It's all about the interaction: listener responses as a discourse-organisational variable
Eiswirth, Mirjam Elisabeth
Language is humanity’s key tool for communication. This entails the fact that it generally occurs in interaction between two or more individuals. However, we do not yet have a theory of language variation and change that integrates our understanding of the interactional nature of language with the variationist analysis. This is especially challenging for variables above the level of the phoneme, but also applies to phonological variables that are impacted by the interactional context they stand in. This thesis focuses on Listener Responses, a variable above the level of the phoneme, and presents a theory and methodology of sociolinguistic variation that allows us to develop (1) interactionally sensitive de1nitions of discourselevel variables, the envelope of variation, and to quantify them in an accountable manner, (2) coding schemes which situate the function-based variants in the interactional structure and thus allow for an analysis of structural constraints on variation, and (3) a way of applying inferential statistics to variation based on structural as well as social variables. With respect to phonological variables, this thesis shows how the level of (inter)action relates to the actual realisations we observe. This is done based on the example of Listener Responses as a discourseorganisational variable, and gender as a social variable. Listener Responses are de1ned as all the things Listener can do without taking over the 2oor. Their frequency is thus quanti1ed relative to the number of words in the longer stretch of talk produced by the main Speaker. In the data at hand here, cross-gender accommodation is observed, with female Listeners decreasing their response frequency when listening to men, and male Listeners increasing theirs when listening to women. Next, a taxonomy of Listener Response actions is developed based on existing interactional literature and a close structural and interactional analysis of the data. Seven Action Types are proposed, and used as a coding scheme in the next two analysis chapters. The third analysis chapter shows variation in the frequency of the individual Action Types based on Speaker and Listener gender. There is an important structural constraint on variation located at the level of interactional structure: those Action Types that are strongly predicated by what the main Speaker does in the segment preceding the response are more strongly in2uenced by the main Speaker, while the Listener has a greater impact on those that are not constrained by the preceding segment. Both the 1rst and this analysis chapter draw on zero-in2ated poisson regression analysis as a useful tool for the analysis of variation in frequency. The 1nal analysis chapter looks at the relationship between the different action types and the actual linguistic realisation of the utterance, thus linking the discourse-level to the phonetic and prosodic level. It demonstrates that the linguistic realisation of any Listener Response is tailored to the talk that has preceded it on all levels of linguistic structure, and that prosodic and lexical shape need to be considered together, particularly for lexical items that can be used to do different actions. Overall, this thesis contributes to sociolinguistic theory and methodology by presenting a way of integrating interactional and variationist analyses from the de1nition of the variable, the envelope of variation, an overall frequency operationalisation, describing and de1ning the variants, to exploring the link between interactional function and linguistic realisation. It can be extended to other variables, both linguistic and social.