Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <rajivlinguistlist.org>
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Like Ruusuvuori's (2007) treatment of Finnish 'nii' (ni), Reber distinguishesbetween "different sorts of" 'ohs,' 'oohs,' and 'ahs' on both phonetic/prosodic andinteractional grounds, which she terms ''two intersecting contextualizationsystems'' (249). Chapter 9 deals with ''more affect-laden sound objects," alveolarand bilabial clicks, and whistling. These were extremely rare in Reber's data. Thelast chapter of the book offers an overall summary and conclusions.
Key findings of Reber's study include her analysis of ''extra high and pointed'' 'oh'as fulfilling three functions. The first is to avoid affiliation. The second is to defereither a positive or negative uptake on the speaker's part. The third is to givegreater rights to the other speaker to evaluate news. Reber discovers that ''extrahigh and pointed'' 'ooh' signals positive excitement (and perhaps surprise) andresults in turn expansion (146), while 'ooh' with ''high pitch and a flat, rising-fallingcontour'' functions as a receipt of detailed, negative information in complaintsequences and troubles talk (158, 161). ''Low-falling and tailed'' 'ah' appreciatesthe negativity of bad news and signals empathy while ''flat-falling and low'' 'ah'communicates responses to rejections and to bad news when the recipient is the''consequential figure'' (247). In sum, Reber argues that affect-laden sound objects''constitute neither random nor absolutely spontaneous productions'' (257).
One of the strongest features of 'Affectivity in Interaction: Sound Objects inEnglish' is its excellent list of references, which includes key journal articles, bookchapters, and monographs within the four research paradigms, as well as researchon affectivity from researchers operating within grammatical, semantic, anddiscourse analysis paradigms. Many of these sources -- particularly those writtenin or about languages other than English -- were unfamiliar to me and added to myunderstanding of Reber's analysis and argument.
While Reber's findings are not strikingly different from those of prior researchers,the depth of analysis presented sets the book apart from previous publications.However, the greatest disappointment of the book, in my view, is the small dataset that Reber analyzed in a small range of conversational settings. AlthoughReber presents radio phone-in shows as "semi-institutional," she also states thatsuch conversations "constitute adjustments of the ones practiced in mundanecontexts" (60). Unfortunately, therefore, the data set lacks examples of thesesound objects in work and institutional settings, which one would have expectedgiven the plethora of research on these in studies of talk-in-interaction (i.e.,Conversation Analysis). Also, an entire chapter written about 12 clicks andwhistles found in the data because they, like 'oh,' 'ooh,' and 'ah,' ''are deployed asrecipient responses to affect-laden speaker actions'' (223) lacks credibility anddoes little to advance the author's argument.
The book is both strengthened by and hampered by its status as a dissertationrevision. One strength is its thorough treatment of "background" and"preliminaries," making the volume accessible to readers with little prior knowledgeof affectivity and talk-in-interaction research. Others are its thorough literaturereview and richly detailed, predictable chapter structure. However, it is alsohampered by its origin as a dissertation. While most researchers are susceptible tothe temptation of avoiding critiquing those they know and admire, dissertationwriters are in a particularly awkward position. Reber, like all scholars-in-training, isbeholden to her academic committee members. Therefore, in her review of theliterature, Reber neglects to provide the same critical appraisal of the work ofthose who supervised her dissertation. In her Acknowledgments (ix), she refers toElizabeth Couper-Kuhlen as ''my supervisor, mentor and friend," and to Marja-Leena Sorjonen as "my second supervisor.'' Reber also thanks Margret Selting fordiscussing data examples with her and therefore neglects to offer the same criticalanalysis of Selting's work as she does of Wierzbicka's (1992) or of Fischer's(2000). What is more, the author thanks Couper-Kuhlen and Elizabeth Holt forpermission to use their data, and also acknowledges Couper-Kuhlen's ''meticulousproofreading of the current manuscript in the final stages of production'' (ix).Reber's reliance on her mentors may be a good professional move, but I, as areader, would hope for critical (or at least different) input to the publication processfrom those less familiar with her work.
Reber's volume will be read with interest by linguists who work within a variety ofresearch paradigms: Prosody-in Conversation, Phonology-for-Conversation,Discourse-Functional linguistics, and Conversation Analysis (see also Barth-Weingarten et al. 2010). Scholars with research interests in embodied interaction,communication studies, and affectivity in psychology, sociology, and medicinemay also be interested in these findings. All that is necessary is that readers bewilling to consider an account of certain ''response cries'' (Goffman 1978) that isinformed by multiple paradigms and therefore highly informative and productive. Itis this analytical constellation that makes 'Affectivity in Interaction: Sound Objectsin English' a thorough and unique contribution to the analysis of conversation.More multimodal and multidisciplinary analyses of conversation are likely to resultfrom studies like this.
Aijmer, Karin. 2002. English discourse particles: Evidence from a corpus.Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Barth-Weingarten, Dagmar, Elisabeth Reber and Margret Selting (eds). 2010.Prosody in interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Cooper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth. 2009. A sequential approach to affect: The case of"disappointment.'' In Haakana, Markku, Minna Laakso and Jan Lindström (eds.),Talk in interaction: Comparative dimensions, 94-123. Helskini: Finnish LiteratureSociety (SKS).
Fischer, Kerstin. 2000. From cognitive semantics to lexical pragmatics: Thefunctional polysemy of discourse particles. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Goffman, Erving. 1978. Response cries. Language 54. 787-815.
Ruusuvuori, Johanna. 2007. Managing affect: Integration of empathy and problem-solving in health care encounters. Discourse Studies 9. 597-622.
Schegloff, Emanuel. 1993. Reflections on quantification in the study ofconversation. Research on Language and Social Interaction 26. 99-128.
Schiffrin, Deborah. 1987. Discourse markers. Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress.
Selting, Margret and Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth (eds). 2001. Studies in interactionallinguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Sorjonen, Marja-Leena. 2001. Responding in conversation: A study of responseparticles in Finnish. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Wierzbicka, Anna. 1992. Semantics, culture and cognition: Universal humanconcepts in culture-specific configurations. New York/Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Terese Thonus teaches in the Department of English and directs theWriting Center at the University of Kansas. She researches oral discourseanalysis and second language acquisition and writing and has publishedin 'Discourse & Society,' 'Text,' the 'Journal of Second LanguageWriting,' and 'Linguistics and Education,' among other venues. She isauthor, with Rebecca Babcock, of 'Researching the Writing Center:Towards an Evidence-Based Practice' (Peter Lang, 2012).
Page Updated: 13-Nov-2012