EDITORS: Bowles, Hugo; Seedhouse, Paul
TITLE: Conversation Analysis and Language for Specific Purposes
SERIES TITLE: Linguistic Insights. Studies in Language and Communication, Volume
PUBLISHER: Peter Lang AG
Beatrice Szczepek Reed, Centre for English Language Education, University of
This book is a compilation of articles that address the link between
conversation analysis (CA) and the teaching of language for specific purposes
(LSP), and the potential for applying the first to the latter. The book is
divided into three sections. The first contains general or introductory
chapters, the second focuses on the application of CA to specific institutional
domains, and the third on CA-informed teaching practice in LSP.
In the first chapter ''Describing and Analysing Institutional Varieties of
Interaction'', Seedhouse and Richards set out to provide a model of institutional
talk by which teachers of LSP can more efficiently analyze institutional speech
data. Their ''tri-dimensional model of context'' is based on the fact that each
institutional interaction occurs a) in the context of an overall variety, such
as courtroom talk; b) in the context of a sub-variety, such as
cross-examination; and c) as an idiosyncratic instance of talk. This framework
is presented as one according to which LSP teachers can represent data in
relation to its multi-layered context, which is simultaneously an individual one
and one that is representative of a certain type of institutional talk. They
analyze a seemingly problematic example according to this model, and interpret
the interaction with reference to their model of layered contexts.
Pallotti's chapter is an introduction to CA and its concepts and methodology:
''Conversation Analysis: Methodology, Machinery and Application to Specific
Settings''. After an overview of the origins of CA, Pallotti goes on to explain
the notion of participant categories, and the need for naturally occurring data
and their transcription. In her section on ''Machinery'' she introduces basic
conversational mechanisms such as turn taking, sequence organization and repair,
and the notion of preference. She then goes on to discuss primary issues of
applying CA to institutional talk, such as context and generalization from
findings. Her conclusion provides a step-by-step research program for a
CA-informed analysis of institutional data.
Richards' chapter ''Knowing when to 'No': Aspects of Alignment in Professional
Relationships'' uses Sarangi and Robert's (1999) notion of frontstage and
backstage talk as a basic framework for an investigation of 'no' in instances of
professional meetings. Approaching the use of 'no' from the angle of preference
and dispreference, Richards finds that in his data 'no' as a response token is
unmarked when talk focuses on 'facts', whereas it is marked and dispreferred in
talk on 'professional issues'. The chapter offers two benefits of a CA-informed
analysis for LSP teachers: learners' sensitization to interactional issues, and
the use of single-case analyses for illustrative purposes.
The second part of the book focuses on specific applications of CA to LSP and
begins with a chapter by Walsh and O'Keefe on ''Applying CA to a Modes Analysis
of Higher Education Spoken Academic Discourse''. In it the authors offer a
general classification of classroom interaction into four 'modes' (managerial,
materials, skills and systems, and classroom context), which is derived from a
CA-informed analysis of their classroom data. The authors then introduce corpus
linguistics (CL), and suggest a combination of both CA and CL as a way to
generate teaching material such as vocabulary used for negotiating or initiating
new sequences. They conclude that a combination of qualitative and quantitative
approaches allows for detailed insights into classroom interaction.
Gavioli and Maxwell's chapter ''Interpreter Intervention in Mediated Business
Talk'' presents an analysis of a corpus of dialogue interpreting in business
settings, and finds four types of interpreter-initiated talk: translation of
immediately previous talk by a principal participant; direct responses to
principal participants; repair; and un-elicited talk. The authors describe
interactional practices and sequential locations for all types of
interpreter-initiated talk on the basis of close turn-by-turn analysis. They
conclude by presenting three specific recommendations for CA-informed
interpreter training: Comparison of different institutional settings using
naturally occurring data; comparison of findings from natural data with
textbooks; and the design of role-play activities on the basis of natural
In their chapter ''Conversation Analysis and the Accounting Classroom: Exploring
Implications for LSP Teaching'', Burns and Moore present their analysis of a
corpus of student role-plays, simulating accountant-client exchanges. Their
findings concern power-relations amongst participants, and participants'
co-construction of clarification sequences. They suggest learners be made aware
of these issues, and taught the importance of conversational moves that provide
guidance for clients, and check clients' understanding of specialist terminology.
Varcasia's chapter ''English, German and Italian Responses in Telephone Service
Encounters'' provides an analysis of non-satisfying responses to customer
requests in a corpus of English, German and Italian service encounters. The
author finds three formats of non-satisfying responses: simple, extended, and
those preceded by insertion sequences. Her cross-cultural comparison shows that
the extended response format is most frequently used overall, while individual
extending practices such as apologies vary in frequency across the three data
sets. The author suggests that such findings should be included into teaching
materials on speaking skills in professional service encounters.
The third part of the book on pedagogical aspects of CA in LSP begins with
Packett's chapter on ''Teaching Institutional Talk: A Conversation Analytic
Approach to Broadcast Interviewing''. The author describes his use of CA-informed
data analysis in the classroom in the specific context of teaching students of
journalism to display institutionalized footing, i.e. to withhold alignment with
their interview partner. Packett shows how the use of recorded student
interviews helps raise current students' awareness of issues of footing, and of
the structural organization of talk in general.
Wong's chapter ''Answering my Call: A Look at Telephone Closings'' compares
English language textbook dialogues with naturally occurring telephone calls.
The focus is on telephone closings, and the chapter begins by introducing
potential pre-closing sequences in spontaneous conversation. It then presents
examples from textbook telephone conversations, many of which contain neither
pre-closings nor closings. The author argues that telephone talk is a
conversational genre that cannot be assumed to be the same across cultures, and
therefore must not be neglected in English language teaching.
The final chapter by Bowles and Seedhouse on ''Interactional Competence and the
LSP Classroom'' argues that interactional competence has to be taught with
learners' specific LSP domains in mind. The authors distinguish interactional
competence from Bachman's (1990) and Kasper's (1997) model of pragmatic
competence, showing that in addition to pragmatic functions, students need to be
made aware of interactional factors. The chapter provides a list of procedures
for employing CA for LSP, which includes single case analysis, institutional
characterization, key conversational moves within a particular kind of
institutional interaction, and finally integration of the whole analysis into
Seedhouse and Richards' (volume under review) tri-dimensional model of context.
The authors present a model of specific interactional competence that includes
practitioners such as CA researchers, LSP materials writers, and LSP teachers
and students; areas and practices such as data workshops, the classroom and the
discourse community as a whole; and finally products such as transcripts, LSP
materials, and improved awareness and performance. The authors argue that their
model, although time and energy consuming for LSP teachers, is one that will
allow them to teach the complexities involved in interactional competence.
Bowles & Seehouse's book makes a convincing argument for the need to raise
awareness amongst LSP teachers and learners of conversation as more than just
information flow from one speaker to another. All articles in the book admirably
pursue the same goal in showing how an integration of sequential analysis
enriches our understanding of language teaching and learning. The book is
therefore required reading for every teacher interested in speaking skills and
However, the book also highlights essential problems with the proposed
integration of CA into the teaching of LSP. First of all, definitions of CA seem
to vary amongst authors. While Pallotti's introductory chapter gives a
wide-ranging introduction to the method, some other chapters are content with
employing a basic notion of turn-taking and rather traditional notions of
preference to arrive at findings that would not have necessarily required the
labor-intensive CA approach. Others, notably Gavioli and Maxwell, employ
detailed sequential analysis of their data and a broad knowledge of the
structure of talk to reveal complex underlying interactional practices.
Regarding the integration of conversation analysis into teaching, one basic
point seems to require clarification. Several chapters in the book suggest that
LSP professionals themselves should become engaged in analyzing conversation
(Seedhouse and Richards; Burns and Moore; Bowles and Seedhouse). However, it may
be important keep in mind the essential nature of conversation analysis as a
research method. As such, it produces a great number of findings, some
concerning the use of specific linguistic patterns, others concerning more
general issues, such as the orderly structure of conversation and the basic
knowledge that language only becomes meaningful in the next turn.
It is those findings that LSP and language teaching in general must integrate
into their practices, and several articles in the book present specific findings
that can be directly applied to LSP teaching (Richards; Gavioli and Maxwell;
Burns and Moore; Varcasia; Wong). The only issue here is that what is observed
in conversation is not necessarily automatically 'teachable', a distinction not
always made clear in some of the suggested applications to teaching. Most
impressively, Packard's chapter shows how a sensitivity to sequentially ordered
interaction can inform a particular teaching goal.
Bowles and Seedhouse make a convincing argument in their conclusion for an
''expert workforce'' (p. 327) who include both materials writers and interactional
linguists. Their call for such cross-disciplinary collaboration is an essential
move towards opening up the field of LSP to an integration of interactional
phenomena and a general understanding of language as emerging from
talk-in-progress. This book is therefore an indispensable contribution to the
development of this area.
Bachman, Lyle. (1990). _Fundamental Considerations in Language Testing_. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Kasper, Gabriele. (1997). The Role of Pragmatics in Language Teaching Education.
In Bardovi-Halrig, K. and Hartford, B. (Eds.) _Beyond Methods: Components of
Second Language Teacher Education_. New York: McGraw Hill, 113-136.
Sarangi, Srikant and Roberts, Celia. (1999). The Dynamics of Interactional and
Institutional Orders in Work-Related Settings. In S. Sarangi and C. Roberts
(Eds.) _Talk, Work and Institutional Order_. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 1-57.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Beatrice Szczepek Reed is a research fellow at the Centre for English Language
Education, at the University of Nottingham, UK. She has published the monograph
_Prosodic Orientation in English Conversation_, and numerous articles on the
phonetics of natural conversation. Her research focuses on the role of prosody
for sequence organization, turn-taking in cross-cultural interaction, and the
teaching of conversational competence. She regularly teaches courses in English
pronunciation and speaking skills.