LINGUIST List 23.3640

Fri Aug 31 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics; Pragmatics: Limberg (2010)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 31-Aug-2012
From: yang linxiu <>
Subject: The Interactional Organization of Academic Talk
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AUTHOR: Holger LimbergTITLE: The Interactional Organization of Academic TalkSIBTITLE: Office Hour ConsultationsPUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing CompanyYEAR: 2010

Yang Linxiu, Foreign Languages School of Shanxi University, Taiyuan, ShanxiProvince, P.R.C.


The monograph entitled "The Interactional Organization of Academic Talk: OfficeHour Consultations" is one of the series, "Pragmatics & Beyond New Series",published by John Benjamins Publishing Company. The book sets out to investigatea particular type of talk: the "academic office hour", or consultation hour.Drawing mainly upon conversation analytic tools within an institutional settingand with the help of data-driven methods, the book aims to describe the innerworkings of office hour consultations and to identify an overall structuralorganization of talk in this setting. The analytical focus is on sequentialactivities, such as how participants (i.e. professors/instructors and students)open an office hour interaction, establish an agenda, manage advice-giving, andclose the consultation.

In Chapter 1, by first presenting a short excerpt from an office hourinteraction, the author introduces the reader to the microanalysis of officehour talk. Then, when introducing the layout of the whole book, researchquestions are raised according to the content of each chapter. For example, thequestions for the advice-giving part are as follows: How do participantsdiscursively construct the request for as well as the delivery of advice?; Howdo students respond to teachers' suggestions and what does their responsebehavior tell us about whether they are likely to implement the teachers'recommendations?; What are the contextual as well as interactional constraintson this activity and how are situations managed in which no advice can be given?

Chapter 2, "Office hours in a theoretical context: Organization andinstitutional foundation", serves as a theoretical basis for the whole study bydescribing, defining and contextualizing office hours as a situated event in theuniversity. Through a review of previous research concerning office hours andsimilar academic consultations, the author aims to show that the office hourconstitutes an open platform to consult with professors or instructors in orderto address any academic concern. First, based on German university data, thischapter describes the practice of office hours, including how they are locallyorganized, as well as institutionally implemented. Second, this chapterillustrates questions such as the extent to which office hour consultations canbe considered as a form of institutional talk and how they differ from othertypes of talk in academia. Third, the chapter offers a research overview, whichdiscusses observations and findings from previous studies, thus allowing thereader to identify the points of overlap with existing studies and to appreciatethe contribution this book tries to make to studies on academic discourse. Byaddressing these three issues, this chapter lays a foundation for the followingchapters.

Chapter 3 presents and discusses the methodological framework of the presentstudy, which mainly draws on the analytical tools from the field of ConversationAnalysis. The focus is on the overall structural organization of an office hourtalk, including the turn-taking mechanism of individual sequences at certainstages of the interaction. Furthermore, the author talks about the researchdesign, including the corpus, data transcription, and some analytical conceptssuch as speech acts, preference organization and discourse phases. Afterclarifying the methodology and research design, the author comes to thestructural organization of the talk and investigates the interactionalactivities carried out by the participants during the consultation. Theempirical investigation of the interaction type is detailed in the followingfive chapters.

Chapter 4 discusses how an office hour consultation at a university is usuallyopened. The opening is very important, as it establishes the fact that theoffice hour is an institutional student service, which includes the actionsnecessary to recruit a party for a consultation and to show mutual attentivenessto the interaction. In order to explore how office hour consultations areopened, the author divides the opening into two parts: "preliminaries to theopening" and "opening a consultation". As for the former part, the data analysesshow that verbal routines from ordinary conversations are employed, but possiblyadapted to institutional circumstances, in order to establish the"preliminaries" of the talk, such as by scheduling a meeting before or afterclass, via e-mail or phone, or signing in on a sheet outside the door and thenwaiting outside the office until the teacher calls. After the pre-beginning phase comesthe phase of "opening a consultation", which includes two phases: a "How are you?"sequence, and identity construction. The purpose of this phase is to establish theframework of the interaction and it includes such points as how to exchangegreetings and how to construct identities. In this part, the author alsodiscusses the omission of "How are you?" exchanges in office hours, whichimplies that a personal relationship between the speakers is not relevant to thetask orientation of the interaction.

Chapter 5, "The agenda: Co-constructing the academic concern", is devoted to howstudents outline their reason for coming to the teacher's office hours and whatthey want from the teacher. It shows how participants co-construct an agenda forthe office consultation, which involves two main sequences. First is the'request delivery', which may involve different kinds of strategies andmechanisms, such as a prototypical opener, a less conventionalized topic opener,or topic preemption. For example, in the topic preemption strategy, teachersoften take over the floor after the opening sequence and express theirexpectation about the students' concern, just as in the example given by theauthor, "You want to pick up your term paper, right?". In addition, requesttypes are also divergent, i.e., there can be requests for verbal or non-verbalactions, requests for advice and assistance, or for specific information.Secondly, the overall sequential structure in which the request turns areembedded and by which the request is "internationally constructed" is flexible.It is subject to variation in the local context of a consultation. For instance,the most frequent structure of students' presentations consists of two parts: arequest action in the base sequence, and a sequence of actions preceding orfollowing the request. The analysis shows how the participants agree on anappropriate office hour and how they deal with different academic concerns.

Chapters 6 and 7 concern the body of an office hour consultation, which involvesall kinds of tasks to be performed across different sequences. Chapter 6 dealswith the treatment and discussion of the concern. Based on exemplary casestudies, it analyzes the sequential unfolding of the discussion and discusseshow a certain kind of academic concern translates into a routine sequence ofactions and how said sequence can be used as a resource to move the consultationforward. For instance, the author shows that when the student requests areference for an application to a foreign university, s/he often names a generaltopic area of concern as part of the pre-sequence of his/her presentation beforemoving to the specific topic. This chapter also looks into the interactionaltrajectories of consultations, i.e., consultations with multiple concerns andconsultations with multiple students. These two kinds of organizations may haveramifications for the course of office hour talk.

Chapter 7 is specifically devoted to one of the essential activities of anoffice hour consultation, advice-giving. Its importance lies in its guide tosocializing students into the academic community. In this chapter some genericfeatures of advice-giving are summarized, concerning such issues as the deliveryof advice, the response of students towards the advice, the constraints onadvice-giving, and feedback of advice-giving. For example, in "repetition ofadvice", the author distinguishes two types of repetition: reiterating theadvice utterance verbatim in order to increase its uptake and support students'comprehension; and rephrasing the advice utterance in order to modify itsnormative force.

The final analysis chapter (Chapter 8) deals with the termination of an officehour consultation. Just like the conversational openings, closings are composedof routine actions that are adapted to the local context. In order to find theroutine actions of the closing of an office hour consultation, the analysesfocus on points such as how to initiate the closing of a topic discussion, whatto perform before saying goodbye to each other, and the relational implicationsof these closing mechanisms. For instance, in the corpus, almost every officehour interaction ends with an exchange of passing turns, consisting ofpre-closing items (e.g. "okay"-"okay") followed by an exchange of farewells(e.g. "bye"-"bye"). These pre-closing items initiate a closing phase.

In the last chapter (Chapter 9), the main findings and implications of thisresearch are first summarized and reviewed. Then, some limitations and prospectsfor future research are pointed out.


"The Interactional Organization of Academic Talk: Office Hour Consultations"provides interesting and critical insight into the genre of office hourconsultations. It is of both theoretical and practical importance for teachers,students, and researchers who study talk-in-interaction.

Theoretically, due to the fact that a great deal of research has focused onwritten academic discourse or on spoken discourse in the classroom, the book hasfilled a gap and opened avenues to studying the non-teaching environment. Itsanalyses about how participants organize and construct talk in an office hourconsultation represent pioneering work and will provide methodological guidancefor the study of other institutional talk, as we see in the following commentsby Neal Norrick in this blurb for the book: "This book provides an excellentexample of how practitioners of discourse analysis can meaningfully addressimportant topics relevant to the daily lives of those around them".

At a more theoretical level, this study opens up a number of promising questionsconcerning office hour consultations: What role do other academic activitiesbesides advice-giving play in the process of office hour consultations?; Whatwould research results look like if other theories and approaches were adopted?;What would the differences and similarities be if a comparison were made betweenoffice hour talk in German and other, foreign universities?; All of the previousquestions leave plenty of space for further work concerning office hourconsultations and other academic talk.

Practically, this book is beneficial to all teachers and students who interactwith each other face to face in the daily routine of university life. Forstudents, the study will serve as a guide to seeking advice and receivinginformation from professors, instructors and tutors. Also, teachers can use itto assist them in going about informing, socializing and advising students aboutgeneral academic concerns, specifically during office hour consultations.

All in all, this book, which is the first on office hour consultations, is worthreading for its theoretical and practical merits. There are multiple reasons whythe book can be recommended to a range of readers. It not only can serve as acourse and reference book for students and researchers interested in thesubject, but also sets the scene for further studies on academic talk.


Yang Linxiu is currently an Associate Professor at the Foreign LanguagesSchool of Shanxi University, China. She obtained her PhD in July, 2009 fromXiamen University. Her current research interests include functionallinguistics and discourse analysis. She has published over 10 academicarticles in the areas of discourse analysis and functional linguistics invenues such as the Journal of Pragmatics, and Discourse Studies.

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