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Review of  Handbook of Interpersonal Communication

Reviewer: Elisabeth Reber
Book Title: Handbook of Interpersonal Communication
Book Author: Gerd Antos Eija Ventola Tilo Weber
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 23.1505

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EDITORS: Antos, Gerd and Ventola, Eija, in cooperation with Tilo Weber
TITLE: Handbook of Interpersonal Communication
SERIES TITLE: Handbooks of Applied Linguistics
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2010

Elisabeth Reber, Institute of Modern Languages / English Linguistics, University
of Würzburg, Germany


The volume is the second in a planned series of Handbooks of Applied Linguistics
(Karlfried Knapp and Gerd Antos, series editors). It begins with an introduction
to the handbook series by the series editors. The introduction provides a state
of the art on the field of Applied Linguistics which is delineated as “a
specific, problem-oriented way of ‘doing linguistics’ related to the real-life
world” (p. xi) and outlines the objectives and organisation of the handbook series.

In the introduction to the topical volume (chapter 1), Gerd Antos, Eija Ventola,
and Tilo Weber define the notion of Interpersonal Communication, which is
conceptualised as “a continuous game between the interactants […] -- a constant
dynamic flow that is linguistically realized as discourse” (p. 1) and present
the guiding questions which informed the selection of contributions to the book.
The aim of the volume is to“[offer] an overview of the theories, methods, tools,
and resources of linguistically oriented approaches […] concerned with
interpersonal communication” (p. 3). Along these lines, the volume assembles 20
chapters, each dealing with different aspects of interpersonal communication
from a linguistically informed point of view. The organisation of each chapter
is designed as follows: “1) they introduce the reader to a particular topic in
interpersonal communication research, 2) they present the most important
contributions to the respective research fields, and 3) they outline research
perspectives that may be realized in the future” (pp. 3-4). A brief summary of
all chapters is given on pages 4-11.

The chapters are subdivided under four parts:
1 Theories, methods and tools of Interpersonal Communication research
2 Linguistic and multisemiotic resources and their interplay in managing
Interpersonal Communication
3 Interpersonal Communication on-track and off-track
4 Working on conversational strategies

The first part offers an introduction to some of the most widely used
theoretical and methodological frameworks within linguistically informed
Interpersonal Communication research (Social Psychology, Ethnomethodology and
Conversation Analysis, Interactional Sociolinguistics, Interactional
Linguistics, Systemic Functional Linguistics and Functional Pragmatics) and to
issues of data collection and transcription. The second part takes a closer look
at different communicative resources deployed by participants in interpersonal
communication (verbal, nonverbal, visual-spatial) and discusses issues of
analysis. The third part is concerned with different communicative contexts and
varieties (everyday, psychotherapeutic, youth and aging). The fourth part
centres on strategies (politeness, humor, attitude, and silence and taboo) used
in interpersonal communication to construct social relationships and identities
on the micro and macro levels of society and culture. The volume is completed by
the authors’ bibliographical notes and a subject index.

PART 1: Theories, methods and tools of Interpersonal Communication research

In chapter 2, Margaret J. Pitts and Howard Giles critically review theories
(most notably Interdependence Theory, Communication Accommodation Theory,
Theories of Message Production), methods and research tools relevant to the
social psychological analysis of interpersonal relationships. They argue for
longitudinal study designs which investigate how social relationships develop
over time, and call for a perspective on interpersonal interaction which
approaches it as an interactive process and takes into account the interplay and
interdependence between language and cognition in the dynamics of interpersonal

In chapter 3, Dennis Day and Johannes Wagner briefly sketch out the origins and
major research interests of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis before
demonstrating on the basis of excerpts from a telephone conversation how the
analysis of turn-taking, indexicality and reflexivity, recipient design and
membership categorisation devices, which lie at the core of ethnomethodological
and conversation analytic work, offer an insight into the creation and
maintenance of interpersonal relationships in interaction. They close with a
brief discussion of the differences between the two paradigms (Ethnomethodology
and Conversation Analysis) and recommendations for further reading.

In chapter 4, Susanne Günthner is concerned with Interactional Sociolinguistics,
whose goals are defined as “studying the interpretation and function of
linguistic forms in socially and culturally situated discourse” (p. 54). In this
respect, the author claims, Interactional Sociolinguistics may be deployed as a
framework for questions within Applied Linguistics. Core notions for such a
study comprise indexicality, inferencing, contextualisation, communicative
activities, genres, and social, ethnic, and cultural activities, which are
illustrated in detailed analyses of various conversational examples.

In chapter 5, Dagmar Barth-Weingarten introduces Interactional Linguistics,
which has its origins in Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis,
Interactional Sociolinguistics and Anthropological Linguistics. The author gives
an overview of the research field, outlining its history, central concepts and
assumptions, methodological principles, and key research questions, which centre
on a general interest in how linguistic structures are shaped by interpersonal
interaction and how in turn linguistic structures shape interaction. The chapter
closes with a discussion of future research topics in Interactional Linguistics
and contributions to Applied Linguistics.

In chapter 6, Geoff Thompson and Peter Muntigl focus on research within Systemic
Functional Linguistics (SFL), taking an interpersonal approach. The chapter is
organised in two main sections, beginning with an overview of the two
interrelated analytic domains of concern within SFL: 1) the lexicogrammatical
and semantic resources available to speakers in interaction and 2) exchange
structure, i.e. sequential patterns in interaction. This is complemented by two
detailed example analyses, with a focus on 1) questioning and mood in
doctor-patient interaction, and 2) on the negotiation of knowledge roles and
appraisal in mundane interaction.

In chapter 7, Angelika Redder gives an overview of Functional Pragmatics, “an
action theory of language” (p.134) concerned with the analysis of authentic
spoken language use in interaction. The chapter is organised into two major
sections, 1) theoretical characteristics and methodological approaches, which
introduces the theoretical foundations, main categories and units and analytic
principles of Functional Pragmatics, and 2) applications, which lie primarily in
institutional interaction (education, medicine, law, business, and
administration and politics), plurilingualism and language policy but also
comprise so-called “homileic” (p. 144), that is, mundane, discourse and text.

In chapter 8, Arnulf Deppermann and Wilfried Schütte’s contribution on data and
transcription shows how corpora of audio- and video recordings of naturally
occurring interaction can be collected, compiled and transcribed for the
purposes of research in interpersonal communication. They provide hands-on
guidelines for 1) data-collection and corpus-construction (i.e. for accessing
the field, data recording and metadata documentation as well as for establishing
a corpus inventory and picking data segments) and 2) transcription. As regards
transcription, the authors address issues in coding conventions and the
transcription process and introduce different transcription systems and editors.
The chapter is completed with a discussion of practical and methodological
problems in data collection and transcription.

PART 2: Linguistic and multisemiotic resources and their interplay in managing
Interpersonal Communication

In chapter 9, Margret Selting gives an introduction to the notion of linguistic
“resources” as used in Conversation Analysis/Interactional Linguistics. The
assumption behind the term is that participants in talk-in-interaction
methodically select linguistic elements and structures (phonetic, grammatical
and lexico-semantic, but also on the levels of language style and variation) for
achieving specific communicative goals (such as turn
construction/turn-allocation and the management of interpersonal relationships)
and in this sense use them as interactional resources. A sample analysis of the
forms and functions of linguistic resources in everyday interaction exemplifies
the methodology of Interactional Linguistics.

In chapter 10, Barbara Fox is concerned with recipient accommodation, that is,
the processes by which speakers design their utterances in order to meet their
recipients’ informational and interactional needs. Based on examples from other
work and on her own case studies in the perspectives of Discourse-functional
Syntax, Conversation Analysis and Interactional Linguistics, she illustrates how
the pragmatic, syntactic, lexical and prosodic organisation of speakers’ turns
is sensitive to local informational and interactional needs. In this way she
shows that recipient design, being an interactive achievement between speaker
and recipient(s), is thus fundamental in talk-in-interaction.

In chapter 11, Paul J. Thibault conceptualises face-to-face communication on
three levels: “(1) neural connections between motor and sensory systems, (2) […]
somatic resources […], and the integration of these with external affordances in
the environment; and (3) social coordination between individuals, and forms of
learning and conventions of interaction” (p. 286). His discussion addresses two
main lines of criticism: Firstly, he criticises the common division between
language on the one hand and body language on the other and argues for a more
integrative view instead. Secondly, he criticises a perspective on face-to-face
communication which puts emphasis on the sequential organisation of here-now
situations and suggests an analysis of face-to-face communication in light of
the joint interactional history of the interactants.

In chapter 12, Caja Thimm begins her overview on technically-mediated
interpersonal communication with short summaries of theoretical frameworks of
media and communication from media research, social sociology and psychology,
calling for a multidisciplinary approach because of the interactive nature of
technically-mediated communication. She then describes typical applications for
technically-mediated interpersonal communication (e-mail, chats, instant
messaging, blogs, multi-user dungeons, social websites, “Second Life”, and
mobile phone communications), discussing their technical features, social uses,
communicative forms and functions and comparing especially the latter to oral

In chapter 13, Louise J. Ravelli and Maree Stenglin give an introduction to the
field of Spatial Semiotics, which takes -- like Applied Linguistics --an
interest in the communicative construction of texts, metafunctional layering of
meaning, and social situatedness of signs. Here the linguistic notion of text is
transferred to that of three-dimensional spaces, such as public buildings. In
their case analysis the authors illustrate how the architecture of a landmark
university building can serve to create interpersonal meaning in its interaction
between its user and the institution it represents. Because of this kind of
socio-cultural meaning-making, they argue, it can be treated as a semiotic
construct, that is, as a text.

PART 3. Interpersonal Communication on-track and off-track

In chapter 14, Tilo Weber addresses theoretical and methodological issues in
defining everyday communication as a prototypical category. The chapter begins
with a summary of the most influential body of work from the beginning of the
20th century which paved the way of today’s empirical study of everyday
communication. It then outlines two major paradigms with different foci in
approaching everyday communication, Conversation Analysis and Systemic
Functional Linguistics, before proposing six prototypical properties of everyday
communication. Future research topics in the study of everyday communication
named by the author are multimodal analysis, interactional approaches to the
study of linguistic structures in everyday interaction, application of results
in the professions, and technically mediated everyday interaction.

In chapter 15, Peter Muntigl is concerned with psychotherapeutic interaction,
giving a critical review of its conceptualisations as institutional talk (vs.
everyday talk), speech event and sequence of interrelated genres in sociology
and linguistics. In a case study on problem diagnosis, he argues for a
discursive, linguistically-informed approach to the analysis of
psychotherapeutic interaction, which will help to better understand and
differentiate successful from unsuccessful diagnostic practices. In the same
vein, a transdisciplinary collaboration between linguists and psycho-therapists
is called for, which explores the role of language in therapeutic interaction.

In chapter 16, Jannis Androutsopoulos and Alexandra Georgakopoulou outline the
history of the study of youth language, showing that what originated with
Labov’s sociolinguistic work on the small linguistic detail of youth language
determined by extralinguistic factors has broadened to a view of youth language
(used both in face-to-face contexts and computer-mediated interaction) as but
one semiotic system in interplay with other non-linguistic systems relevant to
the construction of youth identity. The review centers on the use of youth
language for the construction of alignment and convergence as well as divergence
and boundary marking.

In chapter 17, Anna-Maija Korpijaakko-Huuhka and Anu Klippi discuss research on
language and discourse skills of elderly people following the International
Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) introduced by the
World Health Organisation (WHO). They show that age-related physical changes may
affect language comprehension and production (phonetic, lexical), discourse
comprehension and production, and social interaction. However, it is also argued
that social factors (education, gender) may influence the linguistic and
cognitive skills of elderly people. In a separate chapter, they address issues
in language and interpersonal communication in aphasia and dementia and make
suggestions for treatment. Finally, perspectives and future directions for
research are offered.

PART 4: Working on conversational strategies

In chapter 18, Miriam A. Locher discusses the communicative processes of
relational work in conjunction with the notions of identity construction,
defined as the “product” of such processes (p. 511), and of politeness.
Politeness research is linked to the study of identity construction in that
politeness represents a speaker’s choice to show an orientation to appropriate
social conduct. In a critical review of politeness research, the notion of face,
Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Theory and Leech’s Politeness Principle are set
against recent more discursive approaches and Spencer-Oatey’s theory of Rapport

In chapter 19, Alexander Brock presents an applied linguistic view on humor,
jokes, and irony as compared to mocking, gossip, and black humor. Following a
historical outline of the research fields of humor, irony, and laughter, it is
sketched out how text linguistics, pragmatics, modern sociolinguistics and
gender studies approach humor and its neighbouring concepts. The chapter
continues with an overview of their communicative functions and of their
definitional criteria and links between them. Finally, the advantages of an
applied perspective on the topic are discussed.

In chapter 20, Peter R. R. White discusses how Appraisal Theory models
evaluative disposition in discourse. The first part introduces “three of the key
axes of variability in the communication of attitudes”, which comprise variation
“in the type of positive/negative attitude”, “in the degree of explicitness by
which attitudinal assessments are conveyed”, and “in the degree to which, and
the way in which, potential alternative attitudinal positions are entertained or
allowed for” (p. 568). The second part is dedicated to a detailed case study
concerned with the analysis of evaluative dispositions in two film reviews,
which illustrates the appraisal framework both as a theory and methodology.

In chapter 21, Sabine Krajewski and Hartmut Schröder on silence and taboo begin
with the history of the research field. In what follows, the authors summarise
the communicative meanings and functions of silence and taboo and their
relation, addressing social and (cross-) cultural aspects. In a section on
so-called “taboo discourse” (p. 607), linguistic and non-linguistic means to
deal with and exploit taboo topics and the role of silence in these respects are
exemplified and applications to family therapy are discussed as a case in point.
Finally, the validity of methods in taboo research is examined.


The volume is intended for more advanced students and scholars new to or
generally interested in the field of Interpersonal Communication. It presents an
informative introduction to prominent theories, methodologies and research
fields within applied research in Interpersonal Communication. Most
contributions are well-written and are organised as announced by the volume
editors in their introduction (see above).

This book, written by renowned researchers, is addressed to an international
audience but since 14 of the 21 chapters are at least co-authored by
German-speaking authors, German is strongly represented as regards references
and authentic language examples (translated into English). For this reason,
competence in reading German is presupposed. Furthermore, the series editors’
criticism of an Anglophone bias towards issues of second language teaching and
learning within Applied Linguistics (p. viii) might account for the fact that
work in this long-standing tradition (e.g. McCarthy 1992, McCarthy & Carter
1994) is not reflected in the book.

The selection of contributions to the volume shows that the object of study,
interpersonal communication, covers a wide range of communicative habitats,
ranging from face-to-face interaction, written mass media texts, technically
mediated discourse to public buildings as semiotic systems. This illustrates how
heterogeneous and diverse the field of Interpersonal Communication is and -- due
to the latest technical development -- how quickly its scope is growing. Even
though this broad scope (including linguistic and multimodal aspects of both
face-to-face interaction, written mass media texts and technically mediated
discourse as well as spatial semiotics) is clearly the forte of the book, it is
not quite in accordance with the back cover text of the book which promises a
(strictly) linguistic approach. It may be an indication that not only is the
subject of Interpersonal Communication research in flux but also the definition
of what falls under linguistic study in Interpersonal Communication.


McCarthy, Michael. 1992. Discourse analysis for language teachers. New York:
Cambridge University Press.

McCarthy, Michael & Ronald Carter. 1994. Language as discourse: Perspectives for
language teachers. New York: Longman.

Elisabeth Reber is a post-doctoral researcher in English Linguistics in the Institute of Modern Languages at the University of Würzburg, Germany. She received her Dr. phil. in English Linguistics from the University of Potsdam in 2008. Her research interests include interjections / minimal responses, prosody, affectivity in interaction, Interactional Linguistics, and most recently, evidential constructions in discourse. Among her publications are the edited volume ‘Prosody in Interaction’ (2010, John Benjamins, with Dagmar Barth-Weingarten and Margret Selting), the monograph ‘Affectivity in Interaction: Sound objects in English’ (2012, John Benjamins) as well as articles in journals and book chapters.

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