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Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Language, Context and Communication
When academic theorizing addresses everyday
communication phenomena, there are losses as well as gains. Researches may be
selectively or otherwise, partially represent the full subtlety of
contextualized interaction. Methodological constraints may impose their own
selectivity, so that we tend to access the accessible and learn what is most
readily learnable. The real time nature of programmatic research will reflect
epistemological shifts and disciplinary development. It is altogether likely,
that academic and lay versions of the phenomena themselves and their boundaries
will not perfectly mirror each other at any one point.
Spoken versus Written Genres of Discourse
There are certain crucial differences between spoken
and written discourse. It has been clearly demonstrated that writing is not
just spoken language written down (Biber 1988, 1992, 1995). Distinctions in
lexico-grammatical and rhetorical structures tend to occur between spoken and
written language, depending on the genre. For a second language learner, this
means that regardless of one’s proficiency in speaking, conventions of writing
may pose a challenge.
One traditional view (e.g., Goody and Watt 1968) is
that written discourse is of a higher order—more logical, formal, and complex
than oral discourse and is therefore superior to it. However, the traits
considered superior by proponents of this view are not necessarily confined to
written genres. The notion of formality, for example, is an aspect of many
spoken genres, such as courtroom argumentations or academic presentations,
while some written genres, such as email or personal diaries, can be considered
informal. As Ochs (1979) points out, rather than using the terms formal and
informal, it may be more appropriate to speak of planned versus unplanned
discourse to describe the differences between such cases. Furthermore, spoken
genres are not unstructured or illogical; work in conversation analysis (e.g.,
Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson 1974; Atkinson and Heritage 1984) has clearly
demonstrated that the most casual of conversations is a tightly structured
system. The orchestration of turn taking involves a high degree of social
coordination. Sacks (1967) observed in a lecture:
One person can start up talking within one tenths; two
tenths—that order of speed—of a second after another had done what is, upon
much later reflection by an analyst, something that seems to be a sentence.
(Jefferson 1995, 650)
Thus, the belief that conversation is somehow random
or chaotic when compared to writing is untenable. Instead, the point of view
taken here is not that written language is superior to spoken but that any
genre of communication is likely to have unique characteristics that
differentiate it from other genres.
within this view, certain general characteristics can be said to manifest
themselves differently in written versus spoken genres. At the organizational
level, there is a tendency for rhetorical structures to distinguish the two
modes. For example, the separationof
topics into chunks or paragraphs in many genres of writing contrasts with the
gradual shift from one subject to the next, or topic shading (Schegloff 1990),
that is likely to occur in conversation. Moreover, explicit cohesive devices,
such as the phrases “the second point” or “in contrast,” are often used to link
topic units together in academic essays, while conversation is more often
replete with discourse markers—such as “well,” “oh,” and “so” (Schiffrin
1987)—to indicate organizational structure. At the lexico-grammatical level,
Biber (1988, 1992) has found statistical evidence that the frequency with which
specific grammatical structures occur differs between spoken and written
genres. His method was to conduct computer based searches of huge corpora of
texts to discover sets of linguistic features common to various text types.
Some of these characteristics may be traced to the differing functions that
particular genres serve. As Kaplan (1987, 14) notes, because requests for
information are less common in written language than in many spoken genres,
patterns of question formation are more likely to be found in spoken discourse.
To add other examples, scientific writing contains frequent nominalizations
(Halliday 1988)—such as “the execution of the experiment,” rather than “we
executed the experiment”—and many written genres are likely to include parallel
structures, sentential organization, and embedded, instead of conjoined,
clauses (Hatch 1992, elaborating on Ochs 1979).
Furthermore, the expression of emotion and attitude is
different in spoken versus written genres. In speaking, one can rely more on
facial expressions, gestures, and prosody—the pitch, timing, and volume of the
voice—to convey a variety of meanings and emotions (Wennerstrom 2001). Although
written genres can be equally expressive, such expressions must be conveyed
either through more elaborate lexico-grammatical descriptions or through
punctuation, special fonts, and so on. A related difference involves the
relationship between the speaker/writer and the audience. Spontaneous
conversation tends to involve a continual negotiation of what direction the
interaction will take next, as each participant responds verbally or
non-verbally to the last contribution. In the case of a misunderstanding, for
example, one speaker can immediately indicate that clarification is needed, and
the other can repair or otherwise redirect what has been said (Clark 1992).
Likewise, one person’s feedback to another’s remark can affect the direction
the topic takes. In most genres of writing, in contrast, it is necessary to
imagine the audience reaction. Planning, composing, and revising with the
audience in mind are part of the process. Thus, as Kaplan (1987, 17) notes, a
written text may be “merely a way stage” in the evolution of a finished written
product. In general, writers have more opportunity than speakers to review,
revise, or otherwise “polish” their output. This generalization does not apply
universally, as there are genres of speaking, such as formal speeches, that involve
composing and polishing, as well as genres of writing, such as list making and
form filling that may be relatively spontaneous. Moreover, the luxury of
revision is not necessarily an advantage, because there is higher audience
expectation for written genres. In conversation, participants expect false
starts, hesitations, slips of the tongue, and so on as a natural part of the
interaction, whereas readers of finished written products may be less tolerant
of these so-called errors.
The role of context in interpretation
and discourse context
The discourse analyst has to take account of the context in which a
piece of discourse occurs. Some of the most obvious linguistic elements for
their interpretation are the deictic forms as here, now, I, you, this and that.
In order to interpret these elements in a piece of discourse it is necessary to
know who the speaker and hearer are and the time and place of the production of
the discourse. By using the terms such as reference, presupposition, implicate
and inference the analyst is describing what speakers and hearers are doing and
not the relationship which exists between are sentence or proposition and
According to Lyons (1968),
“the relationship which holds between words and things is the relationship of
reference: words refer things.” Referring is not something an expression does;
it is something that someone can use an expression to do. In discourse
analysis, reference is treated as an action on the part of the speakers/writers.
A: My uncle’s coming home from Canada on Sunday he’s due in
B: How long has he been away for or has he just been away?
A: Oh no, they lived in Canada eh he was
married to my mother’s sister well. She’s been dead for number of years now
Here, speaker A uses the expressions ‘my uncle’ and ‘he’ to refer to one
individual and ‘my mother’s sister’ and ‘she’ to refer to another.
In the preceding
conversation fragment, speaker A threats the information that she has an uncle
as presuppositions are what is taken by the speaker to be the common ground of
the participants in the conversation. Presuppositions used in discourse
analysis are pragmatic ones. For
My uncle’s earning home from Canada
My uncle is not coming home from Canada
I have an uncle
Here, sentence (b) is
unnecessary while sentence (c) is a presupposition of the speaker in uttering
The term “Implicate” is used
by Grice (1975) to account for what a speaker can imply “suggest” mean, or
distinct from what the speaker literally says. There are two types of
implicature. They are:
a)Conventional: It is determined by the conventional meaning of the
words used. For example: “He is an
Englishman; he is, therefore, brave.”
b)Conversational: It is derived from a general principle plus a number
of maxims which speakers will normally obey. The conversational conventions
which support co-operative principle, are as followers:
Make contribution as is required. Do not make contribution more informative
than is required.
not say what is believed that it may be false
perspicuous. Avoid obscurity of expression. Avoid ambiguity. Be brief and
So, implicatures are produced in a specific context shared by the
speaker and the hearer
This process is used to
arrive at an interpretation for utterances or for the connections between
utterances. For example:
“In the kitchen there was a huge dresser and when anyone went in you see
to the hats and coats were all dumped and this dresser.”
a)The hats and
coats belong to the visitor to the house;
b)The house has
c)The douser is in
Reference, presupposition, implicature and inference must be treated as
pragmatic concepts in the discourse analysis. The pragmatic use of these terms
is closely tied to the context in which a discourse occurs.
2.The context of situation
Since the beginning of the 1970s, linguists have become increasingly
aware of the importance of context in the interpretation of sentences.
context: consider two invented scenarios in which an identical utterance is
produced by two distinct speakers.
a young mother, hearer: her mother-in-law, place: park, by a duck pond, time:
sunny afternoon, in September 1962. They are watching the young mother’s two
–year old son chasing ducks and the mother – in- law has just remarked that her
son, the child’s father was rather backward at this age. The young mother says:
“I do think Adam’s quick”
a student, hearer: a set of students, place; sitting round a coffee table in
the refectory, time: evening in March 1980. John, one of the groups, has just
told a joke. Everyone laughs, one of the students says:
I do think Adams’s quick
Here, in both cases, the speaker says of Adam that he
is quick. It is clear that, the utterance in the contexts of situation in which
they are cited would be taken to convey very different messages. In (a), Adam
is being compared with his father. Quick may be interpreted, in the context of
backward, as meaning something like, “quick in developing”. In (b), Adam is
being compared not with his father and favorably, but with the set of other
students unfavorably. In this case, ‘quick’ must be interpreted as meaning
something like ‘quick to understand /react/see’ the joke.
J.R. Firth was concerned to embed the utterance in the social context
and to generalize across meanings in specified social contexts. On the other
hand, Hymes views the role of context in interpretation as, on the one hand,
limiting the range of possible interpretations and, on the other, as supporting
the intended interpretations: “A context can support a range of meanings. When
a form is used in a context it eliminates the meanings possible to that context
other than those the form can signal.” (Hymes, 1962)
The interpretation of
individual lexical items is constrained by co- text. Consider this text of the
beginning of a 16 years old Scottish pupil’s account of a simple cartoon:
a: “a man and
women sitting in the living room -the
women sitting reading suite happily – the mean’s bored goes to the window + and
gets himself ready and goes out +”
The reader must interpret
the woman sitting reading quite happily as the ‘woman’ already mentioned, hence
must construct and interpretation which has her ‘sitting reading quite happily
in the living room’. The speaker continues with a change of location and we
have to assume that what follows in within the newly introduced location:
b: goes this
goes to a club + has a drink talks to the barman + then he starts dancing with
a beautiful girl long black hair+ has a
good time +
So, communications do not
merely depend on the context for their interpretation, they change that
A problem for the discourse analyst is to decide when
a particular feature is relevant to the specification of a particular context
and what degree of specification is required. Some features are directly
related to the deictic context and those features which will permit
interpretation for deictic context like the tempered expression here and the 1st
person expression I.
‘Here’ and ‘now’ expressions are described as ‘displaced contexts’. For
example: the utterance will land here said by one astronaut to another, on
earth, as they study a map of the moon.Speakers or writers do have the option of transferring the deictic
centre to the hearer’s or readers, spatio-temporal situation in which the text
will be encountered. So, it must be obvious that, deictic expressions may
retain a standard deictic centre but must be interpreted with respect to the
content of the utterance in which they occur.
Lyons (1977) distinguishes between the deictic role of an individual and
his social role or status. Lyons points out that, for example the terms of
address used by a social inferior to a social superior may be different from
those used between peers, as in vocative terms like sir or doctor or my lord
(in the Courtroom).
In different social contexts, different terms of address will be found.
In general, we may assume that, in a particular social context, only are role
is taken by an individual at one particular fine.
A discourse analyst is working in the real world to see those properties
of the features of context which are relevant to the particular communicative
act and which contribute to the interpretation of the utterance.
principles of ‘Local interpretation’ and of ‘analogy’
There must be principles of interpretation available
to the hearer which enables him to determine a relevant and reasonable
interpretation of an expression. This principle is called the principle of
local interpretation. For example: if he hears someone say, ‘shut the door’ he
will look towards the nearest door available for being shut. If his host says
come early, he will interpret early with respect to the last mentioned time,
rather than to some previously mentioned time. So, this principle instructs the
hearer not to construct a context any larger than he needs to arrive of an
Pragmatics, prosody, and contextual analysis
In discourse analysis, as in phonology, lexicon and
syntax, the linguist’s task is to identify structural units and the processes
that operate on those units. For many linguists, the most interesting
relationship included in this book is the one between discourse and syntax.
From the analysis of rhetorical structure, we can make
predictions about the types of syntactic structures that will appear in certain
types of discourse. We can predict, for example, that in narrative discourse
storytellers will use a series of temporally ordered clauses with highly
transitive verbs. Tense/aspect may separate the major actions of these clauses
from ongoing parallel actions or clauses giving background information. In
procedural and advice giving discourse, we also expect speakers and writers to
select a series of temporally ordered actions, but the agent is more likely to
be neutral. Therefore we can anticipate a large number of imperative and
passive constructions, and introductory phrases such as “in order to X” and “to
X” may set the stage for the focused action. Time in such discourse is also
usually neutral; there is much less focus placed on the use of tense/aspect to
precisely locate time relationships. In descriptive discourse, we expect
speakers to use introductory presentatives, identification through BE copula
and possessive HAVE and spatial relationships via prepositional phrases. Also,
we have seen that the mode or degree of planning in discourse may influence the
types of syntactic structures we choose. We can expect more complex verb
morphology and more explicit marking of embedded and subordinate clauses in
planned written discourse than in unplanned talk. An analysis of discourse
data, then, reveals the selections we typically make in using syntax to carry
out our discourse intent.
If, however, our primary interest is in syntax, we may
approach our analysis in a very different way. Rather than analyzing discourse
to discover the types of syntactic choices that might be made for particular
functions, we might begin by posing an interesting question about syntax and
then trying to answer the question by looking at the discourse context in which
the structures occur.
Thus, there is a difference in asking “How is ‘and’
used?” and saying “narratives include a series of temporally ordered clauses
that show the steps in solving a problem, and these clauses are often connected
by ‘and’ or ‘and then.’” A study that asks “How is X used?” calls for a combination
of syntactic, pragmatic and context analysis. Celce-Murcia (1980) calls this
combination contextual analysis. The
result of a contextual analysis might show that while descriptive grammars tell
us something about when forms are used, the choice of form is influenced by
genre, the purpose of the communication, the relationship of writer and reader
or speaker and listener, the message content, and the contextin which the communication takes place. In
the language classroom, the teacher’s expectations and the talk that surrounds
the writing task might cause students to use particular structures for
particular purposes. Pragmatics also helps to explain why and when particular
language forms, rather than others, are selected. Before we turn to the methods
used in contextual analysis, let us review some of what we already know about
In linguistics, we often talk about meaning that
derives from syntax and semantics. Meaning, however, is more than syntactic
form and semantics. Pragmatic meaning is that which comes from the context
rather than from syntax and semantics. The study of what speakers mean to
convey when they use a particular structure in context is called the study of
pragmatics. The general classification of speech acts as representatives,
directives, commissives, declaratives, and expressives which was drawn by
Searle (1975, 1976) also talks about speaker intent. For example, the sentence
“I didn’t see you” has truth value and so can be classified as a
representative. However, it could also have a pragmatic meaning of an excuse or
apology. A seeming representative such as “I lost my purse” might have the
pragmatic meanings, rather than literal meanings, are conveyed by these
Grice (1975) claimed that what is conveyed by an utterance falls into
two parts: what is said and what is implied. He uses the term “implicature” to cover what is implied.
In Grice’s system, there are two types of implicature: conventional and conversational.
Through experience, we learn the conversations that
govern our use of expressions on certain purposes. Philosophers and linguists
categorize some of these conventions in terms of entailment, paraphrase,
conventional metaphorical meanings, presupposition, and implicatives.
Philosophers interested in the logic of conventional implicature look at
how we use entailment in attributing meanings to utterances. Entailment means
that both propositions are true in the world being described. Since utterances
can be relevant to more than one state of affairs, entailments are dependent on
the context. Philosophers also use paraphrase
as a method to determine conventional implicature when assigning appropriate
speaker meaning to an utterance within a context. We may use linguistic signals
of paraphrase to make our meanings clear within a context.
Philosophers also include metaphorical meanings as
conventional implicature for assigning meaning to speech acts. A metaphor
brings together two distinct concepts in a way that lets us see similarities.
Metaphors can also summarize and synthesize meaning. A good metaphor can make
clear a whole argument, because it calls up or invokes a much larger context.
To some extent, at least, the use of metaphor asks us to use conventional
implicature to give an altered meaning to a speech act. Representative as
speech acts have truth value.
There are a number of syntactic features that relate to presupposition.
Karttunen (1971), for example, identified a group of implicatives-verbs like
“manage” that indirectly convey both a presupposition and an implication. Thus,
by using a conventional syntactic signal, the truth claims of representatives
can be modified or the signal can show that something more than a representative
is being said. In addition to implicative verbs, sentential adverbs can change
the degree of truthfulness to be given to utterances.
Grice’s second type of implicature differs in scope.
Called conversational implicature, it
contrasts with conventional implicature in that the meanings of utterances are
only indirectly associated with their linguistic content. According to Grice,
these implications are drawn from the principles of cooperative conversation.
Grice’s maxim of quality(i.e. truthfulness) is violated, and the conversational
implicature is that the utterance is meant in irony. Of course, it is not
always easy to determine whether meanings come from conversational or from
conventional implicature. Since entailment and presupposition are involved, we
might, then, say that meaning here is derived from conventional implicature.
However, these implications are also based on Goffman’s (1976) ritual or
social, constraints for conversation. When we make a request, we assume that
the request will be granted, that we will not be thought rude or pushy, and so
forth. In this case, a conversational convention is being violated, and the
meaning in the exchange relies on conversational implicature. Thus it becomes
difficult to assign meanings exclusively to one or the other type of
In applied linguistics, Celce-Murcia (1980) has
renewed interest in using context to understand how and when we select
particular linguistic forms. She calls this method of discourse analysis contextual analysis. Teachers are often
asked to explain a particular grammatical form is used in a particular place.
The experiment may be based on pragmatics, it may be based on differences
between oral and written forms, it may have to do with formality or it may be a
syntactic requirement. The first step in any contextual analysis is to find an
interesting question to research. Many linguists, including Bolinger and
Celce-Murcia, have been very interested in accounting for seemingly synonymous
The replacement of adverbial clauses may be very much
conditioned by what we hope to accomplish in the discourse. Recall Halliday and
Hasan’s distinction between anaphoric and cataphoric reference, that, in a
sense, an adverbial clause in initial position serves as cataphoric framework
for what is to come. When we need to prepare the listener or reader for what is
about to be explained, we may select an initial adverbial clause. Perhaps the
relation between initial versus final clause placement and the principle of
guiding the reader or listener are clearest when we are being taken on a tour.
The claim about initial versus final adverbials rests on example data,
linguistic conjecture, and on questionnaire data. Since questionnaires ask for
preference judgments, Celce-Murcia believes they are suspect. She points out
that it is important to check natural language texts to see whether generalizations
drawn from questionnaires occur in real data.
second method, for carrying out a contextual analysis is to look for examples
of particular structures within a discourse database. It can validate findings
of the first method of creating mini situations that ask native speakers to
decide which of seemingly synonymous structures they would prefer. Each of
these methods has been widely used by Celce-Murcia and her students.
“Context” in contextual
analysis is a very broad term. It could include all the areas of discourse
based on this linguistic topic. Scripts call up context, speech events set
context, rhetorical forms provide context, cohesion and coherence constrains
choice of language forms and therefore also reflect context. So, in a sense,
contextual analysis is another way of looking at discourse analysis and its
methods can be layered with other types of discourse analysis to reveal the
many ways that context influences our choice of syntactic forms.
we listen to speakers, we obtain much more information than what is actually
given in the words uttered. We get information on personal variables such as
age, gender, and perhaps temperament and character; sociolinguistic information
such as where speakers are from, their social membership, their status, or the
formality they think situations have. Much of this information comes from prosody, the supra segmental system made
up of intonation, stress, rhythm, and pitch. At the discourse level, this
system also gives us information on the speaker’s emotions, feelings, moods,
convictions, sincerity, and so on. The supra segmental system may also give
message-bound meanings, as example, “oops” as meaning an accident has happened.
Intonation is used by the teachers to frame the end and
beginning of activities and topics. That is, a slowing of rate and falling
intonation marks the end of an exchange, and a switch to rapid rate and louder
speech marks the beginning of the next one. Intonation may also help learners
decide how to process the meanings of words.
meaning of speech acts, too, is linked to intonation. Intonation tells us about
the pragmatic meaning of an utterance.Sarcasm and irony are signaled not by the words of the utterance but by
the special intonation used in saying the words. To use Crystal’s (1969)
example, the utterance “This is the third time he’s been to see me this week”
may be a complaint, an announcement, a doubt, a suspicion and so on. The
pragmatic meaning comes from the intonation used with the utterance.
In speech events, special intonation is used for
pragmatic function. Rhetorical organization showed how special intonation,
pitch, and stress are used as evaluative devices. They are used to involve the
audience in our personal stories. Prosody is an important part of oral
argument, whether it is a debate or personal argument. Hortatory text-religious
moral, and political urgings – requires great skills in control of prosodic
features. In contextual analysis, it is also clear that prosody interacts with message
content to determine meaning. In English, the stress pattern follows the
discourse organizations of sentences: New information is located at the ends of
sentences and the highest pitch and stress point is located near the end of the
utterance-usually on the last content word.
In most respects, the place of prosody and its
relation to discourse has been largely ignored in second language acquisition
and teaching. In the literature on first language acquisition, however, the
development of intonation and of prosody for discourse functions has been an
important issue. Communication Theory
Goffman (1976) claimed in his study of human
communication that there is a set of universal constraints on all
communication. Since the constraints are universal, they should appear in all
types of communication and all in languages. Each language, of course, would
differ in exactly how the constraints are met, and the ways in which the
constraints are met should vary according to the communication channel.
Goffman divided these communication constraints into two parts, they
System constraints: it
refers to the components required for all communication systems.
Ritual constraints: it
refers to the social constraints that smooth social interaction.
There are eight system constraints that Goffman
claimed to be universal in all human communication. They are:
a)channel open and
adequate and interpretable messages
h)a set of Gricean
Channel open and close signals:
In all communication, there must be ways to show that
communication is about to begin and then begins, and ways to show that it is
about to end and then ends. These channel open/close signals will differ
according to the channel (e.g., phone calls, letters, meetings, classrooms).
The description of these signals and how they vary across mode, channel and
setting is part of the analysis of discourse.
Example: For a phone conversation, the opening may be like this-
Tony: Hi, Marcia.
Tony: This is Tony
Marcia: Hi, Tony.
Tony: How are you?
Marcia: Ohhhh I’ve got a paper due tomorrow.
Tony: How about that...
The closing of the conversation may be like this:
M: Okay. So:
M: Yeah. So I’ll call you tomorrow then.
T: Okay, talk to you later.
Back channel signals:
Gloffman’s second system constraint is that there have
to be signals that a message is getting through. Eye contract, head nods,
smiles and body alignment all help to tell us whether or not the recipient has
answered our summons and is attending to our message.
During conversations, even when it is not our turn at talk, we may nod
or make noises like “umhmm”, “uhhhh”, “yeah”, “very right,”-backchannel
feedback that encourages the speaker to continue. These signals do not take the
turn away from the speaker. For example:
L: Here’s the little girl.
L: She was walking with flowers in the grass
L: And then she saw the ice cream and she told a lady can she have some.
In this example the listener gives signals that show the message is
being received and the listener is aligned with the speaker in terms of that message.
In communication, there must be a set of signals that
allow for a smooth exchange of turns. Sometimes these signals are ritualized,
as in the “rozer” amd “over” signals of airline communication. In face to face
communication, it would be a bit strange to say “over” or “go ahead” each time.
So the speakers have the variety of signals to project the end of a turn. The
signals cue the next speaker to begin a turn. Slowing of tempo, vowel
elongation and falling intonation all help to signal the end of a turn, a place
for an exchange in turns. This is sometimes called a transition-relevant place.
Although turns are usually nicely timed, overlaps do happen. In fact, overlaps
are thought to show alignment between the communication partners. In
conversations, the length of the each turn is usually fairly short.
Acoustically adequate and interpretable messages
The forth constraint identified by Goffman is that
communication requires an ungarbled message. In order for communication to take
place, messages have to be interpretable. They also have to be hearable.
In all communication, there must be signals to show
that part of the message, “side sequence”, are not right on-line with the
message of the moment, Goffman calls the bracket signals. The brackets are like
instructions for putting the ongoing talk or text on hold so that we can return
to it later if we wish. There are many different signals- both verbal and
nonverbal that can be used as bracket signals.
For successful communication, Goffman proposed a
seventh system constraint which says that all languages must have some way of
blocking nonparticipant noise from the communication channel. There are
varieties of strategies that can be used to keep the noise of nonparticipants
in the background and out of focus.
In addition to nonparticipant constraints, there also
have to be ways for participants to interrupt each other. There need to be ways
to do this for participants to interrupt an ongoing channel message.
Emergencies come up when speaker must interrupt each other. There need to be
ways to do it. In this case, preempt signals are used.
There are times when we need to preempt the talk in
order to request repair or message clarification.
Student: and that’s in my book and th / / en
Teacher: E-e-e- what units are you going to put that in? This is the
main thing I’m worried about.
Here, overlap occurs and the signal “E-e-e” is used by the teacher to
interrupt and redirect the student’s plan of operation.
Gricean Norms for Communication:
Goffman also noted that communication cannot truly work unless
participants generally observe four major norms of cooperation: relevance,
truthfulness, quantity and clarity. These norms are called maxims, were
proposed by Grice (1975) as criteria for cooperative communication.
Ritual constraints refer to the social constraints
that smooth social interaction. According to Goffman (1955, 1967, 1969, 1972, 1974),
we want to show ourselves as worthwhile and competent and we also want to show
that we value our interactors as people of social accomplishment. We do not
always succeed or perform as smoothly as we’d like, even when we communicate
with another native speaker. We also know that misunderstandings occur even
though we may be proficient speakers of the language.
There are eight ritual constraints that Goffman claimed to be universal
in all human communication. They are:
constraints in openings / closings
constraints and back channel signals
constraints and turnover signals
constraints and acoustically adequate and interpretable messages
constraints and bracket signals
constraints and nonparticipant signals
constraints and pre-empt signals
constraints and Grice’s maxims
Ritual Constraints in Openings / Closings
In all culture, greetings are given and returned. If
the greeting is not returned, something has gone wrong in the social
interaction. Even if the greeting is returned, the opening must be appropriate
length so that both parties are given due recognition. In some cultures,
Americans are often seen as rude and uncaring because their opening greetings
are fairly short. Closing also differs across languages and cultures. In some languages,
every person in the group must be spoken to in the closing. In other social
groups, one can take leave with mainly nonverbal signals. If our openings and
closing are too abrupt, we may be thought rude or angry as though we did not
wish to enter into communication and rushed to get out it. If our openings and
closing are too extended, we may be thought of as fawning, long-winded or
Ritual Constraints and Back Channel Signals
When we begin a conversation, we expect that other
wish to converse with us and will value what we have to say. In part, we judge
this willingness in terms of back-channel signals. Backchannel signals differ
across cultures. In classroom lectures, students usually nod and smile to
indicate that they are listening. Frowns and lack of eye contact may be signals
to lecturers that the materials are not clear and needs to be revised or that
that the material is already known and the lecture is therefore boring.
Ritual Constraints and Turnover Signals
In communication, we expect to receive our fair share
of turns at talk. What is “fair” differs across culture. Power among the
participants is often reflected not just by length of turn but also by who
introduces topic switches at the beginning of turn. If status differences are heavily
coded in language behavior, turns, turn length, and topic shifts may differ
according to gender, role and social status.
The gaps or small silences between turns at talk also differ across
language and culture groups. In Scandinavian languages, gaps between the turns
are relatively long.
Ritual Constraints and Acoustically Adequate and
While all communication operates under the system
constraints of acoustically adequate and interpretable messages, there is a
good deal of leeway as to what constitutes an adequate message. Social
consequences are obvious when messages are either too acoustically adequate or
acoustically inadequate. For example, in ordinary conversation, friends use a
relaxed register of speech where careful enunciation is not demanded. In fact,
if they enunciate each word clearly, or if they are unable to match the general
articulation patterns of those around them, there are sure to be social
Ritual Constraints and Bracket Signals
Bracket signals differ across language groups and the
appropriateness of allowing asides or side sequences also differs. In academic
discourse, for example, some language groups allow for what might be called a
very ornate style, where personal comments, anecdotes and illustrative side
sequences are valued. In other language groups, no such diversion is allowed.
Footnotes or notes may be allowed, but side sequences and markers that provide
ways of tracing back to the original thesis are not allowed.
Ritual Constraints and Nonparticipant Signals
Most of us do not feel comfortable attending a party
where we know practically no one. We stand around hoping that someone will
approach and engage us in conversation rather than try to join a group that is
already conversing. Though we may know the conventional signals for joining the
group, we may not be sure our entry into the group will be seen as valuable.
When our host draws us into a group, introduces us and tells us something about
the others, he or she is trying to build a bridge by establishing that we do
indeed belong to the group and that each member of the group has something of
worth to contribute.
Ritual Constraints and Preempt Signals
When we give a preempt signal, we expect those already
engaged in a conversation will judge that we have a right to interrupt the
conversation- that will not be seen as rude. Again, what counts as an
acceptable interruption differs across language and culture groups,
Ritual Constraints and Grice’s maxims
We expect that
listeners will judge our talk not only as relevant but also as a valuable
contribution to the theme of the conversation. We also expect that
contributions to a conversation be truthful- the speaker says that what he or
she says or believe to be true. The maxim of quantity differs greatly among
language and social groups. There also social consequences linked to the notion
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