1 Preface

Note:All quoted passages and page numbers are from John J. Gumperz, Discourse Strategies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) unless otherwise noted.

"This book seeks to develop interpretive sociolinguistic approaches to the analysis of real time processes in face to face encounters." p. vii.

"Detailed observation of verbal strategies revealed that an individual's choice of speech style has symbolic value and interpretive consequences that cannot be explained simply by correlating the incidence of linguistic variants with independently determined social and contextual categories." p. vii.

"Sociolinguistic variables are themselves constitutive of social reality ad can be treated as part of a more general class of indexical signs which guide and channel the interpretation of intent." p. vii.

2 Introduction (Ch. 1)

"Only when a move has elicited a response can we say communication is taking place." p. 1.

"Conversationalists thus rely on indirect inferences which build on background assumptions about context, interactive goals and interpersonal relations to derive frames in terms of which they can interpret what is going on." p. 2.

"Understanding presupposes conversational involvement. A general theory of discourse strategies must therefore begin by specifying the linguistic and socio-cultural knowledge that needs to be shared if conversational involvement is to be maintained, and then go on to deal with what it is about the nature of conversational inference that makes for cultural, subcultural and situational specificity of interpretation." p. 2-3.

Two "dialogic properties" of exchanges:

  1. "interpretations are jointly negotiated" ... "and judgements either confirmed or changed by the reactions they evoke."
  2. "conversations in themselves often contain internal evidence of what the outcome is, i.e. of whether or not participants share interpretive conventions or succeed in achieving their communicative ends." p. 5.

"Language differences play an important, positive role in signalling information as well as in creating and maintaining the subtle boundaries of power, status, role and occupational specialization that make up the fabric of our social life." pp. 6-7.

"By careful examination of the signalling mechanisms that conversationalists react to, one can isolate cues and symbolic conventions through which distance is maintained or frames of interpretation are created." p. 7.

3 The Sociolinguistics of Interpersonal Interaction (Ch. 2)

3.1 Structural Linguistics

An important discovery 19th-century scholarship was that grammatical structure is the underlying dynamic of all verbal communication.

  1. Jacob Grimm and others had already demonstrated that "one cannot rely on comparison of words as meaningful wholes." One must analyze patterning the level of both form and content. p. 9.
  2. "It was not until scholars ceased to concentrate on articulatory facts as such and began to focus on contrastive relationships among acoustically similar sets of sound stimuli that valid generalizations became possible." p. 10.
  3. "The distinction based on empirical observations and abstractions based on contrasts at the level of sound and meaning is reflected in ... Saussure's classic dichotomy between parole or speech and langue or language." p. 10.
  4. The aim of the contrastive studies carried out in structural linguistics "is to eliminate redundancies and test for gaps in the data so as to derive a minimal set of relationally defined categories which, while not necessarily faithful to articulatory detail, nevertheless can, with the aid of linguistic realization rules, account for what is meaningful ... " p. 11.

"In its most general form, structuralist theory hold that human cognition can be described in terms of abstract, relationally defined, context free symbolic categories." p. 11. QV Barthes 1964 and Levi-Strauss 1976.

"Only data which had been removed from situated contexts and transposed into abstract categories through further intensive elicitation sifting and hypothesis testing could serve as the basis for generalizations about language functioning." p. 12.

3.2 Grammatical Systems

Benjamin Lee Whorf's work on the relationship between the grammatical systems of Native American languages and on the world view of their speakers led to a view of meaning which is opposed to the then-current and still widely held philosopher's view that human linguistic reasoning is describable in terms of universal logical processes, which are independent of the way in which propositions are expressed in particular languages and cultures. Sapir sees meaning as both culture bound and subconsciously patterned." p. 14.

"It seems clear than knowledge of grammatical rules is an essential component of the interactive competence that speakers must have to interact and cooperate with others. Thus if we can show that individuals interacting through linguistic signs are effective in cooperating with others in the conduct of their affairs, we have prima facie evidence for the existence of shared grammatical structure. One need not as the nineteenth-century normative grammarians did, and many modern educators continue to do, attempt to judge an individual's basic linguistic ability in reference to an a priori set of grammatical standards." p. 19.

"I believe that to understand the role of language in education and in social processes in general, we need to begin with a closer understanding of how linguistic signs interact with social knowledge in discourse." (Gumperz 1982: 29).

3.3 Communicative Interactions

"There is a need for a sociolinguistic theory which accounts for the communicative functions of linguistic variability and for its relation to speakers' goals without reference to untestable functionalist assumptions about conformity or nonconformance to closed systems of norms."

  1. Since speaking is interacting, such a theory must draw its basic postulates from what we know about interaction. "It must account for the fact that being able to interact also implies some sharing." p.
  2. "Empirical methods must be found to determine the extent to which underlying knowledge is shared." p. 30.

"Interpretations of intent are of course unstable. ... A multiplicity of interpretations is always possible ..." p. 32.

4 Conversational Code Switching (Ch. 4)

Definition: "Conversational code switching can be defined as the juxtaposition within the same speech exchange of passages of speech belonging to two different grammatical systems of subsystems." p. 59. 2.

Purpose: "That code switching serves to convey semantically significant information in verbal interaction has not been systematically explored. The purpose of the present chapter is to focus on these communicative aspects of code switching; to show how speakers and listeners utilize subconsciously internalized social and grammatical knowledge in interpreting bilingual conversations." pp. 63-64.

4.1 Some Social Uses of Conversational Code Switching

"It is this overly marked separation between in- and out-group standards which perhaps best characterizes the bilingual experience." p. 65.

"What distinguishes bilinguals from their monolingual neighbors is the juxtaposition of cultural forms: the awareness that their own mode of behavior is only one of several possible modes, that style of communication affects the interpretation of what a speaker intends to communicate and that there are others with different communicative conventions and standards of evaluation that must not only be taken into account but that can also be imitated or mimicked for special communicative effect." p. 65.

  1. in-group = we;
  2. out-group = they.

See p. 66.


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