Pragmatics 24:3 (September 2014)

SPECIAL ISSUE : Approaches to grammar for interactional linguistics

Edited by Ritva Laury, Marja Etelämäki and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen





Marja-Liisa HELASVUO

Searching for motivations for grammatical patternings




In this article I analyze subject expression in conversational Finnish, identifying the home environments for zero and pronominal subjects in the 1st and 2nd person singular. Based on a syntactically coded database, I show that there is a clear preference, in both 1st and 2nd person, for pronominal subjects over zeros; in other words, double-marking is preferred over single-marking. This clearly contravenes the general preference for minimization or economy in person reference in conversation, as suggested by Sacks and Schegloff (1979) and Levinson (2007; see also Hacohen and Schegloff 2006). The home environments for zero and pronominal subjects are analyzed in terms of the micro-level social actions performed by participants, in order to find motivations for the choice of the form of subject. The analysis of the Finnish data shows that the choice between zero vs. pronominal subject is sensitive to features in the sequential context. It affects turn projection.

The article shows that a systematic analysis of the data can provide important insights regarding global patterns. The deeper motivations that lie behind these patternings, however, cannot be understood without close microanalysis of the local contexts of subject expression.


Keywords : Subject expression; Subject omission; Person marking; Economy; Projection.



Why blend conversation analysis with cognitive grammar?




This article proposes that combining Conversation Analysis (CA) with Cognitive Grammar (CG) provides a fruitful framework for studying language as a socio-cognitive phenomenon. The authors first discuss two indexical phenomena, the Finnish demonstratives and the Finnish free-standing infinitives; these are first analyzed using the methods of CA, then rediscussed in the framework of CG. The description of both phenomena relies on the CG notion of grounding elements, i.e., the elements that conceptualize some facet of the ground (speech situation) as part of their meaning. The authors argue that such meaning associated with grammar includes knowledge about the schematic organization of the ground, and that the grammatical means for conceptualizing the ground make dynamic co-construction of the speech situation possible. Whereas the authors rely on the terminology of CG when describing the construal of the ground, they strongly underline the fact that the ways in which the ground is construed can only be found out using the methods of CA. In this way, combining CA with CG can offer us an approach where language is analyzed as the interface of the human mind and the social world.  


Keywords : Interaction; Construal; Ground; Demonstratives; Infinitives; Cognitive grammar; Conversation analysis.



On the place of turn and sequence in grammar. Verb-first clausal constructions in Swedish talk-in-interaction




This study elaborates the concept of a positionally sensitive grammar with respect to the sequentiality of turns and the turn constructional units in conversation. The linguistic object of the analysis is clausal constructions in Swedish that are initiated by the finite predicate verb: Polar questions, receipt questions (news receipts), conditional protases and pro-drop declaratives. These constructions share potentially the same syntactic surface pattern but are constrained by different sequential conditions of use. The study proposes an integrated interactional linguistic analysis which takes into account both syntactic and sequential aspects of turn construction. A grammatical attribute-value matrix, based on the framework of construction grammar (CxG), is introduced. The analysis shows that regularities of sequential organization may provide robust distinctive constructional features while a pure syntactic analysis remains less distinctive. The decisive constructional features are systematically captured by a notation designed for sequential and syntactic organization.


Keywords : Positionally sensitive grammar; Construction grammar; Interactional linguistics; Sequence organization; Turn-construction; Verb-first constructions.


Peter AUER

Syntactic structures and their symbiotic guests. Notes on analepsis from the perspective of on-line syntax




The empirical focus of this paper is on utterances that re-use syntactic structures from a preceding syntactic unit. Next utterances of this type are usually treated as (coordination) ellipsis. It is argued that from an on-line perspective on spoken syntax, they are better described as structural latency: A grammatical structure already established remains available and can therefore be made use of with one or more of its slots being filled by new material. A variety of cases of this particular kind of conversational symbiosis are discussed. It is argued that they should receive a common treatment. A number of features of the general host/guest relationship are discussed.


Keywords : Analepsis; On-line syntax; Structural latency.


Ritva LAURY  and Tsuyoshi ONO

The limits of grammar: Clause combining in Finnish and Japanese conversation




Our paper concerns the grammar of clause combining in Finnish and Japanese conversation. We consider the patterns of clause combining in our data and focus on the verbal and non-verbal cues which allow participants to determine whether, after the end of a clause-sized unit, the turn will end or continue with another clause-sized unit, resulting in a clause combination. We conclude that morphosyntax alone cannot account for the patterns found in our data, but that the participants orient to, at least, prosodic and non-verbal cues in determining the boundaries of clauses and projecting continuation in the form of another clause. Also important for projection are fixed expressions or ‘prefabs’. In addition, semantic and pragmatic factors play a role. In that sense, we explore the question of where the limits of grammar for interaction, understood as the knowledge which speakers share and which forms the basis for the creation and processing of novel utterances, should be drawn, and whether grammar should include, beyond morphosyntax, not only prosodic, pragmatic and semantic features but also bodily behavior.


Keywords : Clause combining; Japanese; Finnish; Morphosyntax; Prosody; Non-verbal behavior; Prefabs.



‘Pivotage’ in French talk-in-interaction: On the emergent nature of [clause-NP-clause] pivots



French talk-in-interaction shows a recurrent patterning of utterances that can schematically be presented as [clause-NP-clause], as in ellei va s’effacer l’imagei ellei va s’effacer (‘iti is going to fade away the image,i iti is going to fade away)’, where i signals co-indexicality. In this pattern, the NP represents a pivot element which together with the preceding clause can be heard as forming a right dislocation ([clause-NP]), and together with the subsequent clause can be heard as forming a left dislocation ([NP-clause]). One interactionally consequential feature of the [clause-NP-clause] pattern is that it organizes specific types of units in specific ways during the temporal unfolding of talk: It allows speakers to proffer two subsequent predications about the same referent, typically within one TCU, whereby the temporally second predication may be either identical (mirror image-like pivot patterns) or different from the first. We demonstrate that speakers use the [clause-NP-clause] pivot pattern to accomplish a set of interactional jobs related to the management of repair, to stance taking, to the progressivity of talk, and to issues of recipiency. We also show that, recurrently, the pattern is configured on-line, following an emergent trajectory which is adapted to local interactional contingencies; this is what we refer to as pivotage (‘pivoting’), i.e. the grammatical shaping of pivot patterns ‘in the making’. Based on these findings, we argue that the [clause-NP-clause] pivot pattern testifies to the adaptive, emergent and thoroughly temporal nature of grammar.

Keywords : Emergence; On-line grammar; Pivot; Dislocation; Speaker’s stance; Repair; Progressivity.


What does grammar tell us about action?




Using cases of misalignment and realignment in the unfolding of interactional sequences in which future actions and events are being negotiated in everyday English conversation, this paper demonstrates that participants distinguish between the initiating actions of Proposal*, Offer*, Request*, and Suggestion*, if these labels are understood as technical terms for distinct constellations of answers to the questions (i) who will carry out the future action? and (ii) who will benefit from it?. The argument made is that these different action types are routinely associated with different sets of recurrent linguistic forms, or social action formats, and that it is through these that speakers can frame their turns as implementing one action type as opposed to another and that recipients can recognize these actions as such and respond to them accordingly. The fact that there is only a limited amount of ‘polysemy’, or overlap in the formats commonly used for Proposals*, Requests*, Offers*, and Suggestions* in English conversation, means that these formats deliver often distinctive cues to the type of action being implemented. When misalignments and realignments occur, they can often be traced to the fact that ‘polysemous’ linguistic formats have been used to implement the initiating action.


Keywords : Action formation; Action recognition;Social action format; Directive; Request; Offer; Proposal; Suggestion.



A multimodal analysis of compliment sequence in everyday English interactions


This study offers a multimodal analysis of turns in everyday English interactions that are used for making compliments, i.e. for positively evaluating the appearance, personal qualities or actions of (a) co-present participant(s) in the present situation. We first identify the most frequent linguistic formats recurrently occurring in compliments in our data. We then focus on the sequential interactional analysis of compliment sequences, i.e. the production of the compliment and the response it receives. While a range of bodily-visual displays and prosodic features can be identified as co-constructing compliment activity, we argue that gaze direction has a specific role in the production of both compliments and their responses. The data come from a database of approximately 8 hours of video–recorded casual face-to-face conversations in English. The study employs the methodology of conversation analysis, maintaining that social interaction in face-to-face conversations is a multimodal achievement, where participants’ use of language, embodied actions and material objects are variously combined to build coherent courses of action (Goodwin 2000). The aim of the study is to provide a description of how embodied actions enter into the design of social action formats for compliments.


Keywords : Compliments; Conversation analysis; Embodied actions; Evaluation; Language in use; Social action format.