LINGUIST List 25.5093

Sun Dec 14 2014

Diss: Mandarin Chinese; Applied Ling, Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics, Socioling: Lim: 'Retroactive Operations: On 'Increments' in Mandarin Chinese Conversations'

Editor for this issue: Danuta Allen <>

Date: 14-Dec-2014
From: Ni-Eng Lim <>
Subject: Retroactive Operations: On 'Increments' in Mandarin Chinese Conversations
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Institution: University of California, Los Angeles
Program: Department of Applied Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2014

Author: Ni-Eng Lim

Dissertation Title: Retroactive Operations: On 'Increments' in Mandarin Chinese Conversations

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
                            Discourse Analysis

Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin (cmn)

Dissertation Director:
Kang-Kwong Luke
Charles Goodwin
John Heritage
Emanuel A Schegloff
Hongyin Tao

Dissertation Abstract:

An important contribution of Conversation Analysis (CA) to interactional linguistics is in its treatment of naturally occurring linguistic phenomena as systematic practices that deals with the problems of moment-by-moment talk-in-interaction. Under this analytic framework, speakers’ language use is not only analyzed as a vehicle for pursuing various social actions, but also as linguistic resources for managing the contingencies of producing emergent interactive talk. In this dissertation, I look at a particular sort of ‘repair’ termed TCU-continuations (or otherwise known increments in other literature) in Mandarin Chinese, broadly defined as speakers producing further talk after a possibly complete utterance, which is fashioned not as a new turn-constructional unit (TCU) in itself, but as a retrospectively oriented continuation of the preceding TCU.
Based on data from American English conversations, Schegloff (1996, 2000, 2001) specifies that TCU-continuations (a.k.a. increments) are “grammatically fitted, or symbiotic with, that prior TCU”. However, turning to cross-linguistic data, it is found that grammatically-fitted TCU-continuations are less prototypical in other languages (Vorreiter 2003, Auer 2007, Luke 2007), specifically Mandarin Chinese (henceforth “Chinese”). Despite having a variety of grammatical constituents that typically appear before the head element under a normative syntactic structure in Chinese, Chinese speakers do in fact frequently break syntactic “decorum” by extending a TCU with a syntactically discontinuous constituent. On the other hand, syntactically continuous TCU-continuations are also abundantly found in Chinese conversations, formulated via grammatical environment specific to the Chinese language. This empirical study details the typology of Chinese TCU-continuations following the classificatory categories set out by Couper-Kuhlen and Ono (2007).
In terms of what TCU-continuations may be doing, though often characterized as “afterthoughts”, a growing body of literature has shown that they are not the results of “sloppy” production, but may constitute a systematic practice performing a variety of interactional actions (Goodwin 1979; Ford, Fox & Thompson 2002; Kim 2007). A key finding is that these interactional functions may be pursued using different types of TCU-continuations. As such, though there may be preferential types of constituents or TCU-continuations for certain functions, there is little to suggest a strict form-function relationship. In other words, speakers are unconcerned with questions of form-function relationship, but utilize the constituent most germane to the required interactional function at that moment of unfolding talk for indexing ‘continuation’.
Finally, what we now know about TCU-continuations based on American English could well be revisited given how “incrementing” is done, and what they can do, in Chinese conversations. This dissertation concludes with some discussion on the how TCU-continuations as a form of ‘transition-space repair’ impacts on its shape and delivery at transition-relevance place; the relationship between TCU-continuations and a general preference for progressivity; as well as the theoretical implications on Emergent Grammar and Interactional Linguistics given the practice of TCU-continuations in conversation.

Page Updated: 14-Dec-2014