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AS English Language: Language and Social Contexts

Power and Language: Using Frameworks to Analyse Talk

Here is a series of questions you could ask when analysing any conversation.

Basic questions when analysing talk

Key Questions
Who seems to lead the talk?

This means looking closely at how the talk moves on as each speaker takes his or her turn. These alternating turns are referred to as adjacency pairs. In some situations the pattern may !e o!vious " a teacher or a police officer may ask all the #uestions for instance.

Who says what gets talked a!out?

The a!ility to influence the su!$ect or %agenda& of a conversation is usually a sign of personal status or dominance. In formal talk the agenda and who controls it 'or topic management, as this aspect of talk is known( may !e o!vious) in informal situations where many topics may !e covered we need to look more closely at whose su!$ects get talked a!out and whose don&t.

Who talks most?

*lways a key #uestion !ut the answer to this #uestion will not always lead us to the dominant speaker. +ometimes the most powerful person needs to say very little.

Who interrupts? Who !acks down?

This is usually an interesting #uestion. If someone is easily interrupted this may !e a sign of low status whereas the right to speak uninterrupted is often an indicator of conversational dominance.

Who gets to comment on what people say?

In classrooms teachers routinely say in response to students %,ood answer& %Well done& or %That&s right& 'or their opposites(. -owever when a teacher asks a particularly searching #uestion students seldom say %,ood #uestion sir&. The right to make $udgements a!out what other people say is often a sign of status or power.

What are people trying to do to other speakers? . /r what do people really mean?

When we start to talk a!out the weather is it always !ecause we are o!sessed with meteorology or is it simply a way of saying to each other %0et&s talk. 0et&s !e friendly&? The study of what we really mean and intend with our speech is called pragmatics. %+mall talk& that has no real meaning 'such as %-ow are you?&( is often called phatic talk or a phatic token.

You should also consider the conversation in terms of the language levels or frameworks we learned last term. This approach will also help you to achieve one of the Assessment Objectives to !know and use key features of frameworks for the systematic study of spoken and written "nglish#.

An analytical framework
%1iscourse& and %2ragmatic& framework

ey question
-ow does the dialogue reflect the %mind set& social relationships and dominant ideologies that exist and how does this help make or modify meanings?

!echniques and strategies

3onsider this in terms of turn"taking patterns agenda and topic management speakers& forms of address to each other politeness strategies %phatic& talk and implied meaning. 4ocus especially on the social function of utterances rather than $ust on their surface meaning.

%,rammatical& framework

What grammatical structures does each speaker use and with what purposes and effects?

1iscuss this in terms of use of standard or non"standard English and its grammar dominant sentence types 5 looking at the use of %sentence fragments& and minor sentences especially sentence lengths and structures) non"fluency features such as slips false starts and repetitions.

+emantic framework

What kinds of meaning does each speaker contri!ute? Is meaning 6played with7 through tone irony figurative language and so on?

1iscuss this in terms of the most fre#uent utterance type of each speaker " #uestions commands $okes confessions etc.

0exical framework

What kinds of voca!ulary does each speaker use?

3omment in terms of register) degree of formality colloquial usage topic specificity) factual or emotional content) personal or impersonal style) literal or figurative expressions.

2honetic8 phonological framework

What are the likely vocal 'i.e. sound features called prosodic 8 suprasegmental aspects( characteristics of speakers and what are the effects of those characteristics?

If information is availa!le discuss this aspect in terms of intonation stress tempo rhythm and pauses.

#ractice makes perfect $our turn%

9. The following transcri!ed conversation occurred during an evening meal at a house where a group of middle"aged friends have gathered. :se the a!ove frameworks analyse the conversational relationship of participants * and ;< *< ;< *< ;< *< ;< *< ;< *< ;< *< ;< *< ;< This head '.( /h '=( -eads have to !e a!le to understand '.(88 the kids that they&re dealing with 88mm don&t they '.( >eah I mean if they&re going to do a good $o! they have to !e a!le to understand the !ackground '.( the pro!lems that the kids they&re dealing with have got and 88 88yeah and '=( !eing '=( pre$udging this !loke 88 it seems 88 well that&s all we can do !ecause he didn&t give anything of himself did he '.( he didn&t '?( it wasn&t 'I( 9 think what they should have done that day !efore was they should what they did with the em when the candidates came in for the em '9( 88 deputy&s $o! 88yeah they should have they should have had a programme of people for them to talk to @m a!solutely

=. The following conversation shows two speakers co"operating to produce talk even though one speaker ';( settles for a secondary and supportive role. What happens though where there is potential conflict and disagreement !etween speakers? Examine the following transcript of a workplace conversation !etween a manager '*( and an employee ';(. *s you analyse the conversation consider especially< where in the conversation you can see evidence of tension !etween the two speakers how the higher status and extra power of * are reflected whether * does anything to make the situation less severe or confrontational

&As office. B knocks and enters' *< *h '=( ;rian ;< '=( @r -owden '.(you said you 88wanted to see me *< 88yes yes do come in and take a seat ;< Thanks *< '.( Thank you for er '.( sparing me a few moments ;< '.( Well it sounded as if '.( it sounded rather serious '.( is there '.( is there a pro!lem *< >es I&m afraid so *< >ou&ll remem!er ;rian that we spoke last week a!out the complaint we&d received ;< >es '.( 88and I&d like *< 88 and we agreed I think that you&d try to pacify the situation as soon as possi!le ;< >eah *< Well I&m afraid I received a telephone call this morning from 1avid -arrison and I have to say that he is not a happy !unny ;< '=( /h I see '.( perhaps I could $ust explain what 88 happened after I saw you *< 88 in fact from what he said the situation seems to have deteriorated somewhat 88 and it does seem that we need to do some work to start

SJC 28/02/2002 203689205.doc

;< *<

88 mm putting things straight

Acti)ity *
* starts !y leading this part of the conversation and at first ; doesn&t make a serious attempt to seiAe the floor or attempt to change the topic. ;&s first comments " %/h& %mm& and %>eah& 5 are typical minimal responses 'i.e. !rief utterances that signal sympathetic encouragement and assure * that ; is listening(. -owever *&s speech shows some signs of non"fluency with the two A"second pauses and the !reakdown of grammatical sense '%and 'A( !eing 'A( pre$udging this !loke&( which prompts ; to %help out& !y providing the supportive %88well that&s all we can do&. -owever !y ending this turn with %did he& a #uestion tag ; in effect yields the floor to *. * similar pattern can !e seen in the next pair of turns. * pauses twice !ut ; refrains from interrupting waiting instead until * seems to stum!le over a phrase '%deputy&s $o!&( which ; helpfully suggests !efore giving way again. * is allowed to finish and ; adds the supportive agreement %a!solutely&. +o ; is certainly !ehaving in a very co"operative and helpful way granting the floor and topic control to * providing supportive minimal responses and even completing *&s utterances when * seems to !e stum!ling.

Acti)ity +
*t first we notice *&s rather cool greeting @ 5 6*h7 B9CB and forms of address used '* assumes the right to use ;&s first name ; refers to * as %@r -owden&(. +ome initial pauses may indicate tension) a speaker of e#ual status might not have waited as long !efore taking the first turn as ; does here. ;y contrast * !utts in and overlaps with ; and the repeated yes& may hint at some impatience. *&s control is also reflected !y %take a seat&) the right to dominate a conversation often reflects the right to control the space in which it takes place. Even though this is a tricky conversation !oth participants o!serve !asic politeness strategies with * pretending that ; has come out of choice as opposed to having !een summoned !y his !oss. *fter this initial phatic exchange ; takes the initiative '%is there a pro!lem&( and * softens his response with the phrase %I&m afraid& which allows him to imply that although he may have to reprimand ; he regrets having to do so. -owever once the exchange is under way * asserts his power in many ways. 1espite the informality of the form of address '%>ou&ll remem!er ;rian&( the tone is rather formal and severe. ; attempts to interrupt as if to clarify what may have happened since their last meeting !ut * refuses to yield the floor. The attempted interruption having failed * presses on to the point though again softening his implied reprimand with the phrase %I think&. This kind of #ualifying phrase is called a hedge. ; is then reduced to making a minimal response '%>eah&( as * again softens the complaint with %I&m afraid& !efore using the euphemistic figure of speech %not a happy !unny&. ; is again cautious a!out seiAing the floor " waiting for = seconds !efore attempting an explanation. Even then he is allowed only a few moments !efore * again interrupts with %in fact.&. /nce again having !een interrupted ; is reduced to accepting his $unior status and signals this with a minimal response '%mm&(. * continues to soften his language with another hedge '%it does seem&( !ut it is clear that what is grammatically a declarative '%we need to do some work&( is actually an implied re!uke and imperative. There is also the interesting use of the first person plural here) %we& seems to imply only ; as it his $o! to put the pro!lem right !ut it feels slightly less harsh than the more direct second person %you&. +o although * asserts power !y controlling the agenda and turn"taking in the conversation he takes care to soften the harshness of the reprimand and command he is delivering and the somewhat tense conversation retains a superficial politeness and civility.

SJC 28/02/2002 203689205.doc