Sequential and linguistic-phonetic design of indirectness in talk-in-interaction

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Language and Linguistic Science


One problem in understanding the relationship between language structure and meaning is indirectness; that is how speakers can mean something else (or something more) than their words appear to say. Speakers in all forms of interaction from informal conversation through more formal workplace and institutional interactions are commonly indirect in expressing themselves. Instead of saying directly what they wish to say or answering/responding directly, speakers may choose instead to allude to or imply something, leaving it to their recipients to interpret their meaning.

The research will investigate natural conversation to discover how speakers use phonetic features and the sequential organisation of turns at talk to accomplish indirectness. We will also investigate how these phonetic and sequential features are reacted to by their interlocutors. By doing this we give our analysis a firm grounding in the behaviour of ordinary people engaged in everyday conversation. This contrasts with much contemporary work on indirectness which has focused of syntactic aspects and relied heavily on invented sentences with contructed contexts abstracted from any empirical, interactional context.

We will investigate indirectness in two kinds of environment which occur frequently in conversation (i) accounts in response to inquiry and (ii) disagreement sequences. Individually these environments allow us to provide detailed specification of the linguistic-phonetic design of indirectness and to analyse how such utterances are interpreted by interactants. They will also facilitate comparative analysis of linguistic resources for producing and interpreting indirect talk.


10 25 50