Silence in Spontaneous Dyadic English Conversation
Structures, Meanings and Functions
This research attempts at an exploration into the silence phenomenon as it occurs in dyadic English conversations. The fundamental position assumed throughout is that silence is far more than a mere absence of speech; rather it is a linguistically significant category constituting an integral part of the communicative framework of conversation. Accordingly, it is argued that as such, three dimensions might be identified for silence, namely, structure, meaning and function.
Stemming from this assumption and based on a quick literature review as well as a critical examination of the preliminaries concerning both the structure and organization of the conversation (such as the concept of turn, turn-constructional unit etc.), a theoretical construct is proposed, developed and finally illustrated with two case studies. Broadly speaking, this construct comprises three components, i.e. a classification scheme, a descriptive/explanatory framework, and an analytic model.
To begin with, it is contended that silence in conversation is classifiable and that it can most aptly be classified according to its location within the overall conversational structure. Two general categories are first distinguished at the primary level, respectively referred to as within-turn and between-turn silence, with the turn serving as the reference unit. Within each category, subdivisions are further made, still b the location criterion: under the rubric of within-turn silence are differentiated within-unit and between-unit silences with the turn-constructional unit as the reference unit, whilst under that of between-turn silence are distinguished Sequence-internal and Sequence-external silences with the reference unit being the carefully defined unit of Sequence.
Next, the categories and subcategories thus identified are discussed in great detail in terms of the three dimensions of structure, meaning and function, thereby developing a descriptive and explanatory model. Under the heading of structure, three parameters are identified, i.e., location, duration and frequency, which are respectively dealt with for each (sub)category. The meanings of silence are likewise treated by dividing them into the two broad aspects of connotative and denotative ones on the latter of which is placed greater emphasis by postulating the mechanism entailed by the interpretation of such meanings. With regard to the dimension of functions, it is argued that occurring within the context of conversation which is characterized by the simultaneous presence of cognitive planning and dynamic interaction between participants, silence in conversation may acquire both cognitive and interactional functions (in the case of between-unit silences, a linguistic function is also involved). Furthermore, there exists some degree of interaction between the multiple functions thus identified.
It is further pointed out that conversation is also featured as being simultaneously a process as well as a product, based on which, different perspectives may be adopted in examining the silence phenomenon occurring within. An analytic model is therefore developed by viewing conversation more as an ongoing process than as an accomplished product where the relationship between various categories and subcategories, with its nature being identified as actualization, is explored.
Thereafter, two case studies of spontaneous conversation excerpts are provided in order to both testify the validity of the theoretical construct thus developed and demonstrate its operationality.
Finally, it is noted that this research may have a number of significant implications, not only to linguistic studies proper, in particular, pragmatics and discourse analysis, but also to some other disciplines such as cognitive science, psychopathology and artificial intelligence. It is believed, therefore, that the present research, by investigating one of the integral, albeit long-neglected, component of conversation, will eventually prove to fill a critical gap in the study of, in a narrow sense, conversation, and in a broad sense, the overall human communicative network; and in an even wider perspective, it might as well turn out to be conducive to the advancement of a number of pertaining disciplines.
ISBN 9783895866760. LINCOM Studies in Pragmatics 11. 190pp. 2002.