This chapter offers an overview of the unique contributions of conversation analysis (CA) to research on the science of meetings. We introduce CA as a sociological framework for studying the structures and processes of talk and interaction, showing how this approach enriches our understanding of human activity in meeting interaction. After a sketch of CA theory and method and the ways that basic interactional mechanisms are adapted to meetings, we review CA research on face-to-face meetings, including practices for distributing turns at talk, the interactional constitution of organizational identities, practices for displaying affect and building relationships with team members, and interactional resources for decision making in meetings. Moving into current developments in CA and meetings, we detail one interactional strategy used to manage disagreement during decision-making episodes in scientific peer review meetings. It involves the use of “formulations,” discourse practices in which interactants summarize and paraphrase the prior talk of other participants. We provide initial evidence of the use of formulations in peer review meetings to collaboratively navigate interactional troubles, allowing participants to work toward resolution of conflict, move ahead in the progression of meetings, and to possibly introduce individual biases into meeting deliberations and decision making.
The research reported in this chapter is intended as a contribution to an understanding of the basic linguistic units used by speakers in spontaneous communication. Our interest is in the linguistic factors associated with the split-second timing of next turn onset that has been documented in conversation analytic literature (Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson, 1974; Jefferson, 1973; Wilson and Zimmerman, 1986).
In the past two decades, conversation analysts have uncovered patterns and principles of interaction, particularly in the areas of turn-taking and the sequential organization of talk. The picture of spontaneous interaction that emerges very clearly from this research depicts a complex and intricately monitored human practice that is maximally sensitive to moment-by-moment input by all parties to a conversation, and is, therefore, characterized by an organization that is locally managed. Turns at talk vary widely in length, and their length is not unilaterally controlled. The extension of a turn at talk has everything to do with the manner in which that turn is being responded to by the other participant(s) in the conversation (e.g., Atkinson and Heritage, 1984; Davidson, 1984; C. Goodwin, 1979, 1981, 1986a, 1986b, 1987; M. Goodwin, 1980; Goodwin and Goodwin, 1986, 1987, forthcoming; Heritage, 1984, 1989; Jefferson, 1973, 1987, 1989; Lerner, 1987, 1989, 1991, in progress; Sacks, et al. 1974; Schegloff, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992; Schegloff and Sacks, 1973; Wilson and Zimmerman, 1986; and Wilson et al. 1984). To understand the syntax and rhetoric of conversational language use, linguists need to take very seriously the situated practices of conversationalists as revealed in the careful work of conversation analysts.
Unlike initial adverbial clauses in these data, which always end in continuing intonation, when adverbial clauses appear after their associated modified material, they may be connected to that material across continuing or ending intonation. There are 135 final adverbial clauses, making up 66% of the adverbial clauses in the data. Of these final adverbial clauses, 40 (30%) are temporal (when, while, before, after etc.), 18 (13%) are conditional (if), 75 (56%) are causal (because, 'cause), and 2 (1%) are concessive (although, even though).
Eighty (59%) of the final adverbial clauses occur after continuing intonation, while 55 (41%) link back to utterances ending in final falling intonation.
The distinction between continuing and final intonation reflects speakers' decisions to signal that an utterance is not yet completed (continuing intonation), or that an utterance is possibly complete (final intonation). Schiffrin (1987) used this intonation distinction to separate intra-utterance conjunction from inter-utterance conjunction in her analysis of interview data. By distinguishing intra- from inter-utterance intonation patterns, one can describe grammatical connections that occur as parts of intonationally coherent units, and compare these connections to grammatical connections that occur across final intonation boundaries.
In the present chapter I describe the use of adverbial clauses following continuing intonation. In the next chapter, I look at adverbial clauses added to utterances that have been presented as intonationally complete. Final adverbial clauses after continuing intonation are of three types in my corpus: temporal, conditional, and causal. Of these three, only temporal and conditional clauses appear both before and after their main clauses, while causal clauses appear only after the material they modify.
In the preceding chapters, I have explored the work that adverbial clauses do in conversation, and in what positions they do that work. In addition to the usage patterns focused upon in chapters 3–5, there is interesting variation in the distribution and functions of the three major types of adverbial clauses found in the corpus. In the present chapter, I compare the placement and functions of the different clause types, and I also highlight some apparent violations of the general principles discussed in previous chapters. The exceptions serve to further elucidate the principles themselves.
Different clause types in initial versus final placement
Examining variation in the use of different clause types, we find that causal clauses, while not appearing initially, do frequently appear in final position after continuing intonation. In final position, causal clauses do work that is distinct from the work of other final adverbial clauses. These differences are consistent with the semantics of the different clause types, causals presenting explanatory or motivating material, rather than temporal or situational grounding.
As can be seen from Figure 1, of all temporal clauses, most (52.5%) appear finally after continuing intonation. That is, a majority of temporal clauses in this corpus are being used to complete main clause meaning, rather than to structure the discourse (or add more material after an utterance is finished – to be discussed in section 6.2). Utterances in these conversations, then, seem to be regularly provided with some temporal or situational grounding through temporal clauses.
While our understanding of English grammar at the single sentence level is substantial, we are only just beginning to seriously explore patterns of interclausal relations as they are used in naturally occurring language. Furthermore, even though interactional language use outweighs all other types of language use, the analysis of English discourse within linguistics has tended to concentrate on monologue data and to neglect conversation. One reason for this neglect has to do with the relatively recent development of practical and unobtrusive audio and video recording technology. If we hope to gain an understanding of how grammar emerges and changes with use (i.e., an understanding of grammar as a system adapted to its use [Du Bois 1984]), we must make use of the available technology and look more seriously at language in interaction. The present book is a contribution to our understanding of the use of a clause type that is very common in spoken English interaction: the adverbial clause. I examine the use of adverbial clauses in a corpus of naturally occurring American English conversation.
At a general level, this research is part of a larger program of interest in observing grammar in its “natural habitat”: connected, contextualized discourse. The focus here is on adverbial clause usage, in part because numerous studies have detailed their functions in discourse and in part because of their relative frequency in spoken English. In addition to contributing to our understanding of adverbial clauses in interactional language use, this study has been guided by a methodological goal: The research presented in this book demonstrates the usefulness of conversation analysis as a tool for understanding the emergence of grammar in interaction.
This chapter presents a brief overview of the database and the distribution of adverbial clauses within it.
The database includes thirteen naturally occurring telephone, face-to-face, two party, and multi-party conversations. None of the interaction originates from interview or data-elicitation formats. In this way, special turn-taking formats were avoided. Twelve of the conversations are audio taped, and one particularly long span of talk comes from a video taped multi-party conversation. All the data used for this study are transcribed according to the conventions of conversation analysis (CA). In each instance of an adverbial clause, I have done a careful analysis of intonation. In some cases, this has resulted in the addition of commas (level rising, incomplete intonation) or periods (final falling intonation) to the original transcriptions.
All the conversations are between adults, and all are in relatively casual situations: chatting on the phone, drinking beer on a picnic, visiting over crackers and cheese after a movie, or eating dinner. Eight of the recordings are of two-party telephone conversations, eliminating the question of non-verbal signaling for at least a portion of the data. Five of the conversations are face-to-face, multi-party interactions, in which the contribution of nonverbal cues will not be addressed in this study. There are a total of 33 different speakers in the conversations, 20 women and 13 men. The level of education of the participants has not been controlled for, although there is a preponderance of college-aged young people, as many of the recordings were originally collected for class assignments in CA courses.
In the present conversational corpus, initial adverbial clauses can be described in terms of the information patterns they form, and in terms of the interactional functions they serve. While the dichotomy between the information management or patterning and interactional functions of language is not a discrete one, there is value in approaching the description of adverbial clause usage with this division in mind. Because previous studies of adverbial clause usage have focused on monologue data, we know the kind of work such clauses do in less interactive discourse. That work has been described mainly in terms of information management. Prior studies have consistently pointed to a shift function for initial adverbial clauses. In monologue texts, such clauses set off prior discourse from discourse that follows. An initial adverbial clause uses information that has either appeared in some form in the previous discourse, or that follows sequentially from a point in the previous talk. Such information is either taken directly, negated or put in a contrasting form, or simply introduced as a possible option. The adverbial clause then constitutes explicit background for the following discourse.
With those findings as a source of comparison, we can look at the occurrence of adverbial clauses in conversation to see what such clauses do in encoding and organizing information and, additionally, in managing and maintaining interaction and the social roles of parties in conversations. It is assumed that information patterns, relations of these clauses to their textual environments, exist in conjunction with the interactional work that is being done at any point in a conversation.
In this study, I have used the framework of conversation analysis, and the body of findings associated with that approach, to examine the distribution and functions of temporal, conditional, and causal adverbial clauses in a corpus of American English conversation. In the present corpus, in line with findings from prior text-based analyses, discourse-structuring functions are realized through initial adverbial clauses, while final adverbial clauses tend to work more locally in narrowing main clause meaning without creating links or shift points in a larger discourse pattern. I have suggested that the pattern whereby conditional clauses are most likely to be initial, and causal clauses final, is related to an interaction between the inherent meanings of these clauses and the discourse functions those meanings are particularly suitable for serving. The common discourse organizational use of if-clauses is likely related to their hypothetical meaning; they are used to create temporary discourse realities, introducing and forming the background for associated modified material. Causal clauses, which present the sources and precipitating states or events that explain other states or events, are well-suited for appearing after the proposition, to be expanded upon, and for introducing background elaboration. They are especially useful as the vehicles for further explanation when problems arise in interaction. Temporal clauses are used most often in post-verbal position, functioning to ground the situation represented by the verb in time. When temporal clauses are placed initially, they are commonly involved in the structuring of discourse involving sequenced events. Temporal clauses are least common after the preceding clause has been finished with ending intonation.
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