LINGUIST List 22.2871

Wed Jul 13 2011

Review: Sociolinguistics: Lipovsky (2010)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

        1.     Laura Callahan , Negotiating Solidarity: A Social-Linguistic Approach to Job Interviews

Message 1: Negotiating Solidarity: A Social-Linguistic Approach to Job Interviews
Date: 12-Jul-2011
From: Laura Callahan <>
Subject: Negotiating Solidarity: A Social-Linguistic Approach to Job Interviews
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at

AUTHOR: Lipovsky, Caroline TITLE: Negotiating Solidarity: A Social-Linguistic Approach to Job Interviews PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars YEAR: 2010

Laura Callahan, The City College of the City University of New York


This book, based on the author's dissertation research, contains six chapters, references, and an index. The reference section includes a list of popular literature on the subject of job interviews in addition to academic works.

SUMMARY Chapter One: Introduction Lipovsky introduces the concept of impression management and performance, based on Goffman's work (1959). In line with the notion of performance, interviewers expect candidates to have prepared for an interview, that is, to have rehearsed their answers. In most job interview situations candidates are assumed to possess the basic qualifications for the position, otherwise they would not have been invited for an interview, and therefore what matters more is the rapport between the interviewer and potential new hire. The author aims to show what linguistic resources job candidates, by and large, but also interviewers, use to establish relationships with and control impressions they produce in their interlocutor.

Chapter Two: The Interview Corpus: Particulars, Collection and Methods of Analysis Lipovsky underlines the unique focus of her investigation, which, in contrast to previous work, seeks to illuminate solidarity-building processes between candidates and interviewers, in what remains an asymmetrical situation. The analysis was primarily qualitative, achieved through the observation of authentic job interviews followed by the researcher's own post-interviews with all parties. She videotaped the interviews, audiotaped post-discussions between the interviewers, and later showed the video to the interviewee and interviewers in separate sessions. This triangulation allowed for her linguistic analysis to be compared with ''the participants' own interpretations of their encounter'' (p. 12). Finally, some quantitative analysis served to corroborate interviewers' impressions through the tabulation of certain linguistic features, such as the number of clauses that occurred in the speech of a candidate who had been judged to be especially talkative. The three job interviews that form the corpus for the study were conducted in French and in French and English. Candidates were being interviewed for a position to teach English and engage in post-graduate research at a French university. The interviews were analyzed using a systemic functional analysis (Halliday 1994), with attention given as well to facework and Gricean maxims.

Chapter Three: Negotiating Expertise Here the author again makes the point that manner matters more than content, since interviewers have advance knowledge of candidates' qualifications. In this chapter Lipovsky's aim is to use systemic functional analysis to show how candidates' lexico-grammatical choices influence their interviewers' impressions of them, thus linking ''lexico-grammatical analysis and impression management theory'' (p. 32). A brief review is given of the systemic model, Gricean maxims, and notions of face and facework. Next we see candidates' own appraisal of the need for politeness during the interview, and the author shows how they enact their expertise. Volubility and informativeness is empirically measured through clause counts. More empirical evidence is obtained by tracking the quantity and variety of verbs that candidates use to describe processes, and how well their lexical choices showcase their level of self-confidence and competence. Also examined is the use of technical language, which can serve to demonstrate shared expertise, provided that interviewers actually share the candidate's knowledge. If the interviewers do not share this knowledge, however, using technical language can have a negative effect on the candidate's success in the interview.

Chapter Four: Negotiating Affiliation After a brief discussion of power versus solidarity in interviews, the author introduces the Appraisal framework and the system of Attitude (Martin 2000; White 2002). The system of Attitude is composed of Affect, Judgement, and Appreciation. The Appraisal theory assumes that speakers express their attitudes in order to negotiate solidarity. Lipovsky's analysis focuses on two ways candidates attempt to construct affiliation with their interviewer: by expressing enthusiasm for and interest in their work, and by highlighting their professional capabilities.

Chapter Five: Negotiating Co-Membership This chapter focuses on how job candidates co-construct ingroup membership. The point is made that this does not depend solely on a common social identity or cultural style (Erickson and Schultz 1982). That is, even between members of dissimilar groups, co-membership can be established, co-constructed during the interaction. Lipovsky discusses two types of co-membership: ''social co-membership'' and ''role co-membership''. The latter has to do with similar professional roles. Both candidates and interviewers negotiate co-membership through their choice of address terms, informal language, technical vocabulary, and humor. Interviewers initiate co-membership talk with candidates more often than the reverse. This seems to be because, in addition to the fact that interviewers tend to have more information on the candidates, initiating co-membership talk can backfire, should the candidate raise a subject that displeases an interviewer. Other ways that the interviewer can foster co-membership with the candidate include offering advice or special help.

Chapter Six: Concluding Remarks Lipovsky states that her investigation ''has illustrated how successful candidates in job interviews draw on an array of lexico-grammatical and semantic features to display a communicative style that will identify them with their interviewers, thus contributing to successful impression management'' (p. 131).

EVALUATION At the beginning of the book the author notes that: ''... self-presentation is constrained by one's culture. In an era of increased globalisation and multiculturalism, individuals are more likely to perform in intercultural situations, where they might break the conventions of their interlocutor's culture, thus increasing chances of miscommunication'' (p. 2).

She reports that intercultural communication was not an issue in the present study, however, apparently based on the fact that the interviewers in their post-discussions made little mention of the instances in which candidates mispronounced French words, and ''[n]o discrepancy was found between the native English and the native French-speaking interviewers' impressions of the candidates'' (pp. 14-15). The participants' status as L1 speakers of different languages (English and French) seems to be taken as what could have made their communication intercultural, but for the fact that it was overridden by shared educational background, gender (in two of the three interviews), and race (Kerekes 2001). This is an interesting idea which, given its importance to the encounters studied -- in which the jobseekers were L1 speakers of English who had to use their second language for at least a portion of the interviews -- bears further development.

In the same vein, the author cites studies that have shown how strong a factor the similarity between jobseeker and interviewer is. One therefore wonders whether adapting their linguistic choices to the techniques described in this book will in fact help candidates who do not share their interviewer's educational background and race. Will these candidates be successful in constructing role co-membership?

Overall, this is a very interesting and useful monograph. It is written in clear, accessible prose. Lipovsky compares her findings to those reported in the popular literature on job interviews, which aim to help jobseekers achieve success, and concludes with the hope that her book will contribute to this same enterprise. Negotiating Solidarity: A Social-Linguistic Approach to Job Interviews is therefore an example of an academic book that will have a readership beyond academia. Within academic circles, it will be of interest to researchers working with systemic functional analysis, face, and politeness theories.


Brown, P. and Levinson, S.C. (1987). Politeness. Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Erickson, F. and Schultz, J. (1982). The Counselor as Gatekeeper: Social Interactions in Interviews. New York: Academic Press.

Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. London: Penguin Books.

Halliday, M.A.K. (1994). An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 2nd ed. London: Edward Arnold.

Kerekes, J. (2001). The co-construction of a successful gatekeeping encounter: Strategies of linguistically diverse speakers. Ph.D. dissertation. Stanford University.

Martin, J.R. (2000). Beyond exchange: APPRAISAL systems in English. In S. Hunston and G. Thompson, eds. Evaluation in Text: Authorial Stance and the Construction of Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 142-175.

White, P.R.R. (2002). APPRAISAL. In J. Verschueren, J-O. Östman, J. Blommaert, and C. Bulcaen, eds. Handbook of Pragmatics. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 1-26.


Laura Callahan is Associate Professor of Hispanic Linguistics at the City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), and Research Fellow at the Research Institute for the Study of Language in Urban Society (RISLUS), Graduate Center, CUNY. Her most recent work focuses on facework in workplace communication.

Page Updated: 13-Jul-2011