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Patterns of Conversational Interaction in Varieties of English (Neumaier)

Starting from the assumption that conversations always exhibit orderliness (cf. Sacks et al. 1974), my project is concerned with the way interaction is organised in English conversations situated in different cultural and linguistic surroundings. This combination of conversation analytic methods and concepts with the study of World Englishes is comparatively new: Conversation Analysis has almost exclusively focused on US-American speakers, thus neglecting other varieties of English or even dismissing them as chaotic and “anarchic” (cf. Reisman 1974: 113; a notable exception being Sidnell 2001). However, as all interaction is culturally situated, simply assuming that only Inner Circle English conversations represent orderly patterns of interaction clearly seems insufficient and disregards that “[e]very language and culture has particular conventions, characteristic strategies, and specific devices for the management of conversational interaction” (Kachru & Smith 2008: 121). In my PhD thesis I aim at closing this research gap by analysing non-scripted everyday conversations involving speakers of different Outer and Expanding Circle varieties of English. Following Carbaugh’s idea of an enlarged concept of “talk-in-interaction-culture” (2005: 2), my study wants to investigate whether these varieties exhibit recurrent patterns of conversational interaction and to which extent these structures can be regarded as culturally sensitive.

The data for the study come from the Asian Corpus of English (ACE), covering South-East Asian Englishes, and two ICE-corpora representing the “geographic core of the anglophone Caribbean” (Deuber 2014: 3), namely ICE-Jamaica and ICE-Trinidad & Tobago. Using the corresponding audio files, I created detailed conversation analytic transcripts of several hours of everyday multi-party face-to-face conversations and annotated them with regard to inherent patterns and strategies of turn-taking. What differentiates the methodological approach in this thesis from other conversation analytic work is that it is a mixed-methods study combining both qualitative and quantitative approaches.

The analysis largely concentrates on aspects of turn-taking, i.e. it investigates the strategies speakers employ to acquire, hold or relinquish the floor, and compares these preferences cross-culturally. Other fields of interest include the tolerance of silences, turn-distribution, talking-time and amount of overlap, interruption, and types of floor. Whereas the basic framework underlying all conversations – the turn-taking model – is a context-free phenomenon, these features and contextualisation cues are likely to be sensitive to the conversationalists’ (cultural) background and can therefore be expected to show variation.

Carbaugh, D. 2005. Cultures in Conversation. Mahwah, New Jersey and London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Deuber, D. 2014. English in the Caribbean. Variation, Style and Standards in Jamaica and Trinidad. Cambridge: CUP.
Kachru, Y. and L. Smith. 2008. Cultures, Contexts, and World Englishes. New York, London: Routledge.
Reisman, K. 1974. Contrapuntual conversations in an Antiguan village. In: R. Bauman and J. Sherzer (eds.), pp. 110-124. Explorations in the ethnography of speaking, Cambridge: CUP.
Sacks, H.; E. Schegloff and G. Jefferson. 1974. A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language 50.4: 696-735.
Sidnell, J. 2001. Conversational turn-taking in a Caribbean English-Creole. Journal of Pragmatics 33: 1263-1290.

  1. Faculty of Languages, Literature, and Cultures
  2. Department of English and American Studies

English Linguistics

Dr. Giuliana Regnoli