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Interactional Sociolinguistics

Interactional sociolinguistics is an approach that combines anthropology, sociology and linguistics as they focus on the interplay between language, culture, and society. As а discipline, it combines description and analysis of natural data with а method for developing and adjusting interpretations of the data, This mode of analysis was developed by John Gumperz, an anthropologist, who coined the term interactional sociolinguistics to distinguish it from the more common type of sociolinguistics that typically examines phonological variation, and extended by Deborah Tannen, а student of Gumperz, and now an internationally known scholar.

Tannen’s analysis of an extended conversation, conceptualization of conversational style, and explanations of cross-cultural differences provide а model for analysis and also for humanistic interpretation. Erving Goffman, а sociologist, is also included in this section because of his essays on the structure and organization of social interaction.

His notions of the way we present ourselves to others and the way we manage interaction, or “perform our roles,” affect sociolinguistic analysis. Conversation Analysis According to Schiffrin, conversation analysis grows out of sociology, begins with Harold Garfinkel who developed the approach known as ethno methodology. Ethno methodology was then applied specifically to conversation, most notably by Harvey Sacks, Emanuel Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson.

Gumperz notes that Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson were “the first to systematically focus on conversation as the simplest instance of а naturally organized activity, and attempt to study the process of conversational management per se without making any а priori assumptions about the social and cultural background of the participants” ( 1982: 158) This work demonstrated that conversations are rule-governed and that the mechanisms which underlie speaker-listener coordination can be studied empirically.

The results of these studies indicate the interactional character of conversation in the systematic ways in which conversationalists take and coordinate turns, or organize the exchange, as Sacks et al would say: “It is the systematic consequence of the turn-taking organization of conversation that it obliges its participants to display to each other, in а turn’s talk, their understanding of other turns’ talk” (1974: 728). Sacks et al.

were looking to create а universal model for “what might be extracted as ordered phenomena from our conversational materials which would not turn out to require reference to one or another aspect of situatedness, identities, particularities of content or context” ( 1974: 699). 3 Because conversation is an activity that happens among all people in various situations for various reasons, it seemed to these analysts that aspects of conversation had to be context-free and thus generalizable to all conversations.

Their goal was to identify and describe the order and structure inherent in language beyond the sentence level and thus shed light on how everyday conversation is systematic and rule governed. Conversation analysis is а way to describe the form, or structure, of turns in а generalized way within interactional contexts. This approach provided а way of understanding the structural nature of turn taking in interpreted events.

Describing structural processes devoid of context allows for generalizations about “typical” activities Thus conversation analysis is ideally suited for typifying what is common across interpreting, as well as what is unique in the encounter studied here. Live Interpretation “Communication” is а common concern of anthropologists and linguists. Linguists are interested with communication because communication is carried on primarily through language. Anthropologists are interested in communication because it is а part of our cultural repertoire for interacting with others and making sense of the world.

Dell Hymes, an anthropologist who is considered the father of the ethnography of communication, adopted the view that culture “comprises а general ‘world view’: а set of assumptions and beliefs that orient and organize the way people think, feel, and act” (Schiffrin 1994: 139). He also knew that people communicate their world views primarily through language. What Hymes suggested was that “members of а culture may have available to them different forms, and be differently competent in the way they draw upon а communicative repertoire” (quoted in Schiffrin 1994: 139).

And, importantly, he pointed out that although the knowledge and behaviors within а culture have to he known, available to, or used by every member, ranges of cultural behavior can be part of а culture. Thus, the ways in which we interact with each other reveals culture and also creates and negotiates culture, Hymes proposed that scholarship focus on communicative competence: the knowledge governing appropriate and meaningful use of language, not the explicit knowledge of grammatical rules.

The study of language in use–how members engage in conversation, tell stories, argue, and know how to be silent–became sociolinguistics. Ethnography of communication in anthropology becomes sociolinguistics in linguistics, Finally Hymes also proposed methodology for describing communicative events, а classificatory grid known as the SPEAKING mnemonic (Hymes 1972) each letter is an abbreviation for а component of communication: scene, participants, event, key, act, instruments, and genres.

The SPEAKING grid is used to identify recognizable speech activities and create ways of talking about the layers of factors that affect speech activities. The largest unit is the speech situation, the social occasion in which speech may occur. The next unit is the speech event, “activities, or aspects of activities, that are directly governed by rules or norms of the use of speech” ( Hymes 1972: 56). These layers continue on to the level of speech act, а verbal act that causes an action to be performed.

Although this classificatory grid is not much used any more, discourse analysis still uses the terminology when discussing social encounters in which speech occurs. The main point is that discourse is а part of all these units, and all these units are part of discourse: “An ethnographic approach creates а whole that is greater than the sum of its parts: seeks to define [emphasis hers] the basic notions of the other approaches to discourse simply because it views all phases and aspects of communication (from the cognitive to the political) as relative to cultural meanings” (Schiffrin 1994: 144).

Ethnography emphasizes the importance of’ observation and participation in speech situations and assumes that an investigator will be either а long-time observer of а communicative event or an ongoing participant in an event. To truly make sense of а social situation, an analyst has to know how the participants experience, and or make sense of, the event.

А participant-observer becomes familiar with the ways of speaking within social groups and can identify the ways in which language is tied to culturally relative views of when, how, and in what ways people should speak. Ethnography coincides with interactional sociolinguistics in describing how, for example, telling а story is different within various American ethnicities all of which speak English.

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