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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Language Interaction

New Adventures in Language and Interaction by Prof. Jürgen Streeck (Pragmatics & Beyond New Series:John Benjamins Publishing Company) In this book sixteen international scholars of language and social interaction describe their distinct frameworks of analysis. Taking conversation analysis and interactional sociolinguistics as their points of departure and investigating ordinary conversation as well as institutions such as health care, therapy, and city council meetings, they often incorporate gesture, prosody, and the listener's behavior in the analysis of talk. While some approaches are grounded in a critique of the major schools of interaction analysis, others integrate the interactionist perspective with ideas from fields such as systemic-functional linguistics, distributed cognition, and the sociology of knowledge. Each chapter combines a statement of the terms and methods of analysis with an exemplary analysis of a moment of interaction. New Adventures in Language and Interaction gives an excellent overview of the novelty and diversity of interaction-focused perspectives on language and of the heterogeneity of approaches that have evolved from the pioneering work of Sacks and Schegloff, Gumperz, and their co-workers. This book has developed from an idea by Carlo Prevignano and Paul Thibault to have a diverse group of well-known researchers who are engaged in the empirical study of language and interaction discuss the start of the art of the field. All of the contributors are either influenced by or develop their own line of inquiry in critical dialogue with conversation analysis and/or interactional sociolinguistics, as conceived by John Gumperz. This book thus complements the prior discussions with Emanuel Schegloff (Prevignano & Thibault 2003) and John Gumperz (Eerdmans, Prevignano & Thibault 2003) that these scholars have published. The resulting volume gives an impression of how diverse the field has become.

While all of the contributors see their work as grounded in what we may now call the interactionist canon - G.H. Mead, the late Wittgenstein, perhaps Vygostky and Bakhtin, Bateson, maybe Garfinkel, but above all Goffman (see, for example, the contributions by Trognon and Batt, Streeck, and Shotter) - they have branched out from this shared ground in a number of different directions:

  • by subjecting these dominant paradigms in language and interaction research
  • conversation analysis (CA) and interactional sociolinguistics (IS) - to a critical review and formulating their own distinct theoretical edifice, vision, or methodology in contradistinction to them, sometimes by giving these a name that sets them off from those methodologies, e.g. interlocutory logic (Trognon and Batt) or action-implicative discourse analysis (Tracy and Craig); Kerbrat-Orecchioni pleads for an eclectic methodology, while Shotter articulates a philosophy of dialogical dynamics as it has emerged from his research as well as from the interplay of utterances by Vygostky and Wittgenstein that has unfolded in his work; or
  • by taking these methodologies, notably conversation analysis, and integrating them with separate, differently focused but philosophically compatible methodologies, such as systemic functional linguistics as proposed by M.A.K. Halliday (Muntigl and Ventola); or
  • by incorporating previously understudied components such as prosody (Cowley) listener action and temporal coordination (Erickson) and gesture (Streeck), and using findings from their research to revise received notions in interactionism (e.g. context) and introducing new ones (such as resonance) that emphasize embodied aspects of intersubjectivity in interaction.

Other contributors are committed to elucidating interactional difficulties that result from impairments (Armstrong and Ferguson) and cultural conflict (Lin), or to give guidance or provide representations of dialogue for the critical reflection of practitioners in such fields of communicative practice as health-care (Sarangi), therapy (Cowley, Muntigl and Ventola, Shotter), and politics (Tracy and Craig).

The adventures that await those who enter the microcosm of human interaction thus offer challenges of multiple kinds: the need to revise one's guiding assumptions and find new bearings in a changing, interdisciplinary landscape, but also to make sense of little-known fields of practice which are also undergoing change, as well as making practitioners feel a greater need to reflect on what is going on. All of the contributions combine reflections of method with an assessment of some aspect of the state of the art and illustrate their reflections with limited presentations and analyses of cases.

Specifically, Alain Trognon and Martine Batt exemplify one discernible trend in contemporary work on language and interaction, which is to seek to integrate some of the different existing strands of research as well as their conceptual foundations into a single integrated theoretical and analytic framework. Central to their endeavor are Goffman's notion of the interaction order (Goffman 1983) and Schegloff's dictum that interaction (or, rather, talk in interaction) is the "natural habitat" for the deployment and development of language (Schegloff 1991). The interaction order, whose "backbone" is sequentiality, underwrites mutual understanding (intersubjectivity) via language, but traditional conceptions that deprive language use from its scaffolding by institutional orders of interaction unfailingly overestimate the contributions of linguistic structures to human understanding. Trognon and Batt propose interlocutory logic as a unified framework for studying cognition in interaction. It comprises formal procedures to (a) represent and model the sociolinguistic organization of interlocutions (i.e. dialogues consisting of social action sequences), and (b) generate hypotheses about "subjective processes at the cognitive level" and study "the conversational emergence of both declarative and procedural knowledge". They exemplify this framework with an analysis of the talk during brief "hand-overs" between work-shifts in a paper factory.

Stephen Cowley's contribution breaks with more orthodoxies than most others. His point of departure is, like Trognon and Batt's, "the exaggerated importance of linguistic forms" in traditional research and theory, but in his rejection of this tradition he is particularly keen on re-somaticizing language and communication and to demonstrate the "importance of patterns beyond symbols". He contends that traditional conceptions - including conversation analysis and, to a more limited extend, Gumperz with his notion that contextualization cues steer the interpretation of situated uses of symbols - misconstrue our participation in embodied events by construing it in analogy to how we read pictures: as recognition of patterns whose meanings can be looked up in some social or mental lexicon. What Cowley offers is a dynamic model of self-organizing bodies that continuously resonate with unpredictable events and dynamic changes in co-acting bodies: a body's "pico-level resonance" constantly responds to and, in turn, impacts another body. Cowley offers a case-analysis of dynamic prosodic processes in an Italian conversation; he models meaning-making as an embodied phenomenon, in line with a perspective that is grounded in the "bio-mechanics" and "bio-semiotics" of interaction, in light of which traditional units such as words and utterances, even interaction itself, appear as folk-constructs.

Catherine Kerbrat-Orecchioni makes the case for methodological eclecticism, presenting ideas towards an approach that incorporates concepts from various versions of discourse analysis, pragmatics, politeness theory, speech act theory, and conversation analysis. She develops these ideas mainly through a critique of core concepts in conversation analysis. Thus, she takes issue with the notion of adjacency pair, pointing out that the acts that are connected in sequences may often be far apart (cf. Schegloff, 2007, which also addresses this issue), emphasizing that the units that make up sequences are not turns, but actions (or speech acts), and arguing that the notion of pair betrays a CA bias toward two-party conversation. Kerbrat-Orecchioni also separates the dimensions of ordering and conditional relevance in sequence organization and proposes a reinterpretation in light of politeness theory (Brown & Levinson 1987) of various preferences structures that conversation analysts have uncovered (e.g. the preference for agreement; Sacks 1987). She is critical of what we may call the "maxim of contextual parsimony", advanced in particular by Schegloff (1987), according to which the situated relevance of some category of context or identity (gender, place, social class, etc.) should not be presumed as relevant unless this relevance has in fact been made apparent by the parties: many dimensions of context are assumed by the parties even if they are not made apparent in the discourse. Interaction analysis, therefore, is always interpretive, and inevitably the parties will draw upon "external" parameters of context, e.g. their respective social backgrounds. Kerbrat-Orecchioni exemplifies her eclectic approach, which "draws on descriptive resources from different fields and puts them together", in an analysis of a strategically misplaced greeting during a televised interchange between the French politicians Sarkozy and Le Pen in 2003.

Peter Muntigl and Eija Ventona take a very different turn than, for example, Cowley and Trognon and Batt: instead of reducing or questioning the relevance of grammar in the achievement of intersubjectivity in interaction, they exemplify its relevance - the relevance of grammatical choices - for the development of social-interactional processes and interpersonal life. Their approach, which draws on Halliday's systemic-functional linguistics is compatible with recent work by conversation analysts and interactional linguists on positionally sensitive grammar, involving a type of analysis of grammatical structures and devices that pays attention to the positions within emergent turns, sequences, and activities where these structures and devices can be deployed. Both systemic-functional linguistics and conversation analysis, they point out, "insist on examining speakers' meaning-making resources", specifically the constructional alternatives that are available to them at a given point in an interaction and which include such choices as that between active and passive voice or action-, achievement-, and relational verbs. Aligning with the "behaviorist" view of the relationship between linguistic resources and sociocognitive behavior espoused by Ryle (1949) and Wittgenstein (1953; see Coulter 1989), they show that grammatical resources are not simply resources for making clauses, but that choosing one type of clause over another means enacting a different action, construing an experience in different ways, and offering different types of relationship. This conception is developed through the analysis of a brief excerpt from a couple's therapy in which the therapist successively alters the grammatical frame in terms of which the husband's habits are construed.

Angel Lin's chapter reconciles the perspective of Gumperz' interactional sociolinguistics with the methods and procedures of conversation analysis. She rejects Gumperz' criticism that conversation analysis treats social groups and categories as static and refers to Sacks' account, in one of his lectures (cf. Sacks 1992: 288), of how groups are locally constituted through specific linguistic practices. Lin argues for the integration of micro- and macro-perspectives and draws on Giddens' structuration theory for a concept of structuration practices and a framework that recognizes the constraining influence of social macro-structures and institutions and can guide an investigation of how these structures and institutions emerge from situated social action, interaction, and work. Lin is particularly interested in what happens in the "borderlands" of inter-group and inter-positional interaction in the context of an increasingly globalized world. Her focus is on the structuring activities that take place during inter-cultural communication in non-egalitarian encounters. Following Davies and Harré (1990), she describes how in such encounters participants position one another according to conflicting, but consistent storylines and assign each other parts in these stories. While high-status participants may seek to use their power to secure the enforcement of their storyline, participants in less powerful positions use tactics (de Certeau 1984) to counteract non-egalitarian interactional structures. Lin's contribution illustrates the need for language and interaction research that focuses on settings and engagements in which horizontal relations of affiliation and engagement and vertical relations of power and control over linguistic and communicative norms are negotiated and contested.

Karen Tracy and Robert Craig position their approach to the study of language and interaction - which they call action-implicative discourse analysis ( AID A) - in contradistinction to interactional sociolinguists and conversation analysis. They argue that all approaches always reflect and have to reckon with the traditions, concerns, and thematic regimes of their respective home disciplines: in the case of their own approach, communication studies; linguistics and anthropology in the case of interactional sociolinguistics; and sociology in the case of CA. According to Tracy and Craig, CA takes on different flavors and is less firmly bounded when it is transported into other fields. For communication scholars, Tracy and Craig suggest, the practical dimension of research has always been a main concern, reaching back to the beginnings of the rhetorical tradition in ancient Greece and Rome. Communication studies and, a fortiori, action-implicative discourse analysis, are fundamentally interested in cultivating communication, that is, in providing, on the basis of research on actual cases, guidance for improved practice. The authors illustrate this perspective with an analysis of a school-board meeting. Approaching the setting with an ethnographically grounded version of discourse analysis (cf. Schiffrin 1994), they aim to reconstruct the "situated ideals" of different categories of participants, in order to explicate their normative standards, which can then guide the cultivation of communicative practice.

Srikant Sarangi is similarly motivated by the task of professional communication analysts to guide professionals, for example in health-care, in reflections of their own communicative practice. Health-care professionals, he argues, are likely "to apply such insights about interaction selectively, in the same way they deal with theories and models of scientific and technical knowledge". In contrast to other contributions, Sarangi does not begin with a generic, bottom-up analysis of interaction sequences and their various embeddings within specific macro-contexts and fields of social practice. Rather, he comes to his research with an understanding of current policy-induced changes in the professional roles of health-care providers and the impact that these changes have on their interactional statuses and roles as knowledge providers. To give an example, software-based expert systems play an increasing role in health-care, but while they potentially lower the status of physicians as human experts, they are also apt to empower nurses, which are enabled to perform minor surgery and dispense advice independently of physicians. Drawing upon Levinson's study of "activity types and language" (Levinson 1979/1992), Sarangi conducts activity analysis, complemented by theme-oriented discourse-analysis, and illustrates his approach here with analytic observations of an example of genetic counseling. He shows that the interaction is characterized by frequent frame-shifts (from history-taking to diagnosis, etc.), as well as by repeated patterns of rhetorical escalation and de-escalation of the risk that the medical condition poses to the patient.

Elizabeth Armstrong and Alison Ferguson discuss the contribution that interaction research can make to clinical research and intervention involving people with aphasia; like Muntigl and Ventona, their research brings together conversation analysis and systemic-functional linguistics. The authors point out that aphasia is usually characterized by a breakdown of lexicogrammatical order in the presence of relatively intact pragmatic skills. Microanalytic research on interactions with people affected by aphasia has shown how these are able to draw on "normal" conversational mechanisms (e.g. repair), but also on grammatical resources such as cleft-constructions to compensate for difficulties in making themselves understood. However, this type of research has also revealed interactional and linguistic accommodations that conversation partners of aphasics make (e.g. in prosody) and which sometimes amount to over-accommodation and yield the risk that the speaker is perceived as talking down to the person who has the speech impediment. Armstrong and Ferguson offer a detailed discussion of both the history and the possible futures of research on language and interaction involving people with aphasia and argue that many of the communication difficulties resulting from aphasia are not categorically different from problems of miscommunication in ordinary conversations; rather, they highlight and expose the "generic" underpinnings of conversational collaboration.

Jurgen Streeck revisits some core ideas in the work of G.H. Mead, Bateson, Goffman, and conversation analysis (sequentiality; the relationship between gesture and action; an ecological view of context) and shows how in a series of brief moments of workplace interaction hand-gestures are understood and function by reference not only to concurrent speech, but also in relation to their positions within turns and sequences of action, ongoing physical activities, and the material environment - the landscape or setting - at hand. He thus pleads for an ecological approach to the analysis of modalities (including language and gesture) in social interaction. He also suggests that an ecological conception of embodied and multimodal interaction will benefit from greater engagement with contemporary work on embodied cognition in phenomenological philosophy and cognitive science. Attention to the embeddedness of gesture, language, and interaction in the material world raises the issue of the historical specificity and determination of that world. Streeck concludes that, while the methodological issues of studying talk and gesture in interaction have been settled, the real challenge now is to integrate the interactionist conception of human competence into a broader conception that encompasses the encultured quality not only of the mind, but also the body, while reckoning with the historical constitution of the resources, contexts, and practices that we study.

Frederick Erickson addresses the issue, first forcefully raised by Ochs (1979), that transcription methods incorporate theories of the (linguistic, interactional) realities that are meant to be represented by them, and he criticizes the conversation-analytic system devised by Gail Jefferson, which arranges turns at talk as in a playscript, for its inherent neglect of the hearer and its logocentrism. Interaction, Erickson points out, predates language. The transcripts that inform our research and theorizing should accordingly show the embeddedness of talk in interaction, which includes not only sequential phenomena (i.e. phenomena ordered by succession), but also the phenomena of mutuality that are embodied in participants' concurrent spatial orientations to one another. Visible behaviors of co-participants may shape both what they say and how they say it while they are saying it. These, too, are absent from Jeffersonian transcripts (although they are recorded in detail in such variations as the system of gaze notation developed by Goodwin 1981). Erickson proposes and illustrates a transcription system that is derived from musical scores. It organizes the vocal and visible behaviors of all participants relative to a common time-line and displays units of time in analogy to measure in music notation. Importantly, musical notation can also record, as Erickson demonstrates in an analysis of a "collective complaint sequence" during a family mealtime conversation, the timing of instrumental acts such as those of food distribution. It thus allows the display and analysis of the temporal articulation of different strata of activities and interactions. Erickson concludes that "the time is ripe for a renewed effort toward the study of space, time, and visual phenomena in social interaction. The prospect seems promising for nonverbal and temporal aspects to receive more attention in relation to speech than in the recent pasty'

John Shotter's final, visionary chapter, Dialogical dynamics: Inside the moment of speaking, replaces, as Cowley's does, the Cartesian view of understanding as a congruence of representations with a view of intersubjectivity grounded in bodily resonance. "All communication begins in, and continues with, our living, spontaneous, expressive-responsive (gestural), bodily activities that occur in the meetings between ourselves and the others and othernesses around us" Our intellectual lives, Shotter writes, are based in "'inner, dialogically-structured movements, in a dialogical dynamics giving rise to unfolding movements which shift this way and that in a distinctive fashion, movements whose 'shape' can be 'felt' or 'sensed' but not pictured, or known at all in a propositional form". Thought is not separate from feeling; it orchestrates heterogeneous influences and provides us with senses of how to go on in a situation. Shotter, who avows to be influenced by "specific utterances or expressions" in the writings of Wittgenstein, Vygotsky, Bakhtin, Garfinkel, and Merleau-Ponty, envisions a therapeutic form of analysis that will allow us to improve our practices from within our practices. Words and ways of talking are psychological tools that enable us "to relate ourselves to our circumstances in a different way". Therapy can engage us in Bakhtinian modes of thinking in the voices of others and teach us new ways across the totality of our shared language games.

All of the contributors address themselves, implicitly or explicitly, to some of the questions that Prevignano and Thibault initially posed to them and that related to the authors' conceptions of interaction and interaction analysis, the relative usefulness of analytic procedures, the categories of analysis, and the obstacles and future that the analysis of interaction and language currently faces. The answer is a multivocal Baktinian polylogue in which the authors act like ventriloquists and the voices of the founders of our fields resonate in concert with the submerged voices of Prevignano and Thibault. Cries of excitement continue to be heard on our adventurous journeys into the microcosm of human encounters.


The Silent Child: Exploring the World of Children Who Do Not Speak by Laurent Danon-Boileau, translated by Kevin Windle (Oxford University Press) Laurent Danon‑Boileau is one of France's most respected child psychoanalysts. In The Silent Child, he takes us into his office to watch him treat six children who cannot or will not speak.

Reminiscent of Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, this intriguing book introduces us to patients of surpassing strangeness, who suffer from severe psychological difficulties that block their ability to speak or read. For instance, we watch as Danon­Boileau has sessions with Kim, who could name objects correctly, but when trying to express herself, would lapse into a private, unintelligible language. She could use words to name animals, but to express her wishes or her memories, she seemed to prefer using her hands. We meet Benjamin, who could not clearly distinguish between his imaginary world and the real world, a child whose mind is so taken up with the imaginary that he has neither the time nor the mental space for learning. And Rachid, who, at the age of 4, did not use language to communicate, but could read numbers consisting of several digits and count objects up to twelve. Perhaps most interesting is watching Danon‑Boileau's trying to help these children, how he improvises, tries different approaches‑playing games, drawing, reading, listening patiently, and using everyday objects in creative ways.

Offering a fascinating portrait of an eminent psycho­analyst at work as well as a gold mine of insight into the roots and nature of language, The Silent Child takes us inside the lives of six young children struggling against great obstacles to learn to speak and read.

When the Brain Can't Hear: Unraveling the Mystery of Auditory Processing Disorder by Teri James Bellis (Pocket Books) APD has been called the auditory equivalent of dyslexia, and its debilitatiting effects cross all ages, genders, and races. APD can cause children to fail in school and adults to suffer socially and in their careers, but until now, there has been little information available. When the Brain Can't Hear gives insight into all the latest information:  What is APD? How APD affects children. APD in adults. Diagnosis and testing. Treatment options. Living successfully with APD. And memory enhancement and other coping techniques.

Written by Dr. Teri James Bellis, one of the world's foremost authorities on APD, this is the first book on the subject that is completely accessible to the public. Through helpful checklists and case studies, you'll finally discover the answers you need, as well as proven strategies for living with APD. Comprehensive and powerfully prescriptive, this book contains vital information for anyone who suffers from this serious disorder.

Like Sound Through Water: A Mother's Journey Through Auditory Processing Disorder by Karen J. Foli, Edward M. Hallowell (Pocket Books) Ben was a bright, happy little boy. Yet he was easily distracted, he wouldn't make eye contact, and he couldn't comprehend the simplest things said to him. At age three he still hadn't started talking. Finally, Karen Foli knew she had to act, and she took her son to a speech and hearing clinic.

What the clinicians reported chilled her: Ben's speech and language were delayed by one to two years. Testing results and speech therapists suggested problems that included the words "probably retarded and perhaps autistic." But Karen, trusting her mother's intuition, knew that Ben was intelligent and that he was frustrated by his inability to communicate, so she continued to try to help her son. She discovered that he possessed the hallmarks of auditory processing disorder, the aural equivalent of dyslexia.

Like Sound Through Water is the story of Karen's struggle to get Ben the help he needed to learn the most basic skill of all: to communicate with the world. She ran the gauntlet of medical disbelievers and pediatric therapists who refused to understand the very new findings of auditory processing disorder. Even her husband, a psychiatrist specializing in children's afþictions, had never heard of APD. Despite this, he kept a steadfast faith in his son.

Now, after years of intensive treatment for APD, Ben is an academically successful, hardworking little boy with a bright future to look forward to. Like Sound Through Water is a testament to a mother's love and her devotion to her son's care; it is also an instructive journey for those who are discovering the world of APD and a guidebook to negotiating the land mines of its treatment. Above all, it is a beautifully written tale of hope and optimism.

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