Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
AUTHOR: Schiffrin, Deborah TITLE: In Other Words SUBTITLE: Variation in Reference and Narrative SERIES: Studies in Interactional Sociolinguistics, 21 PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2006
Frédérique Passot, Department of English (Institut du Monde Anglophone), University of Paris III – Sorbonne Nouvelle, France.
The purpose of _In Other Words: Variation in Reference and Narrative_ is to analyze second position referrals and narratives. The book specifically focuses on repairing, repeating, rephrasing, altering, reframing and restructuring in story telling. It comprises a table of contents, a list of figures and a list of tables, a preface, nine chapters, three appendices, a list of references and an index.
Chapter 1: Variation
The introductory chapter deals with variation, i.e. with how the same thing can be said in different ways. It starts by defining to what extent the goals and methods of variation analysis apply to the author's study of reference and narratives. Schiffrin discusses the two directions taken by the extension of variation analysis to discourse: discourse variation and variation in discourse. Discourse variation is the study of socially motivated language uses, while studies in variation in discourse, like Schiffrin's, concentrate on what varies in specific sites of language use (form or meaning).
The first chapter provides a definition of referrals. Theoretically construed as either word-to-world (external) or word-to-word (internal, textual) connections, but less clearly divided in practice, they are relevant to the problem of variation and order of mention in a text. They rely on speaker, hearer and context, which makes them complex objects of study.
Narratives are then defined. Two perspectives on narratives are confronted: the very influential code-based perspective (Jefferson 1978, Labov 1972, 1997), which studies the language of narratives, and the competence-based perspective (Polkinghorne 1988), which focuses on the logic behind how experience is structured in narratives. In Schiffrin's view, the two approaches are complementary and useful for analyzing variation in reference and narratives when they appear a second time.
Chapter 2: Problematic referrals
Chapter 2 is about repairs due to problematic referrals. It analyzes four cases where the relationship between the referent and the referring expression is problematic: both can be continued despite the problem, or modified, or either one can be altered. A quantitative analysis allows the author to compare the four problem types in terms of frequency, grammatical function of the referring expression within the sentence, informational status of the repair, and location of the repair within the turn at talk.
The most frequent type of repair in Schiffrin's corpus (type 1) is one in which both referent and referring expressions are continued. The author suggests that this type of repair, located at the intersection between grammar (subject position in the sentence) and interaction (initial position in the turn), helps in managing preparation time for the rest of the utterance.
Chapter 3: Anticipating referrals
Chapter 3 deals with repairs located within the noun phrase, and specifically with articles (''a'' and ''the'') after self-interruption. Three possible outcomes for article repairs are presented: the whole noun phrase can be abandoned (about a third of all self-interruption self-completion article repairs), the article can be replaced by another article (about 12% of all repairs), or it can be repeated (more than 50% for both articles). The focus of this chapter is on the last two kinds of repairs: switching and repeating articles.
Articles are viewed as indicators of both the epistemic status (degree of knowledge assumed) and information status (degree of accessibility) of the following noun. Article switching is presented not only as a sign of problematic evaluation of the information status of the following noun, but also as a way to correct an anticipated mismatch between word and world in the context of the utterance. Article repetition is a sign of dysfluency: in both cases, the repair allows speakers more time to find the appropriate referring expression considering the referent they have in mind. It may also be helpful on a broader scale with sentence or even turn preparation.
Chapter 4: Reactive and proactive prototypes
In this chapter, Schiffrin examines cases where the hearer's familiarity with a referent is erroneously assumed by the speaker and gives way to a repair (other- or self-initiated self-completed repair). She discusses two strategies applied by speakers to deal with this type of problematic referral, which both involve resorting to a ''pragmatic prototype.''
The notion of prototype used by the author is based on existence, location and possession (hence the attention to 'there is' and 'they have' structures). It is a combination of two constructs: the prototype itself, i.e. a representation of the core of the category the referent belongs to, and an event schema, i.e. a set of attributes derived from the stereotypical situations where the referent appears.
The reactive strategy consists in breaking up the information contained in the referent into several units, and organizing it according to the principle of end focus to ensure that new information is anchored to background knowledge and can be received by the hearer. The proactive strategy uses the same principles to pre-empt familiarity problems.
Chapter 5: Referring sequences
Chapter 5 deals with both referring expressions and narratives. It actually compares the use of nouns and pronouns for next mentions in narratives and in lists. The two textual genres are defined as follows: a list places a referent in a collection of other somewhat related referents, while a narrative recounts an event in which the referent was involved. The author describes the constraints impacting next-mention in narratives and in lists. Four constraints are discussed: recency, potential ambiguity, topicality and boundaries. The first two have more impact in narratives, while topicality and boundaries are more relevant in lists.
The author then goes on to analyze an example of problematic referral with the term ''concentration camp.'' She discusses the different meanings the term can take, whether applied to the World War II American internment camps for Japanese Americans or to the extermination camps used against Jews by Nazi Germany. She argues that the name of a 1998 exhibition about the Japanese American camps, and the language used in the exhibition booklet, was the center of a controversy among Jewish Americans because the term ''concentration camp'' is so intrinsically linked to their collective stories that it comes with a broader social, cultural and political meaning than less informative referring expressions.
Chapter 6: Reframing experience
This chapter presents the analysis of four versions of a Holocaust survivor's capture story during World War II. It focuses on self and other as sources of story material and discusses the concepts of positioning, footing and stance.
The author shows how different sources are incorporated in a single narrative (or reframed): the experience of others becomes part of the fabric of the story, whose language reflects the teller's epistemic stance regarding second-hand information. The four versions of the story, their characters and sequences of events, are compared in this light.
Chapter 7: Retelling a story
Based on the same corpus of narratives as the previous chapter, chapter 7 examines the structural and evaluative differences between the four versions of the story. It looks at three sequences: the plan, anticipation (i.e. expectations), and the capture. The overall structure of the sequences either follows a stanza (recursive) style or a linear (chronological) style.
Schiffrin analyzes the role and distribution of event clauses vs. non event clauses and dependent vs. independent clauses in the construction of the four stories. She shows that independent clauses and event clauses at temporal junctures typically ensure a linear construction.
Chapter 8: Who did what (again)?
Chapter 8 concludes the analysis of the Holocaust stories by examining the referrals to the eight characters in the stories, their roles in the action and their integration in the stories. The author shows how the constraints delineated in chapter 5 apply, and how the expected next-mention using a pronoun is performed using a noun in critical locations in the stories.
Another narrative is analyzed in this chapter: the story of a prank played by the narrator and a friend of his when they were children. The story was told once and immediately retold and elaborated upon.
Despite the differences, the two sets of stories share common characteristics regarding speaker stance: they both deal with deceptive anticipations, and they both rely on the central role of the speaker as a character, conveyed by the pronoun ''we'' in its inclusive use.
Chapter 9: Redoing and replaying
The final chapter looks back at the key concepts, hypotheses and results delineated in the book.
Appendices include transcriptions of the corpus studied: four versions of a Holocaust survivor's capture story during World War II, and the story of a childhood prank.
Even though the topic of the book might seem very specialized (next mention in narratives), _In Other Words_ is highly readable and accessible. This owes in part to the structure of each of the nine chapters, which includes an introduction stating the question under examination and a conclusion and recapitulation of the points made in said chapter. Indeed, each chapter is meant to be read either on its own or as part of a set. This relative independence of the chapters can also be viewed as detrimental to the unity of the book. Although the same overall topic, spirit and structure is kept throughout, some chapters seem to less integrated within the fabric of the book: chapter 5 works as a transition chapter between two different ways of dealing with next mention, and potentially two different books altogether.
While chapters 1 to 4 focus on next mention within text, the following chapters extend next mention analysis to reference management across texts and over time. This shift translates into a change in the scope of the study, in the method and tools used and indeed, to some extent, in the interest of the book. The first four chapters are very stimulating and will undoubtedly be useful to anyone interested in reference, reformulation and repair: Schiffrin's minute analyses of conversational data are backed by statistical calculations and illustrated by a large number of figures and tables.
Chapter 5 has a different status and seems to incorporate previous and somewhat loosely related work by the author, on the controversy posed by the use of the term ''concentration camp'' in the booklet of a 1998 exhibition in New York city. Starting in chapter 6 (and in fact in the end of chapter 5), the analytical approach gives way to a rather descriptive and arguably less interesting one on historical discourse. When the focus turns to narratives, the introductory sections are home to lengthy historical inserts about the Holocaust. Background information concerning the corpus used is enlightening insofar as it serves the linguistic analysis. In the case of this book, it is debatable whether the author should have dwelled on such a well-known period of the 20th century in so much detail and for so many pages. Incidentally, very little background is given about the corpus of sociolinguistic interviews used in the first part of the book. Generally speaking, the second half of the book will probably be less useful to researchers because it lacks some of the theoretical grounding and the practical approach of the first half which enables one to generalize from the hypotheses and results presented. Where present, statistical analysis is much less convincing than in the first half of the book.
From a presentation point of view, the book is very nicely typeset, and features clear figures and tables, especially in the first few chapters. However, some chapters seem to have been less carefully proofread than others: some typos remain, mostly in chapter 4, and one paragraph is repeated twice in chapter 5 (p.189). The serious reader is left wanting with the index: there are few entries, which remain very general and of very diverse nature. In the index appear linguistic theories (e.g. pragmatics, semantics, variation analysis), linguistic analytic concepts (e.g. constraints, footing, markedness), discourse genres (e.g. narratives, lists), parts of speech or syntactic structures (e.g. articles, existentials, nouns and noun phrases), and thematic entries (e.g. the Holocaust).
Overall, _In Other Words_ meets its goal of bringing together analyses about variation in reference and narrative, be it within the same text, across different contemporary texts, or over time. Throughout the book, terminology specific to one linguistic school of thought is kept to a minimum and explained where used, which makes the book very accessible. The shortcomings pointed out here do not prevent it from being a thought-provoking read.
Jefferson, G. (1978). Sequential aspects of storytelling in conversation. In J. Schenkein (ed.), Studies in the organization of conversational interaction. pp.219-248. New York: Free Press.
Labov, W. (1972). The transformation of experience in narrative syntax. In Language in the inner city. pp.354-396. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Labov, W. (1997). Some further steps in narrative analysis. Journal of Narrative and Life History 7, 395-415.
Polkinghorne, D. (1988). Narrative knowing and the human sciences. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Frédérique Passot is an assistant professor at the University of Paris III – Sorbonne Nouvelle, France. She teaches English linguistics and phonology, and is involved in the distance learning department. Prior to taking this position, she taught French at Girton College, Cambridge and the University of Sussex, Brighton in the UK. She also worked for the Rosetta Project in San Francisco in 2004-05. In 2004, she completed a Ph.D. dissertation entitled "On the hierarchical ordering of discourse constituents in a corpus of spontaneous English speech" (La hiérarchisation des constituants discursifs dans un corpus d'anglais oral spontané). Her current research interests include speaker and hearer stance in conversation in English, discourse markers, and reformulation.