Date of Award

2012

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Applied Linguistics)

School

School of Communication and Arts

Faculty

Education and Arts.

First Advisor

Associate Professor Jill Durey

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Graham McKay

Abstract

The willingness to understand the perception and practice of silence is currently receiving an increasing amount of attention in the literature on sociolinguistics and pragmatics. This study aims to investigate silence as perceived and practised by speakers of Australian English and Jordanian Arabic in casual conversation from a socio-pragmatic perspective. It also attempts to anticipate processes in which silence can be created and used in the mainstream of communication. In addition, it identifies problems in perceiving and practising silence in both cultures. The present study also looks at gender differences in both societies. Ethnographic and qualitative data were drawn from in-depth interviews, observations, and video and audio recordings. The data were collected from the North of Jordan and Western Australia. The participants of the study were 24 university students (undergraduates): twelve males and 12 females in both countries. The participants of the study were divided into two main groups: friends and people who were unacquainted. The dyadic conversations lasted for 30 minutes each. These conversations were video-taped. Ninety seconds from the beginning, 90 seconds from the middle, and 90 seconds from the end of each conversation were analysed. Praat software was used to detect the period of silence in conversations. The data analysis drew on Sacks et al’s (1974) turn-taking model, Halliday’s notion of context of situation, and Conversation Analysis. The findings of the study demonstrate that silence is significant and meaningful. It frames and structures the conversation between the interlocutors. Silence has sociolinguistic functions, and pragmatic functions which includes polite functions and discourse functions. In addition, silence is not opposite to speech. They complement each other. It has also been discovered that there are longer silences in conversations between friends rather than between people who are unacquainted. Silence is awkward in conversation between strangers, because the interlocutors are not familiar with each other. In addition, in the same–sex conversations, women practise more silences, as they feel more comfortable. There are many similarities between Jordanian and Australian speakers in perceiving and practising silence in social settings. This assumption supports the Universal Grammar of socio-pragmatic practice of silence in interpersonal communication. The results of the study contribute to an understanding of the perception and practice of silence in both societies. Practical suggestions for interpreting silence and future research are also identified.