This week’s readings were focused on Interaction Sociolinguistics (IS) which is a field of discourse analysis that is situated at the intersection of anthropology, sociology and linguistics. At a high level Gordon (2011) defines IS this way:

IS offers theories and methods that enable researchers to explore not only how language works but also to gain insights into the social processes through which individuals build and maintain relationships, exercise power, project and negotiate identities, and create communities.

IS typically uses recordings obtained through ethnography to identify signaling mechanisms or contextual cues. Breakdowns in communication happen when participants don’t share contextualization conventions, which can contribute to social problems such as stereotyping and differential access. Looking at the role of discourse in creating and reinforcing social problems was a specific theme in Gumperz work. It seems much in keeping with the goals of CDA, to interrogate power relationships, but perhaps without such an explicit theoretical framework, like what Marx or Foucault provide.

If this sounds similar to previous weeks’ focus on Ethnography of Communication and Critical Discourse Analysis that’s because, well, they are pretty similar. But there are some notable differences. The first notable one is something Gordon (2011), highlights: things start with John Gumperz. Gumperz was trained as a linguist, but his research and work brought him into close contact with some of the key figures in sociology and anthropology at the time.

Gumperz work grew out of developing “replicable methods of qualitative analysis that account for our ability to interpret what participants intend to convey in everyday communicative practices”. He drew on and synthesized several areas of theoretical and methodological work:

  • structural linguistics: ideas of communicative competence, when (and when not) to speak, what to talk about, who to talk to, what manner to talk in, subconscious/automatic speech, and regional linguistic diversity.
  • ethnography of communication: the use of participant observation and interviewing and data collection as “thick description” (from Geertz)
  • ethnomethodology: from nature of social interaction, and the background knowledge needed to participate. Garfinkeling experiments where the researcher breaks social norms in order to discover unknown social norms.
  • conversation analysis: interaction order, frames, face saving, how conversation represents and creates social organization, and a focus on “micro features of interaction” while also allowing for cultural context. (from Goffman

Gumperz developed the idea of contextualization cues and how indexical signs offer a way of discovering how discourse is framed. Bateson calls these metamessages, or messages about how to interpret messages.

He also established the concept of conversational inference, which is how people assess what other people say in order to create meaning. It is an idea that bears a lot of resemblance to Grice’s idea of from CA of the cooperative principle, and how implicatures are sent by following or breaking maxims.

The idea of indirectness, linguistic politeness and face saving from Robin Lakoff also factor into IS. The choices speakers make (rate, pitch, amplitude) that affect an utterance’s interpretation. Tannen’s IS work also demonstrated how cultural background, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation were factors in conversational style. IS admits generative grammar (Chomsky) as a theory, but does not limit study of language to just grammar, and allows for issues of context and culture to have a role. I basically think of IS saying “yes, and” to CA: it recognizes all the patterns and structures that CA identifies, but doesn’t limit work to just the text, and provides a framework where context is relevant and important to understanding.

The other article we read by Gordon took a deep dive into an empirical study that uses IS methods (Gordon & Luke, 2012). The authors examine email correspondence between school counselors in training with their supervising professor. They make the point that not much work has been done on supervision in the medium of email. Specifically they examine how identity development can be seen as ongoing face negotiation. Their research draws on work around face negotiation and politeness theory from Goffman (1967), as well as Arundale (2006)’s idea of face as a con-constructed understanding of self in relation to others.

Specifically their work is centered on the notion that face, politeness and identity are interconnected:

  • face is the social value a person can claim by the way people receive that person’s verbal and nonverbal acts.
  • they are connected through Lave and Wenger (1991)’s idea of community of practice.
  • “The notion of face is crucial to understanding how novices develop professional identities within a community of practice.” (p. 114)
  • politeness strategies are employed in online communications (email)

They collected the email of 8 (6F, 2M) participants, who sent at least one email per week over 14 weeks to their supervisor. These participants were learning how to be school counselors. The authors used data-driven discourse analysis with IS and computer-mediated discourse analysis (Herring, 2004). Among their findings they discovered taht:

  • constructed dialogue or reported speech and metadiscourse are used to raise face which they argue is part of identity construction
  • first person plural pronouns (we, us and our) are used to create shared alignment as well as give advice while saving face
  • use of discourse markers Schiffrin (1988) to structure ideas, meanings and interaction. For example “that being said” which is used by by the supervisors to offer criticism while also saving face
  • repetition is used to construct conversational worlds and establish communities of practice. It is possible that its used more in email because previous word usage can easily be recalled and copied, as compared with spoken words.

Tannen (2007) seems to be cited a fair bit in this paper as sources for these patterns. Perhaps it could be a good source of types of patterns to look for in my own data? I particular like the angle on community of practice which is something I’m looking to explore in my own research into web archiving.

Ironically it is another book by Tannen (2005) that is included as the next set of readings–specifically two chapters that analyze a set of conversations that happen over a Thanksgiving dinner. The rich description of this conversation (in which the author is a participant) offers many methodological jumping off points for IS work. Tannen does a pretty masterful job of weaving the description of the conversation, often with detailed transcription, with the reflections from her and the other participants, and observations from discourse analysis. It is clear that she recorded the conversations and then reviewed them with participants afterwards. Here’s a list of some of the methodological tools she used when analyzing the converstation, there were a lot!

  • conversations as a continuous stream that are punctuated into separate events that respond to each other (Bateson, 1972)

  • machine gun question: rapid fire questions which are meant them to show enthusiasm and interest, but can lead to defensiveness.

  • latching: when responses follow directly on from each other (Scheinkein, 1978)

  • dueting: jointly holding one side of the conversation (Falk, 1979)

  • buffering talk: for example “and all that” which can be used to save face when positioning.

  • back channel responses which serve to meta-conversational purposes when the mode of communication is mostly one way [Yngve:1970]

  • deviations from answer/question as adjacency pair (Sacks, Schegloff, & Jefferson, 1974)

  • sharing in conversational form and pacing is participation, even when specific knowledge is not being exhibited

  • formulaic or repeated phrases

  • shared revelations: to create personal connections

  • reduced syntactic form: “You survive?” instead of “Do you survive?”

  • intonational contours (interesting mode of illustration)

  • metaphorical code switching (Blom & Gumperz, 1972)


Generally speaking I enjoyed the readings this week, in particular the piece by Tannen which does a really nice job of exhibiting the various discourse features and explaining their significance in understanding the Thanksgiving dinner conversation. The ultimate realization of cultural differences that explain why some of the conversations played out the way they did, and why they were remembered by participants in particular ways seemed to be what made this an IS study. The fact that this contextual information (nationality, ethnicity) have a place when understanding the language seems like an important distinction for IS work. It also speaks to making the analysis relevant–one isn’t merely identifying patterns in the discourse but also casting those patterns in a light where greater insight is achieved. This seems like an important dimension for research to have. Even the Gordon & Luke (2012) piece seemed to draw some pretty sound inferences and conclusions about the research. This speaks to the pragmatist in me.

I also liked the mode of data collection and analysis since it seemed to strike a good balance between the detail and rigor of Conversational Analysis and the openness to context and thick description offered by Ethnography of Communication. I will admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed with the number of discourse features that were covered, and worry that I wouldn’t be able to draw on them as successfully as the authors. But I guess this must come with practice.

With regards to my own research the discussion of IS got me wondering if it might be fruitful to examine my interviews for segments where participants talked about how they understood web archiving processes like crawling or external systems like CMS. Specifically I’d like to see where their own experience and knowledge was shaped or formed by a community if practice. Thinking of GWU’s understanding of the data center - or Stanford’s idea about how a particular CMS worked, or NCSU’s understanding of DNS. I’m still really interested in this idea of a community of practice and it seems like using discourse as a window into this realm might be something other folks have done before. What are the methods that could best yield insights into this in my data?


Arundale, R. B. (2006). Face as relational and interactional: A communication framework for research on face, facework, and politeness. Journal of Politeness Research. Language, Behaviour, Culture, 2(2), 193–216.

Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. University of Chicago Press.

Blom, J.-P., & Gumperz, J. J. (1972). Directions in sociolinguistics. In. Holt, Rinehart,; Winston.

Falk, J. L. (1979). The duet as a conversational process (PhD thesis). Princeton University.

Goffman, E. (1967). Interaction ritual: Essays in face to face behavior. Doubleday.

Gordon, C. (2011). The sage handbook of sociolinguistics. In R. Wodak, B. Johnstone, & P. E. Kerswill (Eds.),. Sage Publications.

Gordon, C., & Luke, M. (2012). Discursive negotiation of face via email: Professional identity development in school counseling supervision. Linguistics and Education, 23(1), 112–122.

Herring, S. C. (2004). Online communication: Through the lens of discourse. Internet Research Annual, 1, 65–76.

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language, 696–735.

Scheinkein, J. (1978). Studies in the organization of conversational interaction. Academic Press.

Schiffrin, D. (1988). Discourse markers. Cambridge University Press.

Tannen, D. (2005). Conversational style: Analyzing talk among friends (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.

Tannen, D. (2007). Talking voices: Repetition, dialogue, and imagery in conversational discourse (Vol. 26). Cambridge University Press.