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Review of  Rethinking Sequentiality

Reviewer: Chaoqun Xie
Book Title: Rethinking Sequentiality
Book Author: Anita Fetzer Christiane Meierkord
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 14.275

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Date: Sat, 25 Jan 2003 16:13:53 +0800
From: Chaoqun Xie
Subject: Rethinking Sequentiality: Linguistics Meets Conversational Interaction

Fetzer, Anita and Christiane Meierkord, ed. (2002) Rethinking
Sequentiality: Linguistics Meets Conversational Interaction. John
Benjamins, vi+300pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-233-0, $87.00, Pragmatics
and Beyond New Series 103.

Chaoqun Xie, Fujian Teachers University

This collection of papers consisting of two major parts is, as
indicated by the two editors Christiane Meierkord and Anita Fetzer in
their introduction, an outgrowth of a panel discussion on sequentiality
at the 7th IPrA Conference held in Budapest in the year 2000. This
volume aims to present a multidisciplinary perspective of both
theoretical and applied nature towards the concept of sequentiality,
which has received more and more enthusiastic attention from
researchers and scholars of convergent or divergent academic
backgrounds including "functional pragmatics, dialogic theory,
narrative theory, cognitive pragmatics, relevance theory,
psycholinguistics, represented discourse and critical discourse
analysis" (p. 1). In the introduction, the editors begin with a
discussion of the four notions of sequence, sequencing, sequential
organization and sequentiality. For them, sequence is product-oriented,
sequencing is process-oriented, and sequential organization is both;
sequencing and sequence are different from sequential organization in
that the former can apply to monadic settings while the latter can not.
And sequentiality, as a relational concept, is the coherent structuring
of sequenced utterances. A relatively comprehensive understanding of
these notions might not be possible without the introduction of
embeddedness and context. The introduction also examines the notion of
sequentiality in the research paradigms of conversation analysis,
speech act theory, Gricean pragmatics, dialogue grammar and cognition
and closes with a briefing of the chapters that follow.

Part I is titled "Sequences in theory and practice: Minimal and
unbounded?" and contains five contributions. The first paper is
authored by one of the editors Anita Fetzer. In this paper, Fetzer
touches upon communicative intentions in context in a dialogue
framework based on the premises of rationality, intentionality,
cooperation and ratification. Fetzer begins with an examination of the
status of intention in Austin's and Searle's speech act theory,
pointing out that a speech act is an essential part of an exchange and
depends on the context in which it occurs and that both Austin and
Searle do not specify the way in which an interlocutor constructs an
utterance in order to perform a specific speech act. Next, Fetzer links
communicative intentions to the Gricean cooperative principle, arguing
that François Recanati's conception of communicative intentions should
be introduced into the Gricean cooperative principle to enhance the
latter's explanatory power for both social action and cognition. Fetzer
then moves on to argue for adapting Jürgen Habermas' Theory of
Communication Action to account for the dialogue act of a plus/minus-
validity claim anchored to an interactive tripartite system of
objective, subjective and social worlds and their presuppositions (p.
57), rightly concluding that communicative intentions are
interdependent on both social antecedents and social consequences and
can no longer be interpreted in the frameworks of single individuals
and single speech acts only and that both bottom-up and top-down
approaches are needed for conversation investigations. By the way, the
first edition of Sperber and Wilson's Relevance came out in 1986 but
not in 1996, and the second edition was published in 1995 (See pp. 69,
62; and see also p. 33). And there is also a minor error in the
ordering of Levinson's three cited publications (See p. 69).

The second paper in this part is "Cognition and narrativity in speech
act sequences" contributed by Marina Sbisà. In this paper, Sbisà calls
for thinking once again the cognitive and interactional dynamics
underlying the production and comprehension of speech act sequences,
showing that sequentiality is a fundamental dimension of speech acts.
Specifically, Sbisà argues for two things mainly as clearly stated on
page 72:
1. the cognitive component in speech act sequencing is secondary to
and dependent on action;
2. one cognitive factor relevant to the understanding of speech act
sequences is the so-called "narrative schemes", proposed by A. J.
Greimas (1983) in the framework of narrative semiotics, that analyzes
sequences of events in three main steps: Manipulation, Action and

More specifically, the author first explores speech act sequencing and
the production of effects, arguing, among other things, that the
production of conventional effects makes speech act sequencing possible
only if some kind of by-default agreement has been established between
participants about the conventional effect to be produced and that
sequencing contributes to the achievement of conventional effects on
the part of an illocutionary and to the manifestation of any
illocutionary act the interlocutor has performed. This dynamic nature
of speech act sequences is then exemplified with a discussion of a
sequence from a recorded conversation. After that, the author goes on
to claim that "the speech act sequence as a chain of conventional
effects comes into being independently of its cognitive appreciation
and that conversational turns do not constitute sequences simply by
being produced one after in the same physical circumstances, concluding
that we make sense of what happens or is done around us, and of speech
act sequences in particular, thanks to the general form provided by the
narrative scheme.

In "Recurrent sequences and mental processes", Christiane Meierkord
endeavors to expound how the cognitively autonomous individual speaker
mentally processes conversational closings. After introducing schemata,
script and frame theory, Kintsch's "construction-integration model" and
striking features attached to conversational closings, the author
presents empirical 'thinking-out-loud data' collected in an elicitation
task, investigating how these subjects process the discourse marker
'well', prepositional contents, dispreferred utterances and adjacent
formulas respectively. Meierkord finds, among other things, that the
mental processes during processing and the utterances are both
heterogeneous, that different individuals with different experiences
perceive utterances in recurring sequences differently, and that more
than one script may be at work during the processing of interactional

In "Boundaries and sequences in studying conversation", Robert B.
Arundale and David Good say no to viewing boundaries between
conversational units as of vanishingly small duration. For them,
boundaries are ex post facto phenomena that emerge in the co-
constituting of conversation. Specifically, first, the authors
demonstrate that interaction is not monadic but dyadic; second, they
introduce the term "dyadic cognizing" to develop a model of
interactional achievement in conversation complemented with the "Janus
Principle" which the authors claim plays a fundamental role in our
reconceptualization of boundaries and units in conversation, among
others. Third, much ink is devoted to the discussion that the
boundaries of utterances and of their components must also be co-
constituted, where evidence from turn-taking, simultaneous projecting
and retroactive assessing, and interdependence in foresight and
hindsight are examined. Finally, the authors present some implications
their views may bring to bear on conversation analysis, linguistic
pragmatics, psycholinguistics and cognition.

Sara W. Smith and Andreas H. Jucker's chapter presents evidence for the
role of intersubjectivity in interactional sequences, with particular
emphasis placed on the social and textual contexts of turns consisting
of the discourse marker 'well' and on how meaning is mapped onto the
turns in interaction. That the authors' effort in taking into
consideration the linguistic, social, and cognitive aspects revealed by
an investigation into the 'well' turns is quite impressive. For the
authors, the 'well' turn may signal the coming of "dispreferred
seconds", playing an important role in various kinds of interactional
sequences under examination: questions, assessments, invitations and
advice. The authors conclude that conversationalists may resort to the
use of the 'well' turns to negotiate and re-construct their beliefs
from time to time for "keeping the ball rolling" and that the cognitive
abilities on the part of these interlocutors are exploited and
displayed in the dynamic interaction.

Part II under the heading of "Sequences in discourse: The micro-macro
interface" also contain chapters. In "Talk on TV: Sequentiality meets
intertextuality and interdiscursivity", Roy Langer shows that the
marriage between conversation analysis and critical discourse analysis
can shed new light on how we approach sequentiality. Langer starts with
comparing and contrasting conversation analysis and critical
conversation analysis, arguing that what makes these approaches
divergent is the definition of the discourse unit to be analysed and
the degree of inclusion of context into the analytical frame (p. 185;
cf. Mey, 2001). The author then presents a detailed analysis of two
case studies to demonstrate that both intertextuality and
interdiscursivity have a decisive influence on the sequential
organization of talk on TV.

In "Culture, genres and the problem of sequentiality: An attempt to
describe local organization and global structures in talk-in-
interaction", Friederike Kern begins with methodological and
theoretical preliminaries as regards sequentiality in conversation
analysis and job interviews as communicative genres. Then Kern, drawing
on a large corpus of 41 authentic job interviews, finds that job
candidates under investigation usually list or narrate their
professional experience. Further, the author argues that sequential
analysis can not always account for the style a speaker adopts in terms
of discourse organization and that the participants' linguistic
performance is largely determined by genre-specific communicative goals
and cultural linguistic practices.

In "Argumentative sequencing and its interactional variation", Thomas
Spranz-Fogasy, viewing argumentation as an interactively organized
sequence, analyses the contextual implementation and the internal
structure of argumentation in particular, showing that the prototypical
argumentative sequence follows five steps as follows: triggering,
marking dissent or problematization, presenting new explanatory
information, acceptance and, ratification. Spranz-Fogasy also touches
upon expanded argumentation (by recourse to insertion, serialization)
and compressed argumentation, with the conclusion that sequentiality
provides for resources for the production of utterances and for mutual
reference of the partners with a lot of rhetorical implications.

In "Sequential positioning of represented discourse: In institutional
media interaction", Marjut Johansson, resorting to the theoretical
framework of dialogism, a constructivist perspective on interaction,
adopts "a multilevel approach" (from the point of view of adjacency
pairs, topic development and cognitive-discursive activity) to examine
represented discourse in relation to sequentiality and the function it
plays in interaction. Johansson focuses on the analysis of a political
interview, in an effort to explore how the parties concerned construct
instances of represented discourse in this activity. Johansson shows
among other things that both interviewer and interviewee use
represented discourse to serve various purposes. On the one hand, both
parties use it to state the events; second, the interviewer use
represented discourse as an intertextual device which the politician
use it as a rhetorical device in counter-argumentation and in
explanation with the aim of creating a position.

Finally, in "interactional coherence in discussion and everyday
storytelling: On considering the role of jedenfalls and auf jeden
fall", Kristin Bührig examines the German expressions 'auf jeden fall'
and 'jedenfalls' in everyday storytelling and academic discourse,
showing that they affect a synchronization of the interlocutors'
linguistic and mental activities that had strayed in the different
directions during the conversation. By the way, the word 'been' in "...
which can been seen as a result of sequentiality" (p. 273) should be

As can be seen from the above relatively detailed description, this
volume has shown that the form and function of a sequence embedded in
interaction can be variable with many factors at work such as context,
cognition and knowledge structure of interlocutors. In other words,
contextualization and dynamics of sequentiality should not be put aside
when it comes to accounting for how interlocutors act in interaction to
achieve various goals. This collection of papers has made an admirable
endeavor to provide a both varied and unified account of the very
notion of sequentiality in the sense that different methodological
considerations can contribute to our deeper understanding of what can
be revealed by investigating sequences in interaction, making great
headway in unraveling the mysteries of sequentiality and various
aspects in close connection with talk-in-interaction, cognitive,
linguistic, pragmatic and cultural, among other things.

And I have some questions as follows. The editors claim that sequential
organization "refers to the joint construction of one or more sequences
and is thus intrinsically linked to the turn-taking mechanism" (p. 4)
and that it "requires a dyadic or multi-party setting" (p. 4). I was
wondering if it is always the case; for me, sequential organization can
also find expression in a monadic setting. The other day I watched a
Chinese entertainment program on TV where a female compère presents
some background information before and during the program is going on.
From her presentation one may track a certain kind of sequential
organization, the discussion of which goes, of course, beyond the scope
of the present review. In point of fact, as noted by Mey (2001: 614),
much of present-day conversation analysis has been focused on and
limited to "English or another European language: German, French,
Spanish, or one of the Scandinavian languages." This is also true of
the present volume under review. In this sense, more research on
conversation analysis in other languages should be aimed for.

My next question is about the areas covered in this volume. As I see
it, that this volume does not touch upon the relationship between
gender and sequentiality is painfully obvious. I am interested in what
impact gender differences might have on sequential organization and the
notion of sequentiality. Actually, what contributions conversation
analysis can make to gender studies has not received enough attention.
Recently, Weatherall (2002), for instance, adopts a conversation-
analytic approach to account for "the interactional mechanisms
underling the omnirelevance of gender in daily life". Another area
awaiting much more concern is the investigation of the impact of power
on sequential organization. Recent studies (e. g. Itakura 2001;
Thornborrow 2002) show that power is not pre-patterned or static but,
more often than not, measurable and contextually sensitive, which would
greatly affect the sequences in interactions. Further efforts should be
oriented to this exploration.

To sum up, given the interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary nature of
sequentiality in talk-in-interaction, this volume should be of much
value and great interest to many people, those doing conversation
analysis and discourse analysis in particular.

Itakura, Hiroko. 2001. Describing conversational dominance. Journal of
Pragmatics 33: 1859-1880.

Mey, Inger. 2001. The CA/CDA controversy. Journal of Pragmatics 33:

Sperber, Dan, Wilson, Deirdre. 1986/1995. Relevance: Communication and
cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Thornborrow, Joanna. 2002. Power talk: Language and interaction in
institutional discourse. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Weatherall, Ann. 2002. Towards understanding gender and talk-in-
interaction. Discourse & Society 13(6):767-781.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Chaoqun Xie is a lecturer with the Foreign Languages Institute, Fujian Teachers University in Fuzhou, China. His main areas of research interests include pragmatics, sociolinguistics, culture, communication and translation.