Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 5, No 1 (2011)

Imagining conversation: how people think people do things with words

Klaus P. Schneider
Issued Date: 26 Apr 2012


Written representations of oral communication such as dramatic discourse do not display hesitation phenomena, backchanneling and interruptions. At the same time, they do include all essential features – otherwise audiences would not be able to understand drama. The question is what these essential features are and how they can be identified and explained. The paper reports on an experimental study of casual conversation. The aim was to investigate pragmatic variation across varieties of English. Data were collected from adolescent native speakers in England, Ireland and the USA by employing a dialogue construction task. The elicited dialogues were found to be remarkably consistent in each variety, but not across varieties. It is argued that this type of pragmatic variation can be attributed to different underlying cultural scripts, which are conventionalized patterns stored in the long-term memory of language users. It is further argued that these scripts can be established empirically by analyzing comparable sets of elicited dialogues. While this type of dialogue may not represent what people would actually say in real life, they represent what is considered appropriate in a particular type of situation. Such scripts seem to guide the production and comprehension of imagined conversation.

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DOI: 10.1558/sols.v5i1.15


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