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Social positionings

The use of social deictics like pronouns, forms of address, or names, is one way speakers align themselves to the cultural context as they understand it. Changes in intonation and pronunciation can also indicate changes in our perception of the role as a participant in an interaction, and in our alignment to others. Goffman calls such a positioning as footing, i.e. the stance we take up to ourselves and to the others present as expressed in the way we manage the production or reception of utterances. A change in footing is usually marked by a change in register, tone of voice or bodily orientation. For example, it is frequently the case in the USA that a Northerner talking to a Southerner instinctively aligns his/her way of talking on that of the Southerner, as a sign of conversational co-operation; similarly, a native speaker who starts adopting a style of speaking called “foreigner talk” when talking to a foreigner, shows a convergence that can be interpreted either as cultural solidarity or as the display of cultural power. We can see the same phenomenon occurring in classrooms. A teacher talks differently to her pupils when she addresses them as a class or as individual children. (1. Now listen everybody. 2. At ten o’clock we’ll have assembly. We’ll all go out together and go to the auditorium and sit in the first two rows. Mr. Dock, the principal, is going to speak to us. When he comes in, sit quietly and listen carefully. 3. Don’t wiggle your legs. Pay attention to what I’m saying). Mind the switch in tone and in the use of pronouns. Three different footings are involved here: the first statement is a claim on the children’s immediate behavior, the second is a review of experience to come, and the third a side remark to a particular child. The teacher, as a speaker, switches roles from being a principal (institutional voice) to being an animator of her students’ voices (we), to becoming an individual demanding to be listened to.

Defining one’s footing can be achieved through code-switching. It is a verbal strategy by which bilingual or bidialectal speakers change linguistic code within the same speech event as a sign of cultural solidarity or distance, and as an act of identity. (Tolstoy)

Changes in footing correspond to a change in the way we perceive events and are connected with a change in our frame for events. (Framing is an ability to apply a frame of interpretation to an utterance or speech event through a contextualization cue).

E.g. Discussions in the groups of American and Japanese students.

The American students perpetuate a discussion style typical of American academic culture, in which a problem posed at the outset gets tackled without further ado by whoever takes the initiative to start the discussion. The Japanese speakers negotiate not only the procedural aspects of the subsequent discussion, but also a hierarchical order within the group. The question of who speaks first is, in Japanese culture, of paramount importance. In all the Japanese group discussions, a female member started, followed by the other female member, than by the younger male member, and last by the oldest male member.



Protecting face

The ultimate aim of negotiating frames and footings in conversation is to protect one’s own and other participants’ face at all times. Face is a person’s social need to both belong to a group and be independent of that group.

Members of a cultural group need to feel respected and not impinged upon in their autonomy, pride, and self-sufficiency (negative face). They also need to be reinforced in their view of themselves as polite, considerate, respectful members of their culture (positive face). These two contradictory needs require delicate facework, since it is the interest of all participants in a verbal exchange that everyone maintain both their negative and positive face, so that the exchange can continue.

The negotiation of frames and footings and the facework accomplished in verbal encounters among members of a given social group gives rise to group-specific discourse styles. What distinguish people from different cultures are the different ways they use orate and literate discourse styles in various speech genres for various social purposes.


Date: 2015-12-18; view: 663


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Spoken language, oral culture | Conversational style
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