Glossary

This glossary provides definitions of Conversation Analysis (CA) terms with worked example.

Scroll down or click on a term below:

audience / closing an interview / common ground / conflictual questions / control of the floor / conversation analysis / cooperative principle / equivocation / evidentiality / eye contact / face / face-threatening act (FTA) / false start / Freudian slip / hesitation / humour / interruption / negative face / negotiation / overlap / pausing / politeness / positive face / pragmatics / presupposition / profanity / repair / revealing ah / rhythmic chorus / role reversal / semantics / turn taking / word blend / word substitution /


audience

While the audience does not normally have legitimate rights to the floor in a conversation, they can often interact and influence the current speaker. Here are some examples of how this occurs: audience at PMQs; the shame shout; revealing ah; down-chorus

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PMQs Watch – Audience as Participant

Most commentators noted that the tone at Wednesday’s PMQs had shifted significantly from the reserved and hushed tones of previous meetings to a more rowdy and challenging tone yesterday. This illustrates what I call the ‘audience as participant’ effect whereby the audience (the chamber of MPs in this case) claims certain rights to the floor…

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The ‘shame’ shout

Standing up and speaking in public is not just a one-way affair from speaker to audience. The reaction of the audience to what is said can be just as important and defining as the speaker’s words themselves.

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Down, down, down!

Jeremy Corbyn was met with a ‘down-down-down’ chorus from his own backbenchers at Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday. They were not calling for him to step down however! On the contrary, they were showing their support for their leader as he went up against Prime Minister Theresa May.

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closing an interview

DEFINITION

Closing an Interview (definition)

Definition: the final part of an interview in which the interlocutors agree to end the conversation Example Closing a conversation usually requires that both interlocutors mutually agree to end the conversation. In order to signal this, they deliver relatively content-free…

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The final part of an interview in which the interlocutors agree to end the conversation.

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Closing an interview

In day-to-day conversation, closing a conversation requires both participants to clear the floor. That is, each has to offer the floor to the other and only when neither has anything more to contribute can the conversation close. If you have ever tried to get off the phone from a friend who doesn’t want to finish…

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common ground

DEFINITION

Common Ground (definition)

Definition: “mutual knowledge, mutual beliefs, and mutual assumptions” (Clark & Brennan, 1991) “Presuppositions are what is taken by the speaker to be the common ground of the participants in the conversation, what is treated as their common knowledge or mutual…

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“mutual knowledge, mutual beliefs, and mutual assumptions” (Clark & Brennan, 1991)

conflictual questions

DEFINITION

Conflictual Question (definition)

Definition: a question “where all the possible replies have potentially negative consequences, but where nevertheless a reply is still expected”. (Bull & Wells, 2012: 38) Also known as communicative avoidance–avoidance conflict Example This was the first question asked by Jeremy…

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A question “where all the possible replies have potentially negative consequences, but where nevertheless a reply is still expected” (Bull & Wells, 2012: 38).

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Bad things always come in threes

One way to put a politician on the spot is to ask them how many people have been affected by their policy. Three times seems to be the optimum number of times to ask according to the Andrew Marr’s rulebook as he interviewed Theresa May on Sunday.

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Gove: “It was a mistake”

MPs sometimes have to eat humble pie and admit that they have made a mistake. In an earlier blog, I showed how Michael Gove MP used all his political rhetoric to make a historic U-turn on running for the Conservative leadership after David Cameron had stepped down. After coming third in the election for leader…

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control of floor

DEFINITION

Control of Floor (definition)

Definition: “The floor is defined as the acknowledged what’s-going-on within a psychological time/space. What’s going on can be the development of a topic or a function (teasing, soliciting a response, etc.) or an interaction of the two.” (Edelsky 1981) Example…

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“The floor is defined as the acknowledged what?s-going-on within a psychological time/space. What?s going on can be the development of a topic or a function (teasing, soliciting a response, etc.) or an interaction of the two.” (Edelsky 1981)

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Strategies for holding the floor

Holding the floor in the House of Commons during PMQs is not easy. With noise, shouting and barracking from members of the chamber, it can be quite easy for the current speaker at the dispatch box to become ruffled. This could potentially lead to a loss of face and sometimes the floor if The Speaker decides…

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Negotiation of the floor

In general, only one person can hold the floor in a conversation. When a debate is taking place, there are often periods where negotiation of the floor occurs. The current speaker will use rhetorical devices to try and maintain the floor while other participants in the debate will interrupt and overlap in an attempt to…

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conversation analysis

“the systematic analysis of the talk produced in everyday situations of human interaction: talk-in-interaction” (Hutchby & Wooffitt 2008: 12).

“CA’s aim is to focus on the production and interpretation of talk-in-interaction as an orderly accomplishment that is oriented to by the participants themselves” (Hutchby & Wooffitt 2008: 13).

cooperative principle

DEFINITION

Make your contribution such as it is required…

TV presenters in a political interview have the privilege of asking the questions, but what do you do when your interviewee refuses to answer outright and brushes up against the Cooperative Principle? This is what Kay Burley, Sky News presenter, was confronted with when she interviewed General Jack Keane, a retired 4-star US general on…

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“Make your contribution such as it is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged” (Grice 1975).

equivocation

DEFINITION

Equivocation (definition)

Definition the intentional use of imprecise language designed to avoid a loss of face. “people equivocate when posed a question to which all of the possible replies have potentially negative consequences, but where nevertheless a reply is still expected” (Bavelas et al) Politicians typically equivocate when they are asked a conflictual question which is designed to…

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The intentional use of imprecise language designed to avoid a loss of face

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Bull’s Typology of Equivocation (part 1)

Jessica Bott continues her series on ‘equivocation’: When a politician is equivocating there are multiple ways they can avoid answering a question. In Bull and Mayer’s study of Thatcher and Kinnock interviews in 1993 they categorised these into eleven super-ordinate categories, that can be divided even further into thirty subordinate categories.

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Detachment

Emily Maitlis interviewed the Prime Minister, Theresa May, on Newsnight last night regarding the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. The Prime Minister had been criticised for not talking to the residents of the area when she had visited the site during the day. After the recent election campaign, when she was criticised for being aloof and…

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evidentiality

A term in linguistics which describes how speakers encode the evidence for the claims they make and the degree of reliability of those claims

eye contact / gaze

DEFINITION

Eye Gaze (definition)

Definition: the use of the eyes during conversation for regulatory and communicative functions Example In the following example, the speaker (TW) looks down and away from the interviewer (AM) in order to hold the floor briefly for a few seconds when he senses the interviewer is about to interrupt: 05 TW  it it’s the status quo…

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The use of the eyes during conversation for regulatory and communicative functions

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Eye gaze

When participating in a conversation, eye gaze can be an important part of the communication process. Our eyes signal the channel of communication: who we are talking to. But it is not always possible to control this, as Diane Abbot found out in an interview recently with ITV news.

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Holding the floor: Eyes down

The eyes play an important part in human communication. They can signal an intention to communicate and sometimes act to facilitate turn transition. In this example here, we see Tom Watson, the  Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, using his eyes to hold the floor during an interview on Sunday.

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The power of the eyes

In face-to-face communication, the eyes (and eye gaze) are the most powerful part of the body we have. John McDonnell illustrated this on Sunday when he directly turned to the camera during an interview on the Andrew Marr show (BBC). The change in gaze from interviewer to viewer (and then back) provided a powerful shift…

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Turn transition with the eyebrows

Turn change can often be signalled via body language. Here Hilary Benn gives the turn back to Andrew Marr through a raise of the eyebrows and a slight forward movement of the head (09). The rising intonation on Benn’s tone unit (08) suggests that he was not finished with his comments but he yielded the…

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face

DEFINITION

Face (definition)

Definition “the public self-image that every member wants to claim for himself” (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 61) “as an image of the self which depends on both the rules and values of a particular society and the situation the social interaction is embedded in.” (Goffman, 1967) We all have a face which we try and maintain…

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“the public self-image that every member wants to claim for himself” (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 61)

“something that is emotionally invested, and that can be lost, maintained, or enhanced, and must be constantly attended to in interaction” (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 61)

“as an image of the self which depends on both the rules and values of a particular society and the situation the social interaction is embedded in.” (Goffman, 1967)

See also: negative face; positive face

face-threatening act (FTA)

DEFINITION

Face-Threatening Act (definition)

Definition “an act which challenges the face wants of an interlocutor” (Brown & Levinson, 1987) According to Brown and Levinson (1987:25), face-threatening acts may threaten either the speaker’s face or the hearer’s face, and they may threaten either positive face or negative face. Everything we say or do potentially threatens face. Even asking somebody for…

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“an act which challenges the face wants of an interlocutor” (Brown & Levinson, 1987)

According to Brown and Levinson (1987:25), face-threatening acts may threaten either the speaker’s face or the hearer’s face, and they may threaten either positive face or negative face.

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Face management

When discussing equivocation it is worth first considering the concepts of face-management and self-presentation. Face management originated with Erving Goffman who described it as “an image of self-delineated in terms of approved social attributes” (Goffman 1967:5). This concept has been adapted by Brown and Levinson to include two sides of face, positive and negative.

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Face-Threatening Act (definition)

Definition “an act which challenges the face wants of an interlocutor” (Brown & Levinson, 1987) According to Brown and Levinson (1987:25), face-threatening acts may threaten either the speaker’s face or the hearer’s face, and they may threaten either positive face or negative face. Everything we say or do potentially threatens face. Even asking somebody for…

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Face (definition)

Definition “the public self-image that every member wants to claim for himself” (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 61) “as an image of the self which depends on both the rules and values of a particular society and the situation the social interaction is embedded in.” (Goffman, 1967) We all have a face which we try and maintain…

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false start

A false start is when a speaker starts to say something but then backtracks and reformulates their words.

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Hesitations

Hesitations are a natural part of unscripted spoken language. We all hesitate from time to time while speaking for various reasons: to plan what we want to say next, to correct errors or for dramatic effect. Hesitation is normally apparent in the speech output through repetitions, false starts and pauses (either filled or unfilled).

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Freudian slip

a speech error which purportedly reveals a subconscious desire or feeling. (Modern psycholinguistics eschews this type of explanation.) Examples: titsly; employees

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Brexit means breakfast!

Slips of the tongue can be embarrassing for the speaker at the best of times but often provide light relief for the audience. So it was with the Welsh Conservative leader, Andrew Davies, who was speaking at the Conservative party conference yesterday. Davies meant to say “we will make Brexit a success” but instead said…

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Slip squared!

Slips of the tongue can be embarrassing for anyone speaking in public, but when the slip occurs twice in quick succession, one has to ask whether the speaker subconsciously really wanted to say something different. David Cameron (DC) was outlining during PMQs the tough steps the government had taken against ‘unscrupulous employers’ under his premiership…

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Why do so many fall foul of the Hunt/cunt slip?

Many commentators and broadcasters have fallen foul of Jeremy Hunt’s name over the years. Some make light of the slip, some ignore it, others apologise profusely. Hunt himself has acknowledged the problems people have had with his surname over the years including teachers at school.

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hesitation

Hesitations

Hesitations are a natural part of unscripted spoken language. We all hesitate from time to time while speaking for various reasons: to plan what we want to say next, to correct errors or for dramatic effect. Hesitation is normally apparent in… Continue Reading →

“the action of pausing before saying or doing something”

Equivocation & hesitation

There is a good example here of a politician being put in a tight corner on spending by the interviewer and having to equivocate. In the second part the pressure to equivocate is revealed in the increased hesitation in the speech of the politician.

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The significance of hesitations

Hesitation in delivery is a normal part of spoken discourse, especially in stressful speaking situations, and is normally discarded by listeners. In the House of Commons however, just before a demanding election campaign and when a manifesto is being prepared, even a small stumble over…

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Damian Green’s odd hesitation pattern

Most politicians are quite adept at side-stepping difficult questions so it was a surprise to hear Conservative MP Damian Green get somewhat tongue-tied when asked to reveal something about Teresa May on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme. 

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humour /humor

The purpose of humour is to entertain, whether it is through the mockery of others or simply through the “perception of the incongruity between a concept and the real objects” (Schopenhauer 1883: 76 quoted in Ritchie 2004). 

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PMQs Watch: Humour at Cameron’s last PMQs

Politicians are not noted for their stand-up comedy routines, but there was plenty of good humour at David Cameron’s last Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Many of the jokes were scripted and some fell a little flat as members struggled with their delivery. However the sense of occasions and the…

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interruption

The deliberate attempt to take the floor of the conversation from ones partner.

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Wooooo, slow down Andy!

Jeremy Corbyn made his first appearance on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday. Marr was clearly ready to ask him lots of conflictual questions and within the first few seconds of the start of the interview was interrupting his guest. The first interruption came about due to a slight pause by Corbyn’s in his speech…

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Interruptions at Prime Minister’s Questions

Interruptions at PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) are recorded in Hansard in a limited way, usually through the insertion of the word ‘[Interruption.]’ and are often followed by the Speaker’s call to order. The house however is collective body and background noise from the chamber during PMQs is important in signalling the general mood and degree…

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Negotiation of the floor

In general, only one person can hold the floor in a conversation. When a debate is taking place, there are often periods where negotiation of the floor occurs. The current speaker will use rhetorical devices to try and maintain the floor while other participants in the debate will interrupt and overlap in an attempt to…

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interview

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Andrew Neil interviews Theresa May

Andrew Neil interviewed the Prime Minister, Theresa May, on Monday. Neil held back from his typical ‘bull-dog’ style attack that is a regular feature of his Daily and Sunday Politics programmes. Politicians often leave with visible ‘bite marks’ from these programmes after a mauling from Neil who is known for his adversarial style of interviewing…

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Closing an interview

In day-to-day conversation, closing a conversation requires both participants to clear the floor. That is, each has to offer the floor to the other and only when neither has anything more to contribute can the conversation close. If you have ever tried to get off the phone from a friend who doesn’t want to finish…

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Paxman’s interview technique

By Jessica Bott, Coventry University: With the second instalment of The Battle for Number 10 airing, and the upcoming General Election, it is interesting to look back on the 2015 general election and the first Battle for Number 10 featuring David Cameron and Ed Miliband. In this interview, both Cameron and Miliband faced audience questions…

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negative face

DEFINITION

Face (definition)

Definition “the public self-image that every member wants to claim for himself” (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 61) “as an image of the self which depends on both the rules and values of a particular society and the situation the social interaction is embedded in.” (Goffman, 1967) We all have a face which we try and maintain…

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“the want of every ‘competent adult member’ that his actions be unimpeded by others” (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 62)

negotiation

Negotiation in discourse analysis has a distinct meaning from the process of say negotiating a contract. In DA the term refers to the collaborative process that two interlocutors take part in in order to repair a conversation. The interlocutor negotiate the discourse to establish the floor.

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Negotiation of the floor

In general, only one person can hold the floor in a conversation. When a debate is taking place, there are often periods where negotiation of the floor occurs. The current speaker will use rhetorical devices to try and maintain the floor while other participants in the debate will interrupt and overlap in an attempt to…

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Dodging questions

The weekend seemed to be the time for dodging questions for politicians up and down the politician spectrum. Theresa May was dodging questions on a nuclear missile test. Jeremy Corbyn was dodging questions on whether he would use whips in the Brexit vote. And Donald Trump’s advisor was dodging questions on the size of the…

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overlap

Overlap refers to the situation when two or more speakers in a conversation speak at the same time.

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Grayling’s grilling

Political interviewing can be a frustrating affair when the politician being interviewed refuses to answer directly the questions put to them. John Humphrys, a BBC radio 4 presenter and interviewer, gave Chris Grayling, a Conservative MP, a grilling on the Today programme when he questioned him over recent remarks by Boris Johnson, one of Grayling’s…

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Finishing off your interviewee’s sentences

Interviewers are always looking for ways to hurry their interviewees along, so finishing off their ideas seems to be a nice way to do this with the added advantage that you get the floor back. Why wait for the slow speaker to finish when you can do the job in half the time!

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pausing

Pausing in a conversation is typically taken to be anything above 0.2 second in length. Anything below this length is considered to be inconsequential space between syllables. Anything above 0.2 second (that is nought point two seconds, not two seconds) is considered significant and should be recorded in the transcript.

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1.3 seconds is a long time

Pausing in a political interview can be taken the wrong way and have consequences for the ensuing discourse. Here is Emily Thornberry (ET) pausing for 1.3 seconds (line 05) during a TV interview on Channel 4 news with Jon Snow (JS). 1.3 seconds might not seem like a long time but in the context of…

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The significance of hesitations

Hesitation in delivery is a normal part of spoken discourse, especially in stressful speaking situations, and is normally discarded by listeners. In the House of Commons however, just before a demanding election campaign and when a manifesto is being prepared, even a small stumble over one’s words can be taken by those listening to be…

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Pausing as a marker of equivocation intentions

Pausing briefly while speaking is a natural part of delivery. We pause for several reason. The most obvious one is to take breath so we can carry on speaking. Some pauses occur before content words or complex clauses suggesting that the cognitive planning processes can delay the output of the words. It has also been…

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politeness

In conversation analysis, ‘politeness’ is not really about whether people are kind and nice to each other. It is about what is socially expected of them in spoken and written interaction.

The use of specific linguistic features to maintain face in a conversation.

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Face (definition)

Definition “the public self-image that every member wants to claim for himself” (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 61) “as an image of the self which depends on both the rules and values of a particular society and the situation the social interaction is embedded in.” (Goffman, 1967) We all have a face which we try and maintain…

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Oy you, spit out your gum and shut up!

Politeness in the House of Commons takes on many forms but is often exhibited through off-record, negative and positive politeness. Here is an excellent example of how the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, avoids direct face-threatening language as he attempts to chide a noisy and boisterous MP (MacNeill) and remind him that chewing gum…

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Face management

When discussing equivocation it is worth first considering the concepts of face-management and self-presentation. Face management originated with Erving Goffman who described it as “an image of self-delineated in terms of approved social attributes” (Goffman 1967:5). This concept has been adapted by Brown and Levinson to include two sides of face, positive and negative.

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positive face 

DEFINITION

Face (definition)

Definition “the public self-image that every member wants to claim for himself” (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 61) “as an image of the self which depends on both the rules and values of a particular society and the situation the social interaction is embedded in.” (Goffman, 1967) We all have a face which we try and maintain…

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“the want of every member that his wants be desirable to at least some others”  (Brown and Levinson, 1987: 62)

pragmatics

Pragmatics is the study of how utterances are used in conversation. It contrasts with semantics which is chiefly concerning the meaning of an utterance. We sometimes say that pragmatics looks outside of the utterance while semantics looks inside.

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The semantics and pragmatics of ‘Brexit means Brexit’

We have been tracking the use of the slogan ‘Brexit means Brexit’ at neutralfooting. At Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday we learnt a little more about its use though the Prime Minister who originally coined this soundbite.

presupposition

Presupposition is the background assumption that an utterance has attached to it apart from that which is asserted.

Quote of the week

profanity

Language that is consider inappropriate and obscene by mainstream society.

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Bollocks!

Using profanity during a political interview is usually a ‘no-no’ for politicians, especially during a general election when you are trying to put yourself forward as a potential foreign secretary, as Emily Thornberry was on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday.

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repair

when two conversational partners negotiate to bring the conversation back to a single floor

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Rephrasing /repair

  By Jonathan Maxey, Coventry University Repairs, when initiated or performed by a conversational other, are often a reliable indicator of power within spoken discourse. However, additional social areas may also be underscored by this phenomenon. For example, the establishing or highlighting of a rapport.

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revealing ah

An audience interjection in the House of Commons that is intended to bolster the current speaker’s face attack on a political opponent. Example: revealing ah; pantomime

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Revealing ‘ah’ in PMQs

In a previous post I have argued that the house is a multi-faceted chamber with comments and background noise from members of the chamber combining with the current speaker to create a multi-modal discourse act. This is particularly important during Prime Minister’s questions (PMQs) when the performance of those taking part, particularly the Prime Minister and the…

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Pantomime time for the Revealing ‘ah’

Here is a nice example of the revealing ‘ah’ by backbench MPs in support of Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs. A revealing ‘ah’ is a comment made by a few members of the chamber in order to back up and support some revealing fact that the current speaker is delivering. The comment is purposively mocking in…

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rhythmic chorus

A type of chant or chorus of support for a speaker in the House of Commons timed to the speaker’s words.

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Down, down, down!

Jeremy Corbyn was met with a ‘down-down-down’ chorus from his own backbenchers at Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday. They were not calling for him to step down however! On the contrary, they were showing their support for their leader as he went up against Prime Minister Theresa May.

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Interruptions at Prime Minister’s Questions

Interruptions at PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) are recorded in Hansard in a limited way, usually through the insertion of the word ‘[Interruption.]’ and are often followed by the Speaker’s call to order. The house however is collective body and background noise from the chamber during PMQs is important in signalling the general mood and degree…

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role reversal

A situation where an interviewee tries to become the interviewer by asking questions.

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semantics

The literal meaning of an utterance. Semantics differs from pragmatics is that it is not really concerned with the force of an utterance and how it is used. It is only concerned with how the words combine in the syntax to produce a meaningful utterance.

slip of the tongue /speech error

DEFINITION

Speech Error (definition)

Definition: “Speech errors are unintentional deviations from the target form one intends to produce” (Goldrick and Daland, 2007). . “A slip of the tongue… is an involuntary deviation in performance from the speaker‟s current phonological, grammatical or lexical intention.” (Boomer and Laver, 1968) Example The slip occurs in line 04 when Wark starts to utter the…

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A slip of the tongue, also known as speech error, is any deviation in the intended output while speaking. We make speech errors all the time. Click on the link to listen to some examples. The ‘slip of the tongue’ link on the menu will also help.

POSTS (see also category link on main menu at top of page)

turn taking

The back and forth exchange between interlocutors that structures a conversation.

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Turn transition with the eyebrows

Turn change can often be signalled via body language. Here Hilary Benn gives the turn back to Andrew Marr through a raise of the eyebrows and a slight forward movement of the head (09). The rising intonation on Benn’s tone unit (08) suggests that he was not finished with his comments but he yielded the…

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Using intonation to predict the end of turn

In spoken discourse, we can usually predict when our conversational partner is about to finish a turn by listening to their intonation. This is not always successful, however, as demonstrated by the following clip in which a TV host assumes that the reporter has finished his lines when in fact he has more to say.

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word blend

A speech error (slip of the tongue) in which parts of two existing words are blended together to create one novel word (eg. ‘chung’ from children + young). Examples: poleague; yonion

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word substitution

A speech error in which the intended word is replaced with another word.

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Slip of the Tongue

Slips of the tongue that involve word substitution always seem to get the biggest laughs. Here Jeremy Hunt, the new Foreign Secretary, mistakenly refers to his wife as Japanese when she is in fact Chinese. The humour in this slip was obvious to the audience of Chinese dignitaries during a visit by Hunt to Beijing…

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References

Brown, P. and Levinson, S.C. (1987). Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Bull, P. & Wells, P. (2012) Adversarial discourse in Prime Minister’s questions. Journal of Language and Social Psychology,  31(1), 30-48

Clark, HH. & Brennan, SE. (1991) Grounding in communication. In Lauren Resnick, Levine B., M. John, Stephanie Teasley & D. (eds.), Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition. American Psychological Association. pp. 13–1991

Edelsky, C. (1981). Who’s got the floor? Language in Society 10/3, 383-421.

Goffman, E. (1967): On Face-Work. An Analysis of Ritual Elements in Social Interaction. In: Ders.: Interaction Ritual. New York: Doubleday. 5-45

Grice, P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In Cole, P. & Morgan, J. Syntax and semantics. 3: Speech acts. New York: Academic Press. pp. 41–58.

Hutchby, I., & Wooffitt, R. (2008). Conversation analysis (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Polity.

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