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Review of  Social and Cognitive Approaches to Interpersonal Communication

Reviewer: Sorin Daniliuc
Book Title: Social and Cognitive Approaches to Interpersonal Communication
Book Author: Susan R. Fussell Roger J. Kreuz
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 10.1606

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"Social and Cognitive Approaches to Interpersonal
Communication", 1998, edited by Susan R. Fussell and
Roger J. Kreuz; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah,
New Jersey 298pp.

reviewed by Laura and Radu Daniliuc

The sphere of interpersonal communication is
undeniably immeasurable. However, linguists have done
their best to identify its basic schemes and elements,
together with its external relationships. In line with
the latest research in the field, Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates offers the reader a very interesting
collection of eleven essays joined under the title of
"Social and Cognitive Approaches to Interpersonal
Communication", 1998, edited by Susan R. Fussell
(Carnegie Mellon University) and Roger J. Kreuz (The
University of Memphis). The aim of the volume,
presented by the editors in the first essay, is "to
show that the cross-fertilization of theories and
findings from social, and cognitive psychology has
proved extremely fruitful for understanding many
aspects of human language use". In these
circumstances, the editors grouped the eleven essays
in four sections concentrating on such topics as
people's intentions or goals when using language, the
role of language in research settings, indirect and
figurative language, perspective-taking and
conversational interaction, and the relationship
between language and cognition.
All the fifteen contributors to this volume introduce
in their studies and theories of interpersonal
communication elements of both social and cognitive
psychology; they all focus on the production and
comprehension of verbal language and discuss
experimental research on language use and
understanding. However, they differ to a great extent
in their manner of approaching the topic and in the
types of language phenomena on which they concentrate,
such as conversational roles (message initiator,
recipient, or both), modality of communications
(written, spoken, computer-mediated), level of
analysis (words, sentences, conversational exchanges),
and research strategies (audio- and video-taped
conversations, vignette studies, on-line reaction time
studies, etc.).

Part one "Introduction and Background" groups the
following studies which form a foundation for later
parts of the book:
1." Social and Cognitive Approaches to Interpersonal
Communication: Introduction and Overview" by Susan R.
Fussell (Carnegie Mellon University) and Roger J.
Kreuz (The University of Memphis)
2." The Varieties of Intentions in Interpersonal
Communication" by Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr. (University of
3. "Communication in Standardized Research Situations:
A Gricean Perspective" by Norbert Schwarz (University
of Michigan)
The first chapter is an introductory one, displaying
the scope and aims of the book as well as some basic
themes and historical influences on the essays
presented in this anthology.
Chapter 2 offers a detailed analysis of the concept of
intention in communication and of how people express
and understand meaning in interpersonal situations,
since speakers often convey multiple intentions. The
meanings people infer from linguistic and
nonlinguistic situations are not restricted to what
speakers, authors, or artists specifically intend.
Sometimes, listeners understand what a speaker says
along with something more that might be appropriate to
the context.
Chapter 3 observes the main implications from Grice's
(1975) theory of cooperative discourse for laboratory
and survey research procedures and for interpretation
of results. It is said that research participants
bring to the research situation the tacit assumptions
that govern the conduct of conversation in everyday
speech. They are motivated to look for cues in
experimental situations that provide them with the
experimenter's hypothesis. The key difference between
experiments and conversations in natural settings is
that experimenters are less likely to comply to
conversational rules in conducting an experiment than
in conduction any other conversation.

Part two "Indirect Speech and Figurative Language"
contains the following chapters discussing how people
produce and understand messages whose words do not
directly reflect the speaker's real intentions:
4. "Interpersonal Foundations of Conversational
Indirectness" by Thomas Holtgraves (Ball State
5. "The Use of Exaggeration in Discourse: Cognitive
and Social Facets" by Roger J. Kreuz (The University
of Memphis), Max A. Kassler (Bell Communications
Research), and Lori Coppenrath (The University of
6. "Figurative Language in Emotional Communication" by
Susan R. Fussell (Carnegie Mellon University) and
Mallie M. Moss (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
Chapter 4 deals with the role of social context and
politeness conventions in the production and
comprehension of indirect speech. The author considers
that people speak indirectly for a reason: as one way
of being attentive to each other's face. Consequently,
they must assess the interpersonal situation to
determine the appropriate level of indirectness. By
speaking indirectly (or not), a person communicates
not only varying degrees of concern for others' face,
but also indirectly conveys his or her sense of an
interpersonal situation. However, whether people speak
indirectly or look for indirect meanings is heavily
influenced by the social context.
Chapter 5 studies how hyperbolic statements in
discourse may be constrained by pragmatic influences.
The authors propose three hypotheses about the degree
of exaggeration: exaggeration makes the intended
meaning of nonliteral statements clearer and less
ambiguous; after some optimal level of exaggeration is
reached, any further exaggeration may be perceived as
less appropriate or less effective; once a 'critical
mass' has been reached, the exaggeration has its
intended effect upon a hearer, and additional
exaggeration is irrelevant. Their studies also suggest
that physical possibility does not play a major role
in how hyperbolic statements are perceived.
Chapter 6 focuses on the production of figurative
meaning, especially metaphors and idioms, as it occurs
in the communication of emotional states in laboratory
studies and in therapeutic contexts. The authors argue
that by conducting experiments using standardized
affective experiences as stimuli researchers can gain
new insights about the role of figurative language in
describing emotions. The choice of the domain of
affective communication is motivated by the fact that
the subjective nature of emotional experiences appears
to lend itself to figurative expressions. In the end,
the authors describe a research methodology they have
developed that uses objective stimuli - characters'
experiences in brief film clips - as the emotional
experiences to be expressed.

Part three "Perspective-Taking and Conversational
Collaboration" presents three essays that attempt to
redress the lack of a clear definition of what
constitutes a speaker's or hearer's perspective when
formulating and interpreting messages:
7. "Different Kinds of Conversational
Perspective-Taking" by Michael F. Schober (New School
for Social Research)
8. "Language Users as Problem Solvers: Just What
Ambiguity Problem Do They Solve?" by Boaz Keysar
(University of Chicago)
9. "The grounding Problem in Conversations with and
through Computers" by Susan E. Brennan (SUNY - Stony
The first chapter of this part contains an analysis of
how the term 'perspective' has been used in the field
of human communication and classifies four
interrelated types of speaker perspective. It examines
some of the different kinds of perspectives that can
simultaneously be present in conversations. The
conclusions reached by the author are, firstly, that
the evidence that conversational participants have for
inferring each other's perspectives is an important
part of the answer to many research questions about
perspective-taking; and, secondly, that
perspective-taking can and should be studied
Chapter 8 observes how perspective-taking occurs in
message production and comprehension, as ambiguity
abounds in all levels of language, from the pragmatic
down to the phonological level. The author focuses on
the problem that addresses, readers, and overhearers
solve in interpreting utterances. They quickly
interpret utterances in a way that is contextualized
but bound by the perspective of the comprehender. The
author's starting point is that language users
actually attempt to solve a problem different from the
one that has traditionally been assumed. He proposes a
Perspective Adjustment, which assumes that an
addressee uses mutual perspective but only as a
corrective measure.
In Chapter 9 we learn how fundamental principles of
collaborative theory apply to both human-computer
interaction and computer-mediated interpersonal
communication. Human-computer interaction is seen as a
kind of coordinated action that bears many
similarities to conversational interaction. In this
case, a computer can be both a medium to communicate
through and a partner to communicate with. Many of the
errors occurring in this context can be explained as
failures of grounding, in which users and systems lack
enough evidence to coordinate their distinct knowledge
states. The author argues that many of the problems
that arise when people try to use computers can be
explained by inadequate feedback and impoverished

Part four "Cognition, Language and Social Interaction"
join two more essays that have in view the intricate
relationships among cognitive processes, language, and
social interaction:
10. "Cognition, Language, and Communication" by G�n R.
Semin (Free University of Amsterdam)
11. "Some Cognitive Consequences of Communication" by
Chi-yue Chiu (The University of Hong-Kong), Robert M.
Krauss (Columbia University), and Ivy Y.-M. Lau (The
University of Hong-Kong).
Chapter 10 draws a parallel between language and
language use by analogy with tools and tool use. It is
intended as an attempt and a contribution to elucidate
the interface between symbolic communication as
mediated by language and cognition. The Tool and Tool
Use Model (TATUM) is based on the general assumption
that people should treat language as a tool with a set
of properties. It makes an analytic distinction
between the properties of linguistic tools (e.g.,
interpersonal verbs) that can be studied in the
abstract and tool use (affordance of tools). It also
provides a framework that makes an explicit
distinction between the different types and levels of
analysis entailed in cognition, language, and
The last chapter concentrates on the relationship
between language and cognition, describing an
alternative approach to conceptualizing the relation
between language and cognition, a relation deriving
from the consideration of language use in
communication. The main idea is that the lines of
influence are not unidirectional: using language to
make contents of speakers' minds accessible to others
may force speakers to incorporate all or part of
others' points of view into their own. The authors
examine three contextual constraints on language use
(nonreferent context, audience design, and a speaker's
perlocutionary intentions) and observe how theses
factors can affect a speaker's subsequent cognitions
via their influences on language use.

As presented in the introductory chapter, one can
easily perceive throughout the volume several
interrelated themes such as the exchange of
communicative intentions (Griece, 1957, 1969: words
don not have a one-to-one relationship to the ideas a
speaker is attempting to express), the
goal-directedness of communication (Austin (1975),
Searle (1969, 1975): the locutionary, illocutionary,
and perlocutionary speech acts), communication as a
cooperative endeavor (Griece (1975): in each and every
circumstance communicators must shape their messages
to be meaningful to their addressees) and
conversational analysis (Wilkes-Gibbs & Clark (1986,
1992): speakers and hearers work jointly to ensure
that a message is understood).
All the eleven chapters in this volume form a unit
that illustrates the potential fruitfulness of
approaching human language use from a joint social and
cognitive psychological point of view.

The reviewers - Laura and Radu Daniliuc - Suceava,
ROMANIA - are BA in English Language (Linguistics) and
Literature, members of SSA, authors of the first
complete Romanian translation of F. de Saussure's
"Courses" and of other articles on generativism and
applied linguistics. Their main interests include:
generativism (P&P theory, minimalist structures etc)
and computational linguistics. [other info available
on request]


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