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Review of  Discussing Conversation Analysis

Reviewer: Chaoqun Xie
Book Title: Discussing Conversation Analysis
Book Author: Carlo L. Prevignano Paul J. Thibault
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 14.2177

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Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2003 08:47:20 +0800
From: chaoqun xie
Subject: Discussing Conversation Analysis: The Work of Emanuel A. Schegloff

Prevignano, Carlo L. and Paul J. Thibault, ed. (2003) Discussing
Conversation Analysis: The Work of Emanuel A. Schegloff, John Benjamins
Publishing Company.

Announced at

Chaoqun Xie, Fujian Normal University


This book contains 10 chapters, including a preface, in which the
editors briefly introduce the individual chapters to follow. In Ch. 1,
"Presenting Emanuel A. Schegloff", John Heritage outlines Schegloff's
academic accomplishments, retorting upon the criticism or misperception
that Schegloff takes little account of context in his work. Heritage
rightly argues that it is no easy matter to fully appreciate the
complicated conceptual, empirical and methodological considerations as
evidenced in Schegloff's research output, which is confirmed by some of
the misreadings or misinterpretations present in some of the chapters
that follow (Chs. 4, 5, 6, and 7).

Ch. 2 is an interview with Schegloff on CA conducted by Svĕtla
Čmejrková and Carlo L. Prevignano. In this long and informative
interview, Schegloff provides an excellent synthesis of various central
issues pertaining to CA, from the briefing of three current research
programs to personal academic development, from love affair with CA to
personal and intellectual interaction with Goffman, Garfinkel and
Sacks, from concerns about social cognition, formalism in CA and
interactional order to problems with Habermas's work, interactional
disorders, views on the contexts of talk and suggestions for young
researchers. In this chapter, the reader is presented with a clear
picture of the past, present and possible future of CA.

In Ch. 3, Charles Goodwin talks about "The power of Schegloff's work"
with reference to his research into the talk of neurologically-impaired
patients. For Goodwin, the power of CA lies in its unstinting
commitment to cutting across the rigidly solid boundaries of various
disciplines in social sciences and to exploring how participants
(re)co-construct their social meaning and their identity within talk-

In. Ch. 4, 'Putting Schegloff's principles and practices in context',
Rick Iedema begins with a summary of the interview (Ch. 2), some of
which are actually misreadings, before focusing on three issues
addressed in the interview. First, Iedema asks whether conversation
analysts usually have unproblematic and transparent access to the
relevance of talk on the part of the analyst. Second, it is argued that
such notions as "naturally occurring talk" or "ordinary conversation"
are far from transparent. Third, comments are made on two types of
context (external and internal) and on CA's focus on the so-called
"constants of talk". Finally, Iedema draws our attention to the dynamic
and ephemeral aspects of human interaction.

In Ch. 5, "Conversation analysis as rigorous science", Pär Segerdahl
begins with the phenomenological architecture of Schegloff's research,
arguing in particular that the assumption that participants in
occasions of talk orient to the normative constructions of CA is an
illusion and that attempts should be made to distinguish the tools of
CA from actual conversations to solve Schegloff's problem of
truthfulness. For Segerdahl, "the most fundamental features of
Schegloff's technical apparatus do not correspond to the actual facts
of conversation" (96). As Schegloff argues in his response, however,
none of the assessments Segerdahl has made is warranted.

In Ch. 6, "Users' interpretations at a computer tutorial: Detecting
(causes) of misunderstandings", Pirkko Raudaskoski shows that CA is a
strong method for finding out how text users understand what is going
on. Through a detailed analysis of the interaction between two novice
users of Microsoft Word 5.0 and the Learning Microsoft Word program,
the author aims to demonstrate what a CA analysis can reveal about
user-readers' interpretations of electronic texts. It should be noted,
however, human-computer interaction, or human interaction with the help
of computers is not naturally occurring interaction in the usual or
real sense of CA.

In Ch. 7, "When conversation is not normal: The role of conversation
analysis in language pathology", Ruth Lesser applies CA to the field of
neuropsychology, discussing various issues related to in aphasic
conversations, including sequentiality and topic management,
variability between dyads and within dyads across time, and CA in
assessment and therapy (cf. Goodwin 2003).

Ch. 8 is Schegloff's response to various contributions to this volume,
where Schegloff points out that some of the criticisms made by other
contributors to this volume are merely misunderstandings or misfires.
In Ch. 9, Carlo L. Prevignano and Paul L. Thibault continue the
interview with Schegloff., addressing such topics as differences
between 'turn' and 'move', grammar in turn-taking, and the relations
between CA and interactional linguistics (cf. Ford et al. 2002 ).
Finally, Ch. 10 is "A bibliography of Emanuel A. Schegloff" edited by
Susan L. Eerdmans.


Over the past thirty or more years, conversation analysis (CA) has
developed into and proved to be one of the most robust research areas
attracting students of divergent academic backgrounds, pragmatics
(Levinson 1983), for instance. Adopting a sociological approach to
language and resorting to naturally occurring conversation, CA aims,
among other things, to demonstrate that human interaction can be
systematically observed and studied. And it goes without saying that,
when it comes to CA, one of the most prominent and productive figures
is undoubtedly Emanuel A. Schegloff, who, arguing in favor of treating
language behavior as situated social action and interaction, has been
making outstanding and original contributions to the growth and
development of this line of inquiry. This should become self-evident
when one takes a quick glance of "A bibliography of Emanuel A.
Schegloff" edited by Susan L. Eerdmans at the end of the present volume
under review. This book provides a good forum for both supporters and
critics of CA to discuss various central issues related to CA.

To conclude, the collection of papers provides a good opportunity, for
those interested in CA and Schegloff, to obtain a deep and profound
understanding of how CA has come to its present form, to what extent CA
has been and can be explored, what Schegloff has contributed to CA as
one of its most powerful advocators and, most importantly, how CA as an
empirically-oriented research methodology can be used to better account
for human interaction and sense-making activities. And the interested
reader is referred to Eerdmans et al. (2003) to see in what aspects
Gumperz and Schegloff are both similar to and different from each other
in their approach to language in social action and interaction.
Actually, CA has greatly contributed to a new orientation to language
labeled "interactional linguistics" (Selting and Couper-Kuhlen 2001).
More recently, there have been more and more endeavors to introduce CA
into the study of politeness (Golato 2002; Antonopoulou and Sifianou
2003). Of course, this is not to say that CA is not without any
problem, which can be seen from the challenges posed by various
contributions. For Gumperz (see Prevignano and di Luzio 2003), for
instance, the CA's transcription system developed by Gail Jefferson
seems to have taken little account of prosodic and paralinguistic
aspects of conversation (but cf. Schegloff 1998). Another point we need
to be cautious about is that the so-called 'cultural hegemony' might
arise as a result of aiming for universality or systematics with no or
little attention to cross-cultural variation (Sifianou 2002).


Antonopoulou, Eleni; and Sifianou, Maria. 2003. Conversational dynamics
of humour: the telephone game in Greek. Journal of Pragmatics 35: 741-

Eerdmans, Susan L.; Prevignano, Carlo L.; and Thibault, Paul J. (Eds.).
2003. Language and interaction: Discussions with John J. Gumperz.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Ford, Cecilia E.; Fox, Barbara A.; and Thompson, Sandra A. (Eds.).
2002. The language of turn and sequence. New York: Oxford University

Golato, Andrea. 2002. German compliment responses. Journal of
Pragmatics 34: 547-571.

Goodwin, Charles (Ed.). 2003. Conversation and brain damage. New York:
Oxford University Press.

Levinson, Stephen C. 1983. Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Schegloff, Emanuel A. 1998. Reflections on studying prosody in talk-in-
Interaction. Language and Speech 41: 235-263.

Prevignano, Carlo L.; and di Luzio, Aldo. 2003. A discussion with John
J. Gumperz. In: Eerdmans, Susan L.; Prevignano, Carlo L.; and Thibault,
Paul J. (Eds.). Language and interaction: Discussions with John J.
Gumperz. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 7-29.

Selting, Margret; and Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth (Eds.). 2001. Studies in
interactional linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Sifianou, Maria. 2002. On the telephone again! Telephone conversation
openings in Greek. In: Luke, Kang Kwong; and Pavlidou, Theodossia-Soula
(Eds.), Telephone calls: Unity and diversity in conversational
structure across languages and cultures. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Chaoqun Xie is a lecturer with the Foreign Languages Institute, Fujian Normal University, China. His main areas of research interests include interactional sociopragmatics, sociolinguistics, culture, communication and translation and has published extensively in these fields.