Date of Award

1-1-1999

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Professor Ian Malcolm

Second Advisor

Dr. Graham McKay

Abstract

This study compares the use of overlap and listener response by Chinese and Australian speakers in their respective intracultural conversations, that is, in conversations between Chinese interlocutors in Mandarin Chinese and between Australians in Australian English. The main purpose of this study is to locate similarities and differences between these two groups of speakers in their use of the two conversational strategies. Another major theme of the thesis is to examine the role of gender in the use of overlap and listener response in conversations of the two languages. The study is based upon the theoretical premise of interactional sociolinguistics that different cultural groups may have different rules for participation and interpretation of conversation and that conflicts related to these rules are a major source of cross cultural (and cross gender) miscommunication. It is also a response to lack of evidence for this claim from languages other than English, especially from Chinese. The data for the study are from 30 dyadic conversations between friends of similar age and similar social status: 15 Chinese conversations in Mandarin Chinese and 15 Australian ones in Australian English. Both the Australian and the Chinese conversations come from 5 female-female dyads, 5 male-male dyads and 5 male-female dyads. Both the qualitative and the quantitative aspects of the use of overlap and listener response are compared. With respect to the use of overlap, the qualitative part of the study examines the various phenomena that the speakers orient to in overlap onset, the procedures they use to resolve the state of overlap, and the strategies they employ to retrieve their overlapped utterances. The quantitative part of the study then compares the use of overlap by Chinese and Australian speakers and their respective male and female participants in terms of overlap onset, resolution, and/or retrieval . In regard to the use of listener response, the qualitative part of the study looks at how passive recipiency and speakership incipiency are signalled and achieved through the use of different listener response tokens in conversations of the two languages. The quantitative part of the study compares the use of listener response by Chinese and Australian speakers and male and female participants in three aspects: the overall frequency of listener responses used, the types of listener responses favoured, and the placements of listener responses with reference to a possible completion point. The results of the comparison reveal a number of similarities and differences in the use of overlap and listener response by Chinese and Australian speakers. For the use of overlap, the similarities include: 1) Both Chinese and Australian speakers have the same set of issues to orient to in their initiation of overlap, resort to the same basic procedures in resolving the state of overlap, and use the same strategies in retrieving their overlapped utterances; 2) they use a similar number of overlaps; 3) they start their overlaps mostly at a possible completion point; 4) they tend to continue with their talk more than to drop out when an overlap occurs. Two specific differences have also been identified in the use of overlap by Chinese and Australian speakers: 1) Australians initiate a higher percentage of their overlaps at a possible completion point whereas Chinese initiate a greater proportion of their overlaps in the midst of a turn; 2) when overlap occurs, Chinese speakers drop out more to resolve the state of overlap while Australian speakers continue their talk more to get through the overlap. For the use of listener response, the similarities lie largely in the ways of orienting to an extended turn unit by Chinese and Australian recipients in a conversation. Available in conversations of both languages are the two distinctive uses of listener response, that is, to show passive recipiency or to signal speakership incipiency. The differences between the two groups of speakers in the use of listener response include: 1) Australians use more listener responses than Chinese speakers; 2) while Australians prefer to use linguistic lexical expressions such as 'yeh' and 'right' as their reaction to the primary speaker's ongoing talk, Chinese speakers favour the use of paralinguistic vocalic forms such as 'hm' and 'ah'; 3) whereas Australians place a higher percentage of their listener responses at a possible completion point than Chinese speakers, Chinese speakers place a larger proportion of their listener responses in the midst of a turn than their Australian counterparts. While the similarities between Chinese and Australian speakers in their use of overlap and listener response indicate to a great extent the sharing of similar organising principles for conversation by both languages, the differences show some culture-specific aspects of the use of these two conversational strategies by the two groups of speakers. The study found a striking parallel between the differential use of overlap and listener response by Chinese and Australian speakers and their different perceptions of rights and obligations in social life, including in social interaction. The study does not reveal consistent cross-cultural patterns with respect to the use of overlap and listener response by male and female speakers in Chinese and Australian conversations. That is, gender has not played an identical role in the use of the two conversational strategies in conversations of, the two languages. Gender differential interactional patterns are to a great extent culture-specific. This finding, together with that of within-culture and within-gender variation, cautions us against any universal claim about gender-differential use of a given conversational phenomenon, whether the claims are based on deficit, or dominance, or difference assumptions in language and gender theories.

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