Listenership in Japanese interaction: the contributions of laughter
This thesis contributes to the body of research on listenership. It accomplishes this through an investigation of the functions of laughter in the listening behaviour of participants in Japanese interaction. The majority of studies concerning conversational interactions have focused on the role of the speaker rather than on that of the listener. Notable work on the listener's active role in conversation includes research done by Goffman (1981), Goodwin (1986) and Gardner (2001). Laughter research has shifted from an early interest in the causes of laughter to an interest in how it is organised and how it functions in conversational interaction. Despite many studies on listenership and laughter as distinct areas of research, there have been relatively few studies on how laughter contributes to listenership behaviour. In order to explore the relationship between listenership and laughter, I used a corpus of spoken interactional data. This data consists of conversations between Japanese participants (university students and teachers) who were asked to tell each other stories about a surprising moment that they had experienced. The corpus was constructed in such a way as to make it possible to compare (1) solidary (student-student) and non-solidary (student-teacher) interactions and (2) higher status story-teller (teacher telling student) and lower status story-teller (student telling teacher) interactions. Qualitative methods (drawing on a variety of techniques of discourse analysis) were used to discover laughter patterns and functions in relation to the role of the listener both at the micro-level and in relation to the macro-structure of the surprise story-telling. Quantitative methods were used to analyse the relationship between laughter patterns/functions and the above interaction types (solidary/non-solidary and lower status/higher status interactions). I found, firstly, at the micro-level of analysis, that the listener’s laughter contributed to the co-production of conversation through functions that included: responding/reacting, constituting and maintaining. There were two patterns of the listener’s laughter that were motivated by the speaker’s laughter invitation: acceptance, and declination. Acceptance involved the functions of responding/reacting or constituting, with the listener’s laughter functioning to support mutual understanding and bonding between the participants. Declination could be related to signal the listener’s lack of support for the speaker, however, the listener used the third option, the ambivalence. This shows that despite the absence of laughter, a verbal acknowledgement or understanding response was alternatively used. In a problematic situation, the listener’s laughter was found to reveal the listener’s third contribution: the maintaining function, helping to resolve an ongoing interactional problem. At the macro-level of analysis, based on the three phases in a surprise story, I found that laughter played a key role at phase boundaries (1st: preface/telling; 2nd: telling/response; and 3rd: response/next topic). The laughter patterns and functions appeared in each boundary. The acceptance pattern was more frequent than other patterns in all of the boundaries. The responding/reacting and constituting functions mainly appeared in the acceptance. The patterns of laughter in a trouble context were rare because they only appeared in a trouble context. The maintaining function in such a context also occasionally occurred in order to repair the trouble situation. Looking at laughter in relation to the different interaction types, I found, lastly, that the solidary dyads tended to demonstrate acceptance (constituting the responding/reacting and constituting functions), while the non-solidary dyads had a greater tendency to show declination. In addition, the lower-ranked listeners tended to show ambivalence, while the higher-ranked listeners tended to be more flexible in showing either acceptance or declination. These findings suggest the existence of a relationship between laughter patterns/functions and politeness: a higher degree of solidarity and a lower degree of status can influence the display of acceptance patterns/functions and listenership behaviour; a lower degree of solidarity and a higher degree of status can indicate flexibility when choosing a response type. In a trouble situation, laughter in its various patterns/functions was used in all interaction types to recover resolutions to any impediments in the ongoing engagement. All in all, I found that laughter contributes to listenership, both through supporting affiliation and through helping to resolve ‘trouble’ situations. I showed how listenership expressed through laughter plays a role in negotiating, creating, and maintaining the relationship between the self and the other in mutual interactions. As implications, I finally indicated that such laughter activities as the display of listenership could be closely connected to the Japanese communication style.