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This paper addresses the question of social interaction in both casual talk and institutional setting using conversation analysis (CA) tools. In so doing, the discussion is based on two conversations. The first is a phone call between two friends and the other is a job interview. The main objective of this discussion is to identify interaction characteristics in both casual talk and institutional settings. The remaining of this paper is organized as follows. Part 1 is an outline of CA. part 2 is a review of social interaction in CA. Part 3 is context. Part 4 is an analysis of the data. Part 5 is conclusion.
Conversation Analysis (CA)
CA is defined as “the systematic analysis of the talk produced in everyday situations of human interaction: talk-in-interaction” (Hutchby and Wooffitt, 1998: 13). It is essentially an approach to discover how participants in a conversation understand and respond to each other by means of investigating elements of turn talks, repairs, overlaps, pauses, openings and closings, building arguments, the construction of questions and answers, etc. The early development of CA is rooted in sociology at the hands of Harvey Sacks. He was concerned with finding “a way in which sociology could become a naturalistic, observational science” (Hutchby and Wooffitt, 1998: 25). Now, CA is an interdisciplinary approach as it is related to sociology, critical discourse analysis (CDA), and linguistics. In CA, analysts are only concerned with real talk whether it is formal or informal. The most important consideration in CA is understanding and talk in interaction as a social process and realizing the social situations in which talk is used (Liddicoat, 2007).
Social interaction in Conversation Analysis (CA)
The relationship between language or utterances and social interaction action has long been investigated (Fitch and Sanders, 2005). In How to do Things with Words, Austin (1962) argues that sentences or utterances are not only formative. He points to some kind of sentences he calls Performative sentences. He explains that such sentences are not meant to be true or false but they perform a certain kind of action. Then Searle (1969) developed speech acts theory. The main assumption of this theory is that speech acts are broadly classified under three headings: locutionary force, illocutionary force, and perlocutionary force. A remarkable development of the analysis between talk and social interaction, however, is the development of conversation analysis theory.
CA is concerned with investigating talk as an activity through which speakers try to achieve some goals or interactional effects. Atkinson and Heritage (1984) explain “The central goal of conversation analytic research is the description and explication of the competences that ordinary speakers use and rely on in participating in intelligible socially organized interaction. At its most basic, this objective is one of describing the procedures by which conversationalists produce their own behaviour and understand that of others” (Atkinson and Heritage, 1984: 1).
The method adopted here is based on Sacks’ approach to the study of conversation. The main assumption of this approach is that conversation is not merely utterances. Rather, it is a process of social interaction where participants communicate with each other to achieve meaningful orderly conversation and even social goals. This is what this discussion seeks to discover by giving two examples from two different contexts.
This discussion takes two pieces of actual talk as examples of interaction. The first is a phone call between 2 friends where the caller is telling the recipients about a job recently advertised. The second conversation is a job interview that was conducted at the Egyptian General Tourist Guides Syndicate. The interview is essential for anyone who wants to work as an accredited tour guide in Egypt. The interview was recorded and broadcasted by Alqahera Alyoum (Cairo Today), one of the most celebrated talk shows in Egypt and the Middle East. The interview is just a part of the clip which is a report, a number of job interviews, and comments from the show presenters. This clip was downloaded from YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6N1czrbagg).
The rationale of using recorded data is that “it enables repeated and detailed examination of particular events in interaction and hence greatly enhances the range and precision of the observations that can be made” (Atkinson and Heritage, 1984). The recorded talk is then transcribed using Jefferson’s transcription system as shown in the two subsections below. The idea of using a transcription is to capture talk as it actually occurs. Transcription “is a process of writing down in as close detail as possible such features of the recorded interaction as the precise beginning and end points of turns, the duration of pauses, audible sounds which are not words (such as breathiness and laughter), or which are ambiguous vocalizations, and marking the stresses, extensions and truncations that are found in individual words and syllables” (Hutchby and Wooffitt, 1998:75).
Conversation No. 1
Fifi: Hello, Omar. This is Fifi. How are you?
Omar: I’m fine. How’ r You?
Fifi: It’s been long time.
Fifi: It’s been long time. Hope everything is ok.
Omar: Yea, everything is ok. How are you?
Fifi: Fine, Fine. [Everything is ok].
Omar: [How are you doing?]
Fifi: I’m calling you today; I’m calling you today because
I knew you might be interested in the in the library job (0.5)
The job in the university library.
Omar: Have they advertised for it?
Fifi: Yea, it is already advertised on the web site: .
Omar: Ah ha
Fifi: It’s it’s to work on the stores of the library. (0.4)
It’s for 20 hours per week.
Omar: How many sorry? How many hours sorry?
Fifi: It is twenty hours.
Omar: Twenty hours per week so I think I can go for it
> because I don need a work permit <.
Omar: Ah ha
Fifi: And it’s from Monday to Friday. Ten till two.
Fifi: It’s Monday to Friday.
Omar: Ah ha
Fifi: Ten till two
Omar: Ah ha (0.6) so do you think it is a good job?
Fifi: I think it is a very good job. It allows you to be in the university
[and gives a lot of money]
Omar: [Are they going to pay well?] Ya because it is university… going (0.3)
Are you applying for it? You yourself? Are you applying for it?
Fifi: No, I’m not.
Fifi: I’ve already applied for a one and waiting to know
if being elective or not
Omar: Ah ha. So you recommend me to apply. Ya?
Fifi: Ya, it has a lot of potentials.
Conversation No. 2
The interview is mostly in Arabic. However, as a requirement of the job, the candidate or applicant should have a good knowledge of English as a second language. So the conversation starts with the IR asking the IE to introduce himself in English. Lines 1-9 are the actual words of the participants while lines 10-21 are my translation of the interview as the conversation was resumed in Arabic.
Candidate: I burn in Aswan and I live in Aswan (legs shaking)
Employer: I what?
Candidate: ((Nodding)) Burn in Aswan (0.3) [and I live in Aswan]. (0.5)
Employer: ((speaking to himself in a very low voice)) [Oh shit!]
Candidate: My favorite hobbies
Employer: (Interrupting) What?
Candidate: My favorite hobbies
Employer: (Interrupting again) My favorite Hobbies?
Candidate: My favorite hobbies reading Islamic book
Employer: So how can you explain pilgrimage in English?
Candidate: ((Holding his forehead)) Pilgrimage!
Employer: You are a graduate from from E.G.O.T.H Institute in Luxor
so I suggest we can talk a little bit about Luxor Temple
and Valley of the Kings and the like.
Candidate: I don’t think so.
Candidate: I don’t think so.
Employer: (Staring) You say: I don’t think so.
Candidate: We have not received a lot of information at the institute (0.5)
Only very little information about English
and I wish to improve my skills on that God willing (0.5).
But any other information on any other area,
I have no idea frankly.
This section is concerned with investigating social interaction in the two conversations detailed above in relation to turn taking, overlap and repair.
Turn taking is one of the most noticeable features of conversation. This is a normative process indicating the point at which speakers change (Liddicoat, 2007). There are no pre-allocated rules that can regulate turn taking in conversation. This is just a cognitive behavior. It depends on the nature of conversation and/ or participants (Drew and Heritage, 2006, Prevignano and Thibault, 2003, Sidnell, 2009, Wooffitt, 2005). Silences are often considered to be opportunities for the next speaker to begin. In practice, however, there are many cases where silences take place and it is inappropriate for speaker change. The discussion below is an investigation of how participants organize turn-taking and its implications on the process of social interaction in the two examples mentioned above.
In the phone call, both participants are using turn talks successfully. They produce transitions which are understood as opportunities for the other participant to start speaking. This is what Jefferson (1986) calls absolute adjacency. In lines 7 and 20, Omar is drawing the attention of Fifi that he did not hear what she was saying “Sorry?” This is immediately followed by Fifi’s repetition of the message and making it clear. Omar too raises questions and pauses with the purpose of giving Fifi the opportunity to answer his question and thus starting her turn in talk: “Have they advertised for it?” and “Are you applying for it?” Furthermore, Omar in line 31 produced a turn at talk which requires further talk from the caller: “so do you think it is a good job?” He asks her for her recommendation concerning the job. On her part, Fifi who is the caller produces short silences giving the opportunity to Omar to ask any question concerning the job.
In the job interview, the cooperative maxim which is quite obvious in the phone call between participants is not achieved here. Turn-taking is mostly based on the employer asking questions or raising a topic for discussion and the candidate producing a silence as an indicating he has nothing more to say. The two silences in lines 13 and 17 in the job interview can be interpreted as a failure on the part of the candidate. His silence is an indication that he cannot go on in this conversation. The result as known from the reporter is that he failed. So it can be claimed that the failure in conversation has its social consequence in failing in having the job.
So we can claim that
Although turn-taking in the talk or chat between friends is typically random, this is not the case in the phone call given. The caller has a specific task to achieve which is informing her friend about the job. The answerer, too, has a specific task of understanding the nature and benefits of the job and how it is applicable to his case.
Turn-taking in the job interview is an indication of power. The employer exercises some sort of institutional power over the candidate. He has the institutional authority to approve of or decline his application.
There are some cases of overlaps in the phone call. In lineâ€¦â€¦, Omar does not wait till the caller completes her speech and starts speaking. The overlap he produces is a demonstration that he understands what she is talking about. It can be claimed that the overlapping talk in the phone call is unproblematic. It gives support to the friendly atmosphere of the conversation as in lines 10-11 for instance. On the contrary, overlaps in the job interview indicate feelings of unease the employer has towards the candidate. The effect the overlapping talk produces in line 6 is disagreement and irony. He is saying (in Arabic) what is translated into ‘Oh shit’. It seems that the employer realized from the beginning that the candidate cannot be a successful candidate once using the word burn for the passive form was born.
Hutchby and Wooffitt (1998) define the term as “a generic term which is used in CA to cover a wide range of phenomena, from seeming errors in turn-taking such as those involved in much overlapping talk, to any of the forms of what we commonly would call ‘correction’ -that is, substantive faults in the contents of what someone has said” (1998): 57). Similarly, Liddicoat (2007) argues “Repair refers to the processes available to speakers through which they can deal with the problems which arise in talk (Liddicoat, 2007: 171). However, Jefferson (1987) argues that repair is not used only for correction. It has other interactional objectives as seen in many cases.
In the phone call, Fifi (the caller) is repeating the sentence “I’m calling you today” in line 12 for drawing the attention of the answerer. The opening of the conversation was very friendly. Then she moved to the main purpose of the conversation which is telling Omar about the job. The repetition may be also because she wanted to arrange her thoughts so she is more accurate about what she is telling. So repair here is not used for correction. It has other interactional goals. Then in line 18, she repeats “it is”. This can be also for rearranging her thoughts. Likewise, there are some repetitions in the Omar’s talk (the answerer) in lines 20 and 34 which indicate his tendency to make his message clear and well understood. It seems that both participants in the phone call are not native speakers of English and they have different languages. So they use English as a medium of communication.
The use of repair in the job interview is, however, different. In line 2, the employer wants to make sure that the candidate pronounced the word as ‘burn’ so he interrupted him asking ‘What?’ The appropriate use should have been ‘I was born’. In lines 7 and 9, the employer is asking the candidate about ‘hu:beeez’. It seems that he realizes that the candidate meant it to be hobbies but he is not pleased with the way he pronounced it or his use of grammatical English structures. So he wants to prove that the candidate language skills are very poor.
The concluding remarks can be summarized as follow
There are no pre-allocated rules for turn-taking. This can be achieved by different ways including raising questions and silences. In casual talk, turn-taking is almost a cooperative activity but in job interviews, it is a matter of testing the candidate communication skills.
The occurrence of overlaps achieves some interactional significance. Overlapping talk can be used for demonstrating agreement/ disagreement as seen in the job interview.
In conversation, repair is not only used for correction. It is also used for the purpose of achieving social interactional goals. These can be re-arranging thoughts, irony and sarcasm, or exercise of power.
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