors including age and gender previously made by researchers working on other languages. Specifically, Stepanova uses statistical analysis by way of the STATISTICA program to show that males speak faster than females; there is no “direct influence of speaker’s age on the speech rate” (125) except when the data is divided into two groups of above and below age forty; then speech rate decreases with age. In addition, a high level of verbal competence is shown to correspond with a slower speech rate, and that the number of syllables in a spoken phrase strongly corresponds with speech rate: “the longer the phrase, the faster the rate” (127). Other factors, such as the emotional condition of the speakers, are left for future studies.


7. ‘How evaluation is transferred in oral discourse in Russian’ (Nicole Richter) pp. 133-145.

Richter’s paper discusses and analyzes the phenomenon of evaluation, which is broadly defined as verbal and non-verbal emotive choices that convey a positive or negative evaluative stance towards a referent in discourse. The paper uses recordings by native speakers of Russian and consists of two sets of data: read and quasi-spontaneous speech. By testing the Russian speakers to see whether they could distinguish between prosodic and rhetorical features, Richter points out that different speakers used different rejection and evaluation techniques, including tonal features and lexical items. Both prosodic attitudinal markers and attitudinal meaning were produced concurrently; thus, from this data, Richter concludes that rhetorical strategies can, and should be, studied within the context of spontaneous conversation.

8. ‘“This is how I see it”: No-prefacing in Polish’ (Matylda Weidner) pp. 147-166.

Using a corpus of audiotaped doctor-patient interactions, Weidner discusses the turn-initial Polish particle ‘no’. In the first part of the paper, Weidner presents previous research on ‘no’, linking the particle to discourse particles and interjections, and also the particle’s dependence “on context and intonation” (149). Although the particle can appear in four turn construction environments, Weidner states that her study is limited “to cases where ‘no’ occurs TCU-initially” (149). The analysis suggests that ‘no’ indicates a “my side” epistemic evaluation of preceding information which “works toward minimizing the potential negative implications” (158) of earlier requests. Weidner concludes with the suggestion that although ‘no’ may have no semantic meaning in itself, its meaningfulness becomes apparent “in and through the detail of talk-in-interaction” (163). In a similar way to Grenoble’s paper, Weidner’s study reinforces the collaborative nature of interaction.

9. ‘How can I lie if I am telling the truth? The unbearable lightness of being of strong and weak modals, modal adverbs and modal particles in discourse between epistemic modality and evidentiality’ (Peter Kosta), pp. 167-184.

Using data from the ORD and the National corpus of Russian, Kosta revisits particles that correspond either to ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ modals in regards to evidential and epistemic meaning. The main part of the paper examines “how particles that show the portmanteau effect between evidentiality and epistemic modality interact and are used in conversations” (176), particularly the particle ‘vrode’ and ‘vrode by’. Kosta concludes that in the view of lexical semantics, these particles are highly ambiguous; however, their discourse functions in conversational backgrounds can differ. Thus, the paper builds on and adds to previous theoretical findings on modality.


10. ‘Irony in the face(s) of politeness: Strategic use of verbal irony in Czech political TV debates’ (Jekaterina Mažara), pp. 187-212.

The central question of this paper concerns the relationship of verbal irony to politeness management in political candidates in six cases of political debate shows. Ironic utterances are examined in light of their intended and actual effects, and the victim’s reaction in relation to positive and negative face, face threatening acts (FTAs) and the protection of face. In the analysis, Mažara gives two possible reasons for the speaker’s choice of irony. The first “reason might be the wish to present oneself as the stronger, more controlling participant in a debate” (209), while the second reason is to protect one’s negative face from an opponent’s attacks. It is argued that reactions to irony also follow similar reasoning; however, as Mažara notes, other reasons may cause the use or lack of irony, including the attitude of the host, the setting and also the individual politician’s personality.

11. ‘Parliamentary communication: The case of the Russian Gosduma’ (Daniel Weiss), pp. 213-235.

Through an analysis of parliamentary debates in the Russian State Duma (‘Gosduma’), the paper examines the Gosduma’s characteristics in turn-taking (in particular that of the Chair), forms of address, multi-addressed and multi-layered communication and Internet and TV coverage. In general, the language in the Gosduma is shown to be less formal and more varied, particularly when compared with the British Parliament. Weiss suggests that published transcripts could be improved upon by increased grammatical editing and the addition of substantial information including hecklings. The overall representation of the institution of the Gosduma, it is concluded, is “constitutionally and politically less influential, if not to say handicapped, compared with its European counterparts” (233).

12. ‘Impoliteness and mock-impoliteness: A descriptive analysis’ (Michael Furman), pp. 237-256.

In this paper, naturally occurring speech from the Russian reality television show ‘Dom Dva’ is used to analyze impoliteness and mock-impoliteness, and also impoliteness strategies. Using theory from foundational works such as by Austin and Labov, the paper argues that “mock-impoliteness is parasitic on impoliteness” (241), and both impoliteness and politeness stem from identical locutions but differ on the level of illocution. Strategies identified in the corpus include condescending scorn or ridicule, calling names, belittling, invading another’s space and inappropriate identity markers. Mock-impoliteness is shown to “perform a socially affiliative and inclusive function” (253) such as bonding, which dampens conflict. The paper thus contrasts mock-impoliteness from genuine impoliteness by examining conversational turn sequences in close detail.

13. ‘Humor as staging an utterance’ (Nadine Thielemann), pp. 257-278.

In the paper, contextualization cues (CCs), broadly defined as ways that speakers can interpret the semantic message in discourse, are analyzed as a discourse modality that indicates the humorous framing of an utterance. The paper focuses on animated speech in face-to-face conversations from the Russian National Corpus, ORD corpus and the author’s recordings. Thielemann begins the paper with a discussion of footing, alignments, and forms of conversational humor, which includes parody, irony and teasing. Next, Thielemann argues that “there is a motivational link between the CC animated speech and its ‘meaning’” (273) since the CC does not contain meaning in itself. Last, Thielemann concludes that playing with the words spoken by another person (e.g. mimicking) and animating a character is not just play but a shift in footing; furthermore, CCs convey “the meta-message ‘This is play’ or ‘I don’t mean this’” (273).


14. ‘Bilingual language use in the family environment: Evidence from a telephone conversation between members of a community of speakers of German descent’ (Veronika Ries), pp. 281-293.

In this paper, the spontaneous language use of two families of bilingual speakers of German descent from Russia (‘Russlanddeutsche’) is examined in order to discover code-switching used in telephone calls and their effects on conversation. The main question posed asks: “How do speakers use the linguistic resources available to them (i.e. German and Russian) during a family conversation?” (282). The observations demonstrate that language choice is not random, but that the second language brings the conversation to a different level. Opening and closing sequences are also examined and found to “constitute frames of conversations [that] are highly characterized by routines” (290) and are more likely used habitually due to their frequency. Ries concludes that “[t]he complex use of more than one language shows that a parallelism of the two languages arises but that, in practice, their use is very flexible” (291).

15. ‘Russian language maintenance through bedtime story reading?: Linguistic strategies and language negotiation in Russian-French speaking families in Switzerland’ (Liliane Meyer Pitton), p. 295-315.

Pitton discusses the problem of language maintenance, specifically within a minority group of Russians living in Switzerland. Language maintenance through the interactive practice of reading bedtime stories is shown to be a joint opportunity to teach the Russian language by the parents who can use various techniques (e.g. role play) to evoke responses in the target language by the child. Yet, it is shown that the activity is not a monolingual interaction because the child can either resist and use French or adopt the language used by the parent, a choice which leads to different outcomes. Pitton concludes that the story-reading activity in these families is “a bilingual Russian-French event” (311) that demonstrates the difficulty for the Russian-speaking parent to create an exclusively Russian-speaking environment.


The title of the volume can be construed as slightly misleading by the use of the word ‘Slavic’ since the main languages discussed are Polish and Czech (West Slavic) and Russian (East Slavic) with little or no reference to any of the South Slavic languages (e.g. Bulgarian). Likewise, the title suggests a broad range of approaches to ‘interaction’, from talk-in-interaction to politeness research, all of which falls under an umbrella of discourse analysis; yet, ‘interaction’ also suggests approaches that are not included in the volume (e.g. cognitive approaches) but could also fit under the title. Since the volume contains mainly empirical and descriptive case studies, the title would have been clearer with more specific phrasing or a subtitle.

The division of the volume into five parts does seem to work and balance out well, even though some sections have more papers than others. Also of interest is that most of the papers cite past papers by other authors in the same volume. These types of overlap demonstrate the coherence of the volume and appear to work to the volume’s favor. Overall, the volume is presented well, with each section containing an effective title that makes it immediately obvious to the reader what types of papers to expect in the section.

This project is successful because of several qualities and strengths:

-The presentation of a collected work by contemporary scholars in the field of discourse/interactional analysis that clearly references similar foundational research in the field (e.g. by Goffman and Labov). Overall, the papers are well grounded in the relevant scholarly literature and give detailed theoretical and methodological backgrounds. Sherstinova’s paper would benefit from a more comprehensive literature review and additional references that would situate the valuable findings of the paper to current scholarly research.

-The scholarly precision in the construction and proficient management of the volume, by accepting high-quality empirical papers that are not only interesting to discourse analysts but fit well within the relevant literature and can be of interest to scholars in related fields (e.g. semantics, sociolinguistics, pragmatics). Because all the Slavic examples have an English gloss or translation equivalent, the papers are accessible to scholars with little to no knowledge of any Slavic languages.

-This volume is a rich source of empirical case studies that should appeal to graduate students and established scholars alike. The accessibility of corpora and other sources of data used, combined with further directions and angles of study that could be taken outside the scope of the papers, are an invaluable resource for scholars to expand on these investigations in other languages or from other perspectives.

-The volume succeeds in its goal to include “the kind of research which has ever since the 70ies been conducted in Western style conversation analysis or similar approaches” (2), thereby making it accessible and understandable to a Western audience.

-The data used by the papers in the volume come from various sources, thus allowing for an overall discussion of different types of discourse, including formal discourse (e.g. political debates and the Gosduma), semi-formal discourse (e.g. doctor-patient interaction and television/radio shows) and informal discourse that comes from recorded conversations in families and among friends/acquaintances.

In sum, this volume is a useful and interesting resource for anyone working on or interested in various forms of interaction, particularly in the Slavic languages under examination. This book met my expectations, and I was able to find valuable contents and data that advance research in the field.


Dorota Lockyer is a PhD student in the Department of English at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Current research interests: linguistic approaches to literature, corpus linguistics, discourse analysis, pragmatics and translation studies.

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