AUTHOR: Young, Richard F.
TITLE: Language and Interaction
SUBTITLE: An Advanced Resource Book
SERIES: Routledge Applied Linguistics
Michela Biazzi, Department of Linguistics, University of Pavia (Italy)
The book represents an introductory guide to core issues about language as a
means of social interaction and suggests a combination of different research
fields (from philosophy, anthropology, sociology, stylistics to linguistics) to
address the following questions: ''How does social interaction happen through
language? And how does our knowledge of language change when we consider it to
be primarily a means of social interaction?'' (xvii). The presentation of the
core interdisciplinary concepts and methodologies is interwoven with key guided
readings, sets of data and tasks designed to relate some of the concepts to the
reader's own experience.
Coherently with the above mentioned interdisciplinary fabric, the target
audience of the book ranges from students, researchers and teachers interested
in Applied Linguistics (including foreign language teachers) to those interested
in social and communication studies at both undergraduate and postgraduate
levels. It is well-suited for self-study on behalf of the individual reader, the
student in a group and for teachers building courses, workshops and seminar
The volume is divided into three main sections, each including nine units. It
can be read both longitudinally and cross-sectionaly. The first section (A:
''Introduction'') introduces and exemplifies the main terms and concepts of the
borderline areas which investigate language use as a social practice. The second
section (B: ''Extension'') guides the reader through an interactive and reflexive
reading of excerpts from the core literature where some of the key concepts are
presented and discussed. Finally, the ''Exploration'' section (C) provides further
samples and suggestions for field and library research to develop students'
Within each main section the nine units are organized into three main parts:
''Foundations'' (units 1-3), ''Analysis'' (units 4-6) and ''Consequences'' (units
7-9). In the first part, the main ideas about the relationship between language
and social interaction are presented and reviewed. In the second part, they are
applied to analyze actual instances of social interaction through language
('discursive practices') both from a Systemic Functional Grammar perspective and
a Conversation Analysis one. The notion of 'interactional competence' is then
introduced and discussed. Finally, the last three units focus on some outcomes
of language use as a social practice, namely the participants' construction of
social identities and communities of practice, and language learning as a means
of becoming part of those communities.
The summary that follows will go through the content-related units (1-9) across
the three main sections (A, B and C) following the thematic cross-sectional
reading of the book.
Unit A1 offers a quick overview of different approaches to language as a social
practice, ranging from Bakhtin's dialogic perspective, Wittengstein, Austin and
Searle's action-oriented views, Hymes's Ethnography of Communication to
Conversation Analysis. The diverse disciplines are presented as different, but
complementary and interacting views to understand language use as a social
phenomenon. Unit B1 provides a reading from Hymes (1972), where the foundations
of the Ethnography of Communication are introduced. Besides recommending further
readings, unit C1 invites the reader to compare the above-mentioned perspectives
and consider their strengths and weaknesses.
Unit A2 introduces the notion of 'context' with its several meanings
(spatiotemporal, social, cultural, historical and linguistic) and empirically
shows ways in which language and context affect one another in spoken and visual
texts. In fact, context may be a given, but it may also be ''constructed by
language in interaction'' as the phenomenon of 'language crossing' (Rampton 1998)
demonstrates. Context is compared to a 'frame', which includes not only speakers
and ratified recipients but also other participants who may influence what goes
on in interaction by being there or by being evoked. A number of parameters are
suggested to investigate context in talk-in-interaction, namely sequentiality,
setting, participants, habitus (Bourdieu 1977), frames (Goffman 1974) and
conversational inference (Gumperz 1982), where language is but one among many
context-making means. Section 2B guides the reader through four excerpts from
Goodwin & Duranti (1992), where the concept of 'context' is defined with respect
to the notions of 'focal event', 'figure' and 'ground'. Section 2C exemplifies
how to explore the nature of context in two spoken narratives by applying the
parameters proposed in section A. In the end the chapter invites the reader to
consider the effect of transcription on the understanding of the context of
Unit 3A presents two methodologies for analyzing talk-in-interaction, Systemic
Functional Grammar and Conversation Analysis. The comparison between the two
approaches shows that the former analyzes texts out of context, while the latter
considers context as a core feature of interactions. As in unit 1, the book
empirically demonstrates how both approaches are complementary in providing
insights into the relationship between language and interaction. Section 3B
develops their comparison through a reading which focuses on the general
principle of 'constituency' in Systemic Functional Grammar (Halliday &
Matthiessen 2004). The second set of readings from Hall's (1995) sociohistorical
perspective on face-to-face interaction shows how both conventional and
locally-situated meanings represent resources by which participants constructs
their identities in social interaction through language. In order to practice
how to analyze the meaning-making resources of language in context, unit 3C
invites the reader to apply the tools of Systemic Functional Grammar (i.e.
phonological, lexicogrammatical and metafunctional constituency, and textuality)
and Conversation Analysis (i.e. adjacency pairs, transition-relevance place,
selection of next speaker and types of repairs) to naturally occurring data,
bearing in mind the conversation analytic deep concern about the preservation of
the online nature of talk by using its data collection and transcription tools
Unit 4A defines the notion of 'discursive practice' after Bourdieu's (1977)
sociological and anthropological approach of Practice Theory and presents it as
a central concept to understand language as a context-bounded social activity.
Finally, the unit considers how both linguistic and interactional resources
construct discursive practices. They are defined as ''talk activities that people
do'' (Tracy 2002: 21), which have their own rules, constraints and structure
(verbal and non-verbal patterns). In Hank's (1996) reading in section 4B focus
is drawn on two aspects of linguistic systems, which make discursive practices
possible, namely the 'irreducibility' (autonomy and arbritrariness) of language
and its 'relationality', that is its relations inside the linguistic system and
between the system and the world. By looking at the structure of the narrative,
its linguistic features, turn-taking and repair structures, and participation
framework, the analysis of two fragments from a story telling and a radio
call-in show in section C seeks to demonstrate how discursive practices may be
used by participants to construct their social identities and to create patterns
of solidarity and power in interaction. Nevertheless, Practice Theory as such
does not propose any methodology to systematically relate and describe
linguistic and interactional resources in discursive practices, which is the
object of the chapter that follows.
Unit 5A is centered around a detailed analysis of a naturally occurring
interaction between a music teacher and his student during a clarinet lesson.
The purpose of this analysis is threefold. Apart from empirically showing how to
apply the notion of discursive practice to naturally occurring data and
investigate how the boundaries of the practice (e.g. opening and closing acts)
are constructed, the analysis demonstrates how the participants co-construct
their local interactional identities through linguistic and interactional
resources (register, speech acts, turn-taking and repair), among which
indexicality plays a key role. Thirdly, the analysis is aimed at introducing a
concept of learning that will be further developed in the final chapter, namely
learning as 'changing participation' in a discursive practice, where what is
learned is not so much the content of the lesson but the participant's way of
interacting in a specific discursive practice. In section C two fragments of
classroom interaction are provided to further develop the reader's analytical
skills and consider the different implications for learning of the two different
methods of teaching exemplified in the excerpts. In section 5B the discursive
practice approach is expanded by inviting the reader to compare it to the notion
of 'speech event' in the Ethnography of Speaking (Hymes 1962). Moreover, the
notion of indexicality is explained with reference to Ochs's (1996) notion of
language socialization, the process of becoming a member of society. Briefly,
Ochs argues that since children become a member of society through experiencing
the indexicality principle in discursive practices, one can conclude that
language acquisition and socialization are two strictly interrelated processes.
Ochs's notion of language socialization paves the way for the discussion of the
concept of interactional competence in the following chapter.
After an overview of different approaches to language competence, from Chomsky's
concept of 'competence' as opposed to 'performance', Hymes's notion of
'communicative competence', Canale and Swain's fixed and individually based
approach to Bachman's dynamic view is more in line with the usage-oriented
approach in the book. Following Kramsch (1986) unit 6A defines 'interactional
competence' as the ways in which linguistic, interactional and contextual
resources ''are employed mutually and reciprocally by all participants in a
particular discursive practice'' (101). It is argued that, first, interactional
competence must be constantly co-constructed by all participants in a discursive
practice since it varies with the practice and the participants, and, second, it
must be intersubjective, that is shared among participants, rather than simply
the knowledge of an individual person. Section 6B shows the empirical use of the
notion of interactional competence with reference to Cicourel's (1995)
description of how a patient, a training fellow and his attending in a teaching
hospital construct their novice and expert identities through linguistic and
interactional resources. On the other hand, in section 6C the guided analysis of
several types of asymmetrical interactions is aimed at highlighting the
practice-specific, co-constructed and intersubjective nature of interactional
competence. Finally, the analysis of different discursive practices, among which
an oral proficiency interview intends to illustrate how the nature of the
discursive practice in which the assessment is made may influence the L2
speaker's performance. However, the book does not really suggest any methodology
to assess interactional competence, but just raises the issue that its validity
and generalization is limited to the constraints of the practice itself.
Unit 7A further develops the theme of constructing identities through discursive
practices. Following Tracy (2002) a flexible system of multiple identities is
outlined. A first difference is made between fairly stable 'master' (gender,
age, profession or ethnicity) and 'personal' identities (attitudes and routine
behaviors) on one side and more dynamic and situated ones ('interactional' and
'relational' identities) on the other side. A second distinction is made between
identities claimed by the individual and those projected ('altercasted') by
others on the basis of specific roles and relationships that people take on in
interaction with different interlocutors in a specific situation. Next, focus is
drawn on how identities are self-constructed by the individual, altercasted by
others (e.g. by the use of address forms or honorifics), and co-constructed,
namely how self-construction and altercasting of others interact. Speech
accommodation and hypercorrection to a variety associated to a higher or lower
status exemplify ways in which identity co-construction is strictly related to
the perception of the audience (Bell 1984 and Goffman 1981). Finally, identity
is discussed in connection with agency, i.e. the power of the individual to
avoid or change master identities. A particular type of social identity work is
shown in unit 7B after Day's (1998) contribution on how ethnicity as a social
construction is ascribed and resisted in interaction in two workplaces. However,
ethnic group categorization is just one practice of altercasting social
identities. So, unit 7C puts forward further activities on how to explore
identity construction in a variety of fields, from shapeshifting to virtual
identities and obituaries.
One aspect of a person's identity is membership in a community of people.
Therefore, unit 8 addresses the issue of the different ways in which people
identify themselves as members of communities. A number of readings to approach
and compare different notions of community (speech community, virtual community,
discourse community, community of practice and cultural community) are
recommended in section C. The notion of speech community as being composed of
people using the same linguistic code (Bloomfield 1933) is rejected as too
naïve, in favor of the notions of community of practice (Wenger 1998) and
discourse community (Heath 1983, Erickson 1992 and 2004, Philip 1970 and 1985).
The former is defined in terms of how people use language to do things, so that
even people who speak different languages may share ways of doing things with
words, such as greeting and turn-taking. According to Wender the landmarks of a
community of practice are the mutual engagement in activities and a repertoire
of language varieties, styles and ways of making meaning that are shared by all
members of the community. Instead, the notion of discourse community emphasizes
different ways of using language in distinct domains by different groups of
people. In Erickson's analysis of a family conversation the two approaches
intersect in showing how both linguistic and nonverbal repertoires contribute to
identify the participants as members of a community (the family) through the use
of common syntactic structures and gestures. Heath (of which a guided reading is
given in section B) and Philip's studies investigate how the poor performance of
some children at school may be due to a mismatch of discursive practices in the
school and family domains. Consequently, it is argued that learning to
understand the discourse of a different community from one's own involves
developing new skills in social interaction, which is the topic of the last unit.
In fact, unit 9 develops the notion of language learning as changing
participation. It takes Conversation Analysis as its empirical methodology and
classroom interaction as an example of how situated learning and changing
participation develop. The participation metaphor characterizes learning as
becoming a participant in a community from peripheral participation to full use
of the interactional and linguistic resources that are available as an expert
member of the community, quite different from learning as knowledge acquisition.
However, the author's stance is not to choose one of the two metaphors but to
compare them as they represent different but complementary views on the same
phenomenon. The participation metaphor originates in Vygotsky's work according
to which cognitive acquisition and increased participation are aspects of the
same learning process and is based on Lave & Wenger's (1991) theory of situated
learning and Ochs's theory of language socialization, which the reader can also
elaborate on in the guided readings (Ochs 2002: 99-120) in section B. In unit 9C
fragments from Shea's (1994) corpus of conversations between L1 and L2 speakers
of English show how L2 learners with the same level of proficiency appear to
have very different knowledge of English when engaged in different discursive
practices with different interlocutors. This proves the context-bounded nature
of learning as participation, questions the portability of participation
frameworks to other practices and supports the author's remarks in unit 6 on the
limited validity of interactional competence assessment tools to the discursive
practices in which the learner is engaged. In the end, the book raises two
issues. The former concerns the above-mentioned portability of participation
skills from one discursive practice to another, about which the author claims
that transfer may be possible since the learner may find similar structures,
albeit in different configurations, in new and different contexts. The latter is
about the methodology to investigate the learners' development from peripheral
to full participation in a community of practice, which can be studied by
observing the learners in the same discursive practice over time by using
Conversation Analysis as in Nguyen (2003) and Young & Miller (2004)'s
The book is well-structured and reader-friendly thanks to its clear and cohesive
overall organization. Its constant cross-referencing from theory to data and
library resources contributes to its cohesiveness and coherence, demonstrates
the empirical outcomes of the theories considered and incrementally widens the
view on talk-in-interaction.
It represents a versatile reference and resource tool, lending itself to
different uses depending on the reader's background and interests. Its
action-oriented approach, guided readings, reflexive tasks, detailed analyses of
naturally occurring data and library resources make it ready to be used in
seminars and workshops. On one side, it gradually lays the foundations for an
interdisciplinary approach to the study of language as a means of social
interaction and represents a step-by-step guide for newcomers to this research
field. On the other side, for those already familiar with the field of
investigation, it provides numerous ideas and resources (and more are available
online) for further research and large-scale projects. Moreover, it constantly
prompts the reader to consider how language informs social practices in his own
culture. Last but not least, the final chapters may be of particular interest to
language teachers and teacher trainers for their focus on interactional
competence and language learning as changing participation, with numerous
examples of classroom interaction.
The theories and concepts reviewed may seem at times oversimplified (e.g. the
Speech Act Theory in unit 1A and Systemic Functional Grammar in unit 3A) or
vague (e.g. the notions of 'community' in unit 8A, of 'agency' in unit 9A and
of 'register', where the sociolinguistic hypernym 'variety' might sometimes be
more appropriate). Nevertheless, the reader should bear in mind that the main
purpose of the volume is not to provide a comprehensive description of all the
theories and concepts considered. Its main function is rather to empirically
show how concepts and methodologies from very different disciplines may
intersect and complement one another to highlight different but interacting
features of language as a social practice and language learning as a social
process. This is why the different approaches are not contrasted but compared as
complementary tools to understand language in context. In other words, its main
achievement is not so much in presenting theories but mainly consists of making
explicit how they relate to one another and how they can be used to investigate
authentic instances of language as a social phenomenon. Its two main successful
outcomes are an interdisciplinary fabric to language as a social practice with
contributions from a number of different disciplines and theories that rarely
interact with one another (e.g. Systemic Functional Grammar and Conversation
Analysis), constantly applied to naturally occurring data, and a toolbox of
theories, concepts, methodologies and analytical tools the reader can choose
from for his own investigations. In the end, it is up to the reader to elaborate
on the notions and theories reviewed and choose his methodological procedures
out of the readings, library sources and field activities suggested in the book.
Despite the fact that the data samples mainly consist of discursive practices in
American English in the US society (its primary audience), whose nuances may not
always be easily grasped by nonnative speakers not fully socialized in the US
community, the reader interested in discursive practices in other languages and
societies may follow the examples in the book to investigate other data
according to the same procedures and categories. Advanced researchers may also
find it stimulating to pick some of the challenges and open questions raised in
the book, e.g. whether it is appropriate to generalize from a single instance of
a practice to ways of speaking in the community at large without a long-term
participant observation, how to assess interactional competence and how to
investigate language learning as changing participation.
In sum, the resource book suggests a path one may follow to investigate language
as social action and offers suggestions for further studies. It represents an
outstanding proposal to bridge the gap among different disciplines and theories
having them to intersect and interact on naturally occurring data.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Michela Biazzi has a Ph.D in Linguistics from the University of Pavia (Italy).
She wrote her dissertation within the framework of Interactional Linguistics,
working on reformulations in naturally occurring interactions among first- and
second-language speakers of Italian. Her research interests also include second
language acquisition (English and Italian) and migration sociolinguistics. She
teaches English as a foreign language in Italy and is actively involved in
teacher training programs.