LINGUIST List 23.1505

Mon Mar 26 2012

Review: Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics; Socioling: Antos et al. (2010)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 26-Mar-2012
From: Elisabeth Reber <>
Subject: Handbook of Interpersonal Communication
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EDITORS: Antos, Gerd and Ventola, Eija, in cooperation with Tilo WeberTITLE: Handbook of Interpersonal CommunicationSERIES TITLE: Handbooks of Applied LinguisticsPUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2010

Elisabeth Reber, Institute of Modern Languages / English Linguistics, Universityof 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 introductionto the handbook series by the series editors. The introduction provides a stateof the art on the field of Applied Linguistics which is delineated as “aspecific, problem-oriented way of ‘doing linguistics’ related to the real-lifeworld” (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 isconceptualised as “a continuous game between the interactants […] -- a constantdynamic flow that is linguistically realized as discourse” (p. 1) and presentthe 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 withinterpersonal communication” (p. 3). Along these lines, the volume assembles 20chapters, each dealing with different aspects of interpersonal communicationfrom a linguistically informed point of view. The organisation of each chapteris designed as follows: “1) they introduce the reader to a particular topic ininterpersonal communication research, 2) they present the most importantcontributions to the respective research fields, and 3) they outline researchperspectives that may be realized in the future” (pp. 3-4). A brief summary ofall chapters is given on pages 4-11.

The chapters are subdivided under four parts:1 Theories, methods and tools of Interpersonal Communication research2 Linguistic and multisemiotic resources and their interplay in managingInterpersonal Communication3 Interpersonal Communication on-track and off-track4 Working on conversational strategies

The first part offers an introduction to some of the most widely usedtheoretical and methodological frameworks within linguistically informedInterpersonal Communication research (Social Psychology, Ethnomethodology andConversation Analysis, Interactional Sociolinguistics, InteractionalLinguistics, Systemic Functional Linguistics and Functional Pragmatics) and toissues of data collection and transcription. The second part takes a closer lookat different communicative resources deployed by participants in interpersonalcommunication (verbal, nonverbal, visual-spatial) and discusses issues ofanalysis. The third part is concerned with different communicative contexts andvarieties (everyday, psychotherapeutic, youth and aging). The fourth partcentres on strategies (politeness, humor, attitude, and silence and taboo) usedin interpersonal communication to construct social relationships and identitieson the micro and macro levels of society and culture. The volume is completed bythe 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 thesocial psychological analysis of interpersonal relationships. They argue forlongitudinal study designs which investigate how social relationships developover time, and call for a perspective on interpersonal interaction whichapproaches it as an interactive process and takes into account the interplay andinterdependence between language and cognition in the dynamics of interpersonalprocesses.

In chapter 3, Dennis Day and Johannes Wagner briefly sketch out the origins andmajor research interests of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis beforedemonstrating on the basis of excerpts from a telephone conversation how theanalysis of turn-taking, indexicality and reflexivity, recipient design andmembership categorisation devices, which lie at the core of ethnomethodologicaland conversation analytic work, offer an insight into the creation andmaintenance of interpersonal relationships in interaction. They close with abrief discussion of the differences between the two paradigms (Ethnomethodologyand 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 oflinguistic forms in socially and culturally situated discourse” (p. 54). In thisrespect, the author claims, Interactional Sociolinguistics may be deployed as aframework for questions within Applied Linguistics. Core notions for such astudy comprise indexicality, inferencing, contextualisation, communicativeactivities, genres, and social, ethnic, and cultural activities, which areillustrated 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 givesan overview of the research field, outlining its history, central concepts andassumptions, methodological principles, and key research questions, which centreon a general interest in how linguistic structures are shaped by interpersonalinteraction and how in turn linguistic structures shape interaction. The chaptercloses with a discussion of future research topics in Interactional Linguisticsand contributions to Applied Linguistics.

In chapter 6, Geoff Thompson and Peter Muntigl focus on research within SystemicFunctional Linguistics (SFL), taking an interpersonal approach. The chapter isorganised in two main sections, beginning with an overview of the twointerrelated analytic domains of concern within SFL: 1) the lexicogrammaticaland semantic resources available to speakers in interaction and 2) exchangestructure, i.e. sequential patterns in interaction. This is complemented by twodetailed example analyses, with a focus on 1) questioning and mood indoctor-patient interaction, and 2) on the negotiation of knowledge roles andappraisal in mundane interaction.

In chapter 7, Angelika Redder gives an overview of Functional Pragmatics, “anaction theory of language” (p.134) concerned with the analysis of authenticspoken language use in interaction. The chapter is organised into two majorsections, 1) theoretical characteristics and methodological approaches, whichintroduces the theoretical foundations, main categories and units and analyticprinciples of Functional Pragmatics, and 2) applications, which lie primarily ininstitutional interaction (education, medicine, law, business, andadministration and politics), plurilingualism and language policy but alsocomprise so-called “homileic” (p. 144), that is, mundane, discourse and text.

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

PART 2: Linguistic and multisemiotic resources and their interplay in managingInterpersonal Communication

In chapter 9, Margret Selting gives an introduction to the notion of linguistic“resources” as used in Conversation Analysis/Interactional Linguistics. Theassumption behind the term is that participants in talk-in-interactionmethodically select linguistic elements and structures (phonetic, grammaticaland lexico-semantic, but also on the levels of language style and variation) forachieving specific communicative goals (such as turnconstruction/turn-allocation and the management of interpersonal relationships)and in this sense use them as interactional resources. A sample analysis of theforms and functions of linguistic resources in everyday interaction exemplifiesthe 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 theirrecipients’ informational and interactional needs. Based on examples from otherwork and on her own case studies in the perspectives of Discourse-functionalSyntax, Conversation Analysis and Interactional Linguistics, she illustrates howthe pragmatic, syntactic, lexical and prosodic organisation of speakers’ turnsis sensitive to local informational and interactional needs. In this way sheshows that recipient design, being an interactive achievement between speakerand recipient(s), is thus fundamental in talk-in-interaction.

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

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

In chapter 13, Louise J. Ravelli and Maree Stenglin give an introduction to thefield of Spatial Semiotics, which takes -- like Applied Linguistics --aninterest in the communicative construction of texts, metafunctional layering ofmeaning, and social situatedness of signs. Here the linguistic notion of text istransferred to that of three-dimensional spaces, such as public buildings. Intheir case analysis the authors illustrate how the architecture of a landmarkuniversity building can serve to create interpersonal meaning in its interactionbetween its user and the institution it represents. Because of this kind ofsocio-cultural meaning-making, they argue, it can be treated as a semioticconstruct, that is, as a text.

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

In chapter 14, Tilo Weber addresses theoretical and methodological issues indefining everyday communication as a prototypical category. The chapter beginswith a summary of the most influential body of work from the beginning of the20th century which paved the way of today’s empirical study of everydaycommunication. It then outlines two major paradigms with different foci inapproaching everyday communication, Conversation Analysis and SystemicFunctional Linguistics, before proposing six prototypical properties of everydaycommunication. Future research topics in the study of everyday communicationnamed by the author are multimodal analysis, interactional approaches to thestudy of linguistic structures in everyday interaction, application of resultsin 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 sociologyand linguistics. In a case study on problem diagnosis, he argues for adiscursive, linguistically-informed approach to the analysis ofpsychotherapeutic interaction, which will help to better understand anddifferentiate successful from unsuccessful diagnostic practices. In the samevein, a transdisciplinary collaboration between linguists and psycho-therapistsis called for, which explores the role of language in therapeutic interaction.

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

In chapter 17, Anna-Maija Korpijaakko-Huuhka and Anu Klippi discuss research onlanguage and discourse skills of elderly people following the InternationalClassification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) introduced by theWorld Health Organisation (WHO). They show that age-related physical changes mayaffect language comprehension and production (phonetic, lexical), discoursecomprehension and production, and social interaction. However, it is also arguedthat social factors (education, gender) may influence the linguistic andcognitive skills of elderly people. In a separate chapter, they address issuesin language and interpersonal communication in aphasia and dementia and makesuggestions for treatment. Finally, perspectives and future directions forresearch are offered.

PART 4: Working on conversational strategies

In chapter 18, Miriam A. Locher discusses the communicative processes ofrelational 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 thatpoliteness represents a speaker’s choice to show an orientation to appropriatesocial conduct. In a critical review of politeness research, the notion of face,Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Theory and Leech’s Politeness Principle are setagainst recent more discursive approaches and Spencer-Oatey’s theory of RapportManagement.

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

In chapter 20, Peter R. R. White discusses how Appraisal Theory modelsevaluative disposition in discourse. The first part introduces “three of the keyaxes of variability in the communication of attitudes”, which comprise variation“in the type of positive/negative attitude”, “in the degree of explicitness bywhich attitudinal assessments are conveyed”, and “in the degree to which, andthe way in which, potential alternative attitudinal positions are entertained orallowed for” (p. 568). The second part is dedicated to a detailed case studyconcerned 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 beginwith the history of the research field. In what follows, the authors summarisethe communicative meanings and functions of silence and taboo and theirrelation, addressing social and (cross-) cultural aspects. In a section onso-called “taboo discourse” (p. 607), linguistic and non-linguistic means todeal with and exploit taboo topics and the role of silence in these respects areexemplified 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 orgenerally interested in the field of Interpersonal Communication. It presents aninformative introduction to prominent theories, methodologies and researchfields within applied research in Interpersonal Communication. Mostcontributions are well-written and are organised as announced by the volumeeditors in their introduction (see above).

This book, written by renowned researchers, is addressed to an internationalaudience but since 14 of the 21 chapters are at least co-authored byGerman-speaking authors, German is strongly represented as regards referencesand 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 andlearning within Applied Linguistics (p. viii) might account for the fact thatwork in this long-standing tradition (e.g. McCarthy 1992, McCarthy & Carter1994) 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, technicallymediated discourse to public buildings as semiotic systems. This illustrates howheterogeneous and diverse the field of Interpersonal Communication is and -- dueto the latest technical development -- how quickly its scope is growing. Eventhough this broad scope (including linguistic and multimodal aspects of bothface-to-face interaction, written mass media texts and technically mediateddiscourse as well as spatial semiotics) is clearly the forte of the book, it isnot 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 thesubject of Interpersonal Communication research in flux but also the definitionof 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 forlanguage 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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