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Review of  Studies in Interactional Linguistics

Reviewer: Niladri Sekhar Dash
Book Title: Studies in Interactional Linguistics
Book Author: Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen Margret Selting
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 13.1645

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Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2002 12:02:40 +0530 (IST)
From: Niladri Sekhar Dash
Subject: Selting & Couper-Kuhlen (2001) Studies in Interactional Linguistics

Selting, Margaret, and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, ed. (2001) Studies in Interactional Linguistics. John Benjamins Publishing Company, viii+438pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-097-4, USD 109.00 or EUR 120.00, Studies in Discourse and Grammar 10.

Niladri Sekhar Dash, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India

Interactional Linguistics (IL), a field of discourse analysis, has been an area of considerable research and experiment for more than three decades now. In due course we have come across a few good volumes in this area in recent past, including Sudnow (1972), Goodwin (1981), Levinson (1983), Fox (1987), Sacks (1992), Weber (1993) Ford (1993), Couper-Kuhlen and Selting (1996), Ochs, Schegloff and Thompson (1996). With the publication of this anthology it seems that the field is gradually crystallizing around some systematic themes which are all proportionately represented in the volume. After a brief "Foreword" by Sandra A. Thompson we are presented with a good introduction by the editors of the volume that gives us a brief history on the birth, growth and identity of IL, its relevance with general linguistics, and the value of cross-linguistic study in IL. It ends with brief reference to the papers included in the volume.

The volume is divided into 2 sections. In Section I (Language structure in interaction) the interface between language and interaction is estimated from the angle of language structure. Some papers show how a single structure can serve for both turn and sequence construction, exhibiting a swing-song between planned and occasioned syntax which have important role in language development. Other papers show how some functional lexical units can serve as resources for conducting linguistic interaction, and how they depend on turn position and sequential context for exhibiting their semantic variety.

In "Noun phrases and clauses as a syntactic resource for interaction" (Pp. 25-50), Marja-Liisa Helasvuo examines the clause and the noun phrase in Finnish and English to show how they are used as resources for interaction. Both in Finnish and English the oblique arguments are found in intonation units separated from clause cores. Her findings are close to the observations of Fox and Jesperson's (1995) on the lack of relevance of the verb phrase for conversational self-repair.

In "At the intersection of turn and sequence" (Pp. 51-79), Cecilia E. Ford examines the occurrence of negative markers in turn-constructional units (TCU) in English conversation. Here, she finds a kind of rhetorical combination where units with negative markers are usually backed up by a following unit which works for elaborating the negation. Such TCUs usually do their own pragmatic projection but they are not complete until the elaborating unit is produced.

In "The implementation of possible cognitive shifts in Japanese conversation" (Pp. 81-109), Hiroko Tanaka shows how the Japanese complementizer 'to' is developed at the intersection of turn and sequence construction in conversational interaction. It usually appears after a stretch of talk and is used to re-shape a part of prior talk by turning it into the direct object of an upcoming verb. Thus development of 'to' in Japanese conversation makes it possible to accomplish a type of action-repair without restoring to grammatical repair.

In "On causal clause combining: the case of 'weil' in spoken German" (Pp. 111-139), Hannes Scheutz studies the use of the German subordinating conjunction 'weil' in a large corpus of spoken everyday conversation. He verifies earlier observations on the form-function correlation between verb position and type of causality, and finds little support in his data. Scheutz finds that it is the degree of syntactic integration that determines the type (positional or epistemic) of causality.

In "Dutch 'but' as a sequential conjunction: its use as a resumption marker" (Pp. 141-169), Harrie Mazeland and Mike Huiskes address the meaning of the Dutch conjunction 'maar' "but" in sequential conjunction that links turns at talk. They argue that 'maar' is used as a device for resuming a topic which is temporarily abandoned in favor of an extended repair sequence or completing a topic. Thus, 'maar' frames the resumptive turn of an abandoned talk as well as reinstalls a situation from which more talk can ensue. They also show that the use of 'maar' contributes to repeatedly occurring, constructionally specific types of utterances.

In "On some uses of the discourse particle 'kyl(la)' in Finnish conversation" (Pp. 171-198), Auli Hakulinen deals with the Finnish particle 'kylla', a response item which is typically found to be used at turn-initial and utterance-initial positions. He observes that 'kylla' is mostly used with a full sentence response to yes-no questions to display an alignment with the positive alternatives. At front position of turn it shows alignment in response to offers; it moves further into the turn if the alignment is less definite; and shifts to final position in situations of overt or covert disagreement.

In "Interactional linguistics and language development: a conversation analytic perspective on emergent syntax" (Pp. 199-225), Juliette Corin, Clare Tarplee and Bill Wells present a study on the emergence of grammar in child-adult conversation. They argue that the production of a first sentence by children depends upon the emergence of turn organization because the latter serves as an occasion for the former. They identify several strategies (eye gaze, gestural pointing, mid or mid-level final pitch, etc.) which children usually deploy to accomplish their goal. When the syntactic semantic unit construction is not complete the pitch signal works as a turn-continuation device that allow them enough interactional space for syntactically complex production.

In Section II (Interactional order and linguistic practice) various linguistic interactions (mostly in spoken form) are analyzed from the point of interactional order on three different types of conversational task: (i) turn projection turn and turn-unit completion, (ii) starting up turns with 'non-beginnings', and (iii) self-repairing.

In "Fragments of units as deviant cases of unit production in conversational talk" (Pp. 229-258), Margret Selting studies the formation small turns in interaction, turn-constructional units and their realization by the participants. She examines a few cut-off, trailed-by-new-unit and incomplete stretches of talk which are the results of various kinds of unfulfilled projection having syntactic, prosodic, semantic/pragmatic and sequential nature. While trying to identify the contribution of each type to projection Selting finds that inferences about syntactic and prosodic completion are always made context-sensitively in the light of the semantic/pragmatic and sequential context.

In "Notes on turn-construction methods in Danish and Turkish conversation" (Pp. 259-286), Jakob Steensig focuses on relative contribution of grammatical, prosodic and pragmatic cues to projection in two typologically unrelated languages: Danish - a verb-second and inflectional language and Turkish - a verb-final and agglutinating language. He shows that speakers of both languages use turn projection but they do have their difference at positions in the constructions. Similarly, prosody is quite active both in Turkish and Danish but again with two distinctly separate functions in the turns of conversations.

In "An exploration of prosody and turn projection in English conversation" (Pp. 287-315), Barbara Fox studies turn projection with special reference to pitch peaks in two-peaked English conversational utterances. Her study includes clauses containing two or more pitch accents with pitch peaks, one of which is close to the end of the turn. Various phonetic dimensions (e.g., syllable length, word length, peak alignment, slope, change in pitch, size of pitch step-up or step-down, amplitude etc.) are measured systematically in both peaks to show that syllables with final pitch peaks are longer in duration than syllables with non-final ones.

In "Postposition-initiated utterances in Japanese conversation: An interactional account of a grammatical practice" (317-343), Makoto Hayashi shows that Japanese speakers use a postpositional item in turn-initial position to link up with a preceding utterance or to redirect that trajectory of the developing course of action. This is mostly done to seal off intervention, to pursue a response from a recipient, to latch talk onto that of a co-participant for the purpose of modification or correction.

In "Confirming intersubjectivity through retroactive elaboration: Organization of phrasal units in other-initiated repair sequences in Korean conversation" (Pp. 345-372), Kyu-hyun Kim deals with the addition of phrasal units to preceding elliptical utterances following other-initiation of repair in Korean conversation. The normal Korean practice is to use elliptical forms in topic-initial position for making repairs. Their use of phrasal units as repairs points to the domains of shared knowledge and experience which hints for continuation of talks between the participants.

In "Some arguments for the relevance of syntax to same-sentence self-repair in everyday German conversation" (Pp. 373-404) Susanne Uhmann focuses on self-initiated self-repair in same-sentence in everyday German conversation. This self-repairing process does not destroy the syntactic integrity of the sentence. She finds that repairing is done in a very systematic way which is constrained by the 'functional head' of the sentence. Speakers usually recycle from the functional head of the phrase that contains the repairable element.

In "Simple answers to polar questions: the case of Finnish" (Pp. 405-431), Marja-Leena Sorjonen deals with a type answering in various questioning activities in Finnish. She shows how Finnish speakers employ a mixed system while giving positive answers. Different answer types are used to get different types of interactional work accomplished. For example, finite verb is repeated in case of affirmation or providing new information; particle 'joo' is used in confirming or treating the information as a known event to the recipient; and particle 'niin' is used to confirm a prior utterance and to express the relevance of continuation. However, all these forms have their respective prototypical contextual functions use in the language.

All the papers are richly substantiated with notes, reference and appendix for our easy understudying. The volume ends with the list of contributors and an index of terms.

After going through the papers compiled in this volume we can discern several issues around which the present cycle of interactional linguistic research rotates. From the point of the interactional order the papers reflect a systematic focus on four main different tasks which are important in any conversational tasks: (1) turn projection or turn-unit completion, (2) starting up turns with non-beginnings, (3) lexical items as resources for interaction, and (4) self-repair.

In case of the first issue, several authors (Selting, Steensig, and Fox others) observe that a complex interplay of linguistic cues are active for signaling and identifying of upcoming Transition Relevance Places (TRPs). But the practice of turn projection in non-Indo-European languages ask for different treatment for language-internal reasons. Selting argues that it is not the units to which the participants orient, but the unit- and turn-constructional acts which they are involved. Steensig shows that 'possible last accents' are more important prosodic cue than final intonational configuration. Moreover, for cross-linguistic studies grammar, prosody and pragmatics are three important means for constructing turns and signaling projection. Fox, on the other hand, argues that phonetic entities are mostly to be realized not singly but in clusters through syntactic, semantic and sequential positions in which they occur. Such findings can substantiate Selting's (1996) claims.

In case of the second issue, our interest lies on the interactional practice of starting up turns with 'non-beginning'. Various interactional situations can make this a useful technique. Here, Hayashi shows how Japanese provides postpositionals - a resource for pre-emptively deflecting a potentially problematic action - to tie up with prior talk (See, Schgloff 1996). Many interactional concerns can shape the grammatical structure of talk in Japanese because postposition-initiated utterances are built up on a preceding utterance and draw on its as a resource for their comprehension. Also in Korean, according to Kim, speakers exploit agglutinative syntax and add phrasal units to initially elliptical utterances to initiate turns. They can thus retroactively build on a prior turn deleting intervening talk. Such repair initiation can be thought to be similar to Japanese use of postpositions which are mostly designed to be used in trouble-source turn rather than in response to repair-initiating turns. Mazeland and Huiskes, with the description of Dutch 'maar', show that action governs how the linguistic elements of the utterance are dealt with when they are made in interaction. Their study put up a strong challenge against traditional theories of lexicon. Some other contributions in this volume (Ford; Tanaka; Corrin, Tarplee and Wells) also show some interesting play-off between sequence organization and turn organization.

In case of the third issue, we find that languages provide relevant syntactic structures as well as some specific lexical items as resources for conducting conversational interactions. These items, (in papers by Scheutz, Mazeland and Huiskes, Hakulien and Sorjonen) depend on turn positions and sequential contexts for their meaning and functional potentials. These lexical items can be considered as parts of larger constructional schemas which themselves derive their inference-cueing potential from situated use in the service of recurrent interactional tasks. German 'weil', Dutch 'maar', Finnish 'kylla', 'joo', 'niin', etc. help speakers to accomplish various interactional tasks, such as expanding a turn, recycling an abandoned talk, reassuringly responding to a questioning pre-sequence, treating an answer as known to the recipient, etc. Such cross-linguistic studies of language structure in interaction thus show that there are sets of task for interactions for all language but different language deploy different resources for accomplishing them.

Finally, relating with the fourth issue, we note a sharp focus on 'self-repair', particularly on the syntactic regularities evidenced by self-repairing speakers. Earlier studies by Fox and Jesperson (1995), and Fox, Hayashi and Jesperson (1996) have revealed significant differences between English and Japanese in the syntax of self-repair. Uhmann's study in this volume enriches this area by adding evidence from the more richly inflecting German language. She shows that the syntax as well as morphology of a language have significant roles on speaker's practices of self-repair. From a cross-linguistic perspective, her suggestions might have relevance in languages having relatively free word order as well as in languages having relatively rich case morphology.

Most of the papers in this volume emphasize that all cross-linguistic studies of conversational interaction are ordered by some way or other. All common interactional tasks may be served by quite different linguistic practices distinct for each typologically different language. With interdisciplinary and cross-linguistic examination of interactions, Interactional Linguistics "offers a good opportunity for investigating the trade-off between language and interaction universals on the one hand and language - and language-type specific linguistic practices on the other" (Kuhlen and Selting, p. 18, this volume).

The publication of the volume marks the introduction of a comparatively new domain of linguistics research with wider scope for future analysis and investigation. The field of discourse analysis in linguistics gaining ground day by day with regular expanse of its scope of analysis and application. And in this new field of study the importance of both speech and text corpora are becoming indispensable. It is assumed is that both speech and text corpora which have the ability to reflect the language as it is actually used in innumerable 'living fields and domains' are not only useful for verification of grammatical analysis, but also useful for understanding how the regularities we think of as grammar emerge from communicative needs. The papers in this volume prove our assumption to be right and the results obtained from numerous case studies justify our argument that empirical language study is far more reliable and authentic than those done under simple assumption or intuition.

Couper-Kuhlen, E. and Selting. M. (eds.) (1996) Prosody in Conversation. Interactional Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ford, F. C. (1993) Grammar in Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fox, B. (1987) Discourse Structure and Anaphora. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fox, B. and Jesperson, R. (1995) "A syntactic exploration of repair in
English conversation". In P. W. Davis (ed.) Alternative Linguistics:
Descriptive and Theoretical Modes. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Pp. 77-134.

Fox, B., Hayashi, M. and Jesperson, R. (1996) "Resources and repair: A
cross-linguistic study of syntax and repair". In E. Ochs, E.A. Schegloff
and S.A. Thompson (eds.) Interaction and Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. Pp. 185-237.

Goodwin, C. (1981) Conversational Organization: The Interaction between Speakers and Hearers. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Levinson, S. C. (1983) Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ochs, E., Schegloff, E. A. and Thompson, S. A. (eds.) (1996) Interaction and Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sacks, H. (1992) Lectures on Conversation (Vol. I and II). In G. Jefferson (ed.) Oxford: Blackwell.

Selting, M. (1996) "On repeats and responses in Finnish conversations". In Ochs et al., 277-327.

Sudnow, D.(ed.) (1972) Studies in Social Interaction. New York: Free Press.

Weber, E. (1993) Varieties of Questions in English Conversation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Dr. Niladri Sekhar Dash works as a Linguist in Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Unit of Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India. His research interest includes corpus linguistics, discourse and pragmatics, lexical semantics, lexicography, morphology, etc. Presently he is working on corpus-based lexicography and word-sense disambiguation in Bangla.