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Articles on Conversation Analysis

Listed below are articles on this topic from the Campus Writing Program library. Short summaries and citations are provided when available.


Agar, Michael. "Institutional Discourse." Text 5.3 (1985): 147- 168.

Suggests a framework for the analysis of institutional discourse: conversation between a citizen and an institutional representative (e.g. of a medical, legal, or governmental institution). Suggests 3 segments of institutional discourse: diagnosis (fit client's problem into institutional frame), directives (tell client what to do), and reports (records of diagnosis and directives, often for other institutional representatives). Reviews studies of institutional discourse within this framework. Relates the framework to work of Foucault and Habermas.

Bardovi-Harlig, Kathleen, and Beverly S. Hartford. "Congruence in Native and Nonnative Conversations: Status Balance in the Academic Advising Session." Language Learning 40.4 (1990): 467-501.

Compares status balance of native and nonnative grad students in advising sessions with advisors. NNSs are generally less successful in doing out-of- status ("noncongruent") things during conversation because they don't use "status- preserving strategies" such as downgraders to soften the effect of the noncongruent speech acts. NSs also ask for advice more, too, apparently to balance out their suggestions by letting the advisor help accomplish the work of the advising session.

Bardovi-Harlig, Kathleen, and Beverly S. Hartford. "The Language of Comembership." Research on Language and Social Interaction 26.3 (1993): 227-257.

Examines relation between speech acts and comembership (something shared by advisor and student, either institutionally or socially), in NS and NNS grad and undergrad students and their advisors. Finds that low comembership (between undergrads and advisors) is associated with fewer linguistic status-preserving strategies than is high comembership (between grads and advisors). Explanation: when status is clear (e.g., with low comembership and clear status difference, as with undergraduates and advisors), few linguistic or pragmatic devices are needed. With grads and advisors, status similarity and higher comembership make for a complicated social, and hence, linguistic, situation.

Blau, Susan R., John Hall and Tracy Strauss. "Exploring the Tutor/Client Conversation: A Linguistic Analysis."

Using conversation analysis, this study of 10 graduate student tutors examined the use of questions, echoing, and qualifiers in tutoring conversations. The study questions the current notion of the ideal tutorial--a collaborative effort between tutor and client--and suggests that as writing tutorials become more professionalized, true collaboration becomes impossible. In addition, during some tutorials where collaboration is attempted, the tutorial itself can suffer. At the same time, however, conversation analysis may prove useful in discovering the ways that collaboration can occur in the tutorial situation, and the authors recommend further study.

Button, Graham. "Moving Out of Closings." Talk and Social Organization. Eds. G. Button and J. R. E. Lee. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters, 1987. 101-151.

Describes how, in the closing of a conversation, other material can be introduced (either items discussed earlier in the conversation or new material). Describes what matieral can be introduced and how it is introduced.

Carnicelli, Thomas A. "The Writing Conference: A One-to-One Conversation." Eight Approaches to Teaching Composition. Eds. Timothy R. Donovan and Ben W. McClelland. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1980. 101-131.

Provides a definition of and rationale for the conference method of teaching composition. Discusses the roles a teacher can/should take in a writing course taught using the conference method. Then as examples, gives transcripts of two conferences, one "successful" (one which led to an improved draft), the other "unsuccessful" (which didn't improve the paper).

Chafe, Wallace L. "Discourse Structure and Human Knowledge." Language Comprehension and the Acquisition of Knowledge. Eds. J. B. Carroll and R. O. Freedle. Washington: Wiley, 1972. 41-69.

Brings together discourse analysis and semantic modeling. Introduces a contextual rule to deal with what a conversant "knows" at various points during a conversation. Discusses importance of context in determination of verb tense, in foregrounding elements of the discourse, in accounting for the identity of the speaker, and in assumptions a speaker can make about information shared with a hearer.

Duncan, Starkey, Jr. "Toward a Grammar for Dyadic Conversation." Semiotica 0 (1973): 29-46.

Study of the structure of two-way conversations. Describes signals and rules used by conversants in exchanging turns in conversation. Auditors can either backchannel or make a turn claim signal. Speakers can give turn signals, suppress claims to take a turn by the auditor, or make within-turn signals which mark segments of their (the speaker's) communication. Signals consist of changes in pitch level, loudness, body motions, sequences such as "you know" or "or something" or "drawl" at the end of a turn.

Duranti, Alessandro. "Ethnography of Speaking: Toward a Linguistics of the Praxis." Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey: Language: The Socio-Cultural Context, vol. IV. Ed. F. J. Newmeyer. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. 210- 228.

Discusses the principles that guide ethnographers of speech. ES studies language as it is actually used; aims to describe communicative competence; stresses (sociocultural) context; analyzes speech events. CA, on the other hand, doesn't rely on sociocultural context only on turn-taking system, which it claims is universal.

Fletcher, David C. "On the Issue of Authority." Dynamics of the Writing Conference: Social and Cognitive Interactions. Eds. Thomas Flynn and Mary King. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1993. 41-50.

Analyzes the opening conversation of a single tutorial, discussing how the tutor in the dialogue fails to allow the student her own authority. Tutor asks low-level fact-based questions that leave him in control and prevent the student from having her questions answered or needs met.

Goffman, Erving. "Replies and Responses." Forms of Talk. Ed. E. Goffman. Oxford: Basic Blackwell, 1976. 5- 77.

Summarizes types of question/answer pairs or other pairs in conversation in which the first pair-part calls for a reply or response by the answerer.

Grice, H. P. "Logic and Conversation." Syntax and Semantics, Vol. 3. Eds. P. Cole and J. L. Morgan. Los Angeles: Academic Press, 1975. 41-58.

Describes the cooperative principle that people follow when they converse, along with various rules that people are expected to follow: make your contribution as informative as the context demands; don't say what you know to be false; be relevant, lucid, brief; etc.

Gumperz, J. J. "Interethnic Communication." Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982. 172-186.

Analyzes parts of an interview between a NS and a NNS; shows how each participant's (inaccurate) inferences about what's going on lead to inabilities to negociate common topics for conversation and shared expectations.

Hartford, Beverly S., and Kathleen Bardovi- Harlig. "Closing the Conversation: Evidence from the Academic Advising Session." Discourse Processes 15 (1992): 93-116.

Describes the closing conversations of academic advising sessions with native speaking and non-native speaking grad students. Contrasts "felicitous closings" (of both NS and NNS) with "infelicitous closings" of NNS; also contrasts advising session conversations with natural conversations.

Maynard, Douglas W. "Placement of Topic Changes in Conversation." Semiotica 30.3/4 (1980): 263-290.

Characterizes the occurence of topic shifts in conversation: they often happen when speaker transitions break down (after a silence, e.g.). Also after a story, the next speaker can shift back to the previous topic, refocus on something (inappropriately) in the previous speaker's talk, or disagree with the previous speaker, either of which can elicit a topic shift.

Norrick, Neal R. "On the Organization of Corrective Exchanges in Conversation." Journal of Pragmatics 16 (1991): 59- 83.

Examines how conversants correct each other's talk (mispronunciations, use of wrong names, confused facts, etc.). Argues against Schegloff, et. al. (1977), who suggested that conversants prefer to correct themselves rather than have another conversant correct them. This article argues for correction that varies by context based on how conversants perceive their abilities to accomplish the correction (whoever is best suited to correct, does it). Examples taken from parent-child, teacher-student, NS-NNS.

Sacks, Harvey, Emanuel A. Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson. "A Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation." Studies in the Organization of Conversational Interaction. Ed. J. N. Schenkein. New York: Academic Press, 1978. 7-55.

Lists basic elements of turn taking in conversation, then begins to describe possible rules for determining how turns are determined and who takes the next turn. Mentions turn- relevant places, interruptions, etc.

Schegloff, Emanuel A. "On Talk and Its Institutional Occasions." Talk at Work: Interaction in Institutional Settings. Eds. Paul Drew and John Heritage. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. 101-134.

Relates conversation analysis to sociological idea of social structures by discussing two problems: relevance (how to use details of conversation to show that the conversants' identities and details of the context are relevant to their interaction) and procedural consequentiality (how to show that the relevant context actually shapes or makes a difference to the conversation that occurs in that context). Analyzes as an example, a confrontational interview between Dan Rather and George Bush (then a candidate for the presidency).

Schegloff, Emanuel, and Harvey Sacks. "Opening Up Closings." Semiotica 8 (1973): 289-327.

Preliminary analysis of closings of conversations--structure of turns, organization of introduction of topics, etc.

Schegloff, Emanuel, Gail Jefferson, and Harvey Sacks. "The Preference for Self-Correction in the Organization of Repair in Conversation." Language53 (1977): 361-382.

Describes how conversants correct (or "repair") mistakes in conversation. Correction includes word search, replacement of a word by another, and correction of fact or grammar. Discusses self-repair vs. other- repair; concludes that self-repair is generally more common.

Schiffrin, Deborah. "Conversation Analysis." Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey: Language: The Socio-Cultural Context, Vol. IV. Ed. F. J. Newmeyer. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. 251- 276.

Defines conversation analysis as a subfield of discourse analysis that considers spoken dialogue. Considers what the structures of conversation might be; how meaning and actions are negociated in conversation; roles of context and social interaction in understanding conversation.

Thomas, Jenny. "Cross-Cultural Discourse as 'Unequal Encounter': Towards a Pragmatic Analysis." Applied Linguistics 5.3 (1984): 226-235.

Describes inappropriate use of certain language features by NNSs. These features are used, in conversations among NSs, by dominant speakers to subordinates. Suggests that when NNSs don't know that these features suggest dominance in a conversation, the use of them by NNSs leads to misunderstanding by NSs.

Thonus, Terese. "'Let Me Suggest Something': Variability of Tutorial Discourse with Native and Nonnative Writers." No citation.

Compares tutorials with NS and NNS students at IU Writing Tutorial Services. Tutors talk more than students in both types of tutorial; this is exacerbated in NNS tutorials. In NNS tutorials, tutors make more suggestions, more direct suggestions, and fewer indirect suggestions than in NS tutorials.

Thonus, Terese."Tutors and Male and Female: Gendered Language in Writing Conferences." Paper presented at AAAL, 26 March, 1996. 32 pp., including charts.

Gives the results of a study analyzing the conversational features of male and female graduate tutors. While female tutors as institutional representatives by and large employed the same interactional and pragmatic features as their male counterparts, they differed in the selection of suggestion type and mitigation strategies. The higher institutional status of the tutor may have contributed to the similarity of their language.

Thonus, Terese. What Makes a Writing Tutorial Successful: An Analysis of Linguistic Variables and Social Context. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Indiana University, September, 1998. 492 pp.

Tutorial success is gauged by the level of satisfaction achieved by the participants. Uses conversational analysis to understand what makes a tutorial successful. Chapter titles include: "The Analysis of Interaction: Linking Language and Context," "Writing Tutorials and Institutional Discourse," "Methodology," "Tutorial Talk," "Tutorial Interviews," "Discussion: Signs of Success," and "Conclusion."

Ulichny, Polly, and Karen Ann Watson- Gegeo. "Interactions and Authority: The Dominant Interpretive Framework in Writing Conferences." Discourse Processes 12 (1989): 309-328.

Analyzes transcripts of 20 writing conferences between 6th-grade teachers and students. Uses the analytic construct "Dominant Interpretive Framework" to refer to the power differential between teacher and student, and the teacher's control of the conference conversation. Describes 3-part structure of conference: beginning (read text aloud); middle (find and fix "correctables" in text); and end (teacher assigns task for student to do before next conference). Analyzes successful and unsuccessful find-and-fix cycles, in which student either does or doesn't correct the error the teacher has identified.

Venneman, Theo. "Topics, Sentence Accent, Ellipsis: A Proposal for their Formal Treatment." Formal Semantics of Natural Language. Ed. E. L. Keenan. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1975. 313-328.

Proposes a system of notation for the topic of a conversation (defined as "a discourse subject on which the attention of the participants of the discourse is concentrated. Such concentration of attention is usually, though not always, brought about by an immediately preceding textual mentioning of the discourse subject."). Relates topics to location of sentence accents and to pronomialization and ellipsis.

Woken, Miles D., and John Swales. "Expertise and Authority in Native-Non- Native Conversations: The Need for a Variable Account." Variation in Second Language Acquisition (Discourse and Pragmatics, vol. 1). Eds. S. Gass, C. Madden, D. Preston, and L. Selinker. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters, 1987. 211-227.

Examines role of expertise in determination of who is dominant in a conversation. Previous studies show that NSs are usually dominant; this study shows that when NNSs have domain-specific expertise that is needed in the conversation, they dominate over NSs.

Yule, George. "New, Current, and Displaced Entity Reference." Lingua 55 (1081): 41-52.

Basic question: how can an analyst know what is "given" and what is "new" in a conversation? Study of conversation done under controlled conditions (one person giving descriptive instructions to another person about a drawing that only the instructor has access to), to investigate how speakers refer to "given" and "new" elements in conversation. Results suggest that "given" information can be referred to in either of two ways: as "current" or as "displaced."

Zuengler, Jane. "Performance Variation in NS-NNS Interactions: Ethnolinguistic Difference, Or Discourse Domain?" Variation in Second Language Acquisition (Discourse and Pragmatics, vol. 1). Eds. S. Gass, C. Madden, D. Preston, and L. Selinker. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters, 1987, pp. 228-244.

Similar to Woken and Swales; shows that NNSs are not automatically subordinate to NSs in conversations. When NNSs have more expertise, they dominate; even when expertise is equal, sometimes the NNS can dominate if negotiations result in making the NNS into a "knower."

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