Interaction Theories

Accommodation (Howard Giles)

Speakers tend to adapt their language to accommodate for others in a conversation.  Moving closer to the other person is known as convergence while moving further away is known as divergence.  Either of these can be done upwards by making your speech more standard/prestige or downwards by moving further from standard forms.

Face (Erving Goffman)

People always have a face they are projecting in conversation, and generally participants co-operate to maintain each other’s faces – this is what we mean by idioms like ‘saving face’.

Positive and Negative Face (Brown and Levinson)

Our negative face wishes to act independently, to not be imposed on by others.  Our positive face wishes to be liked and to feel a part of things.
In many conversations, we need to ‘threaten’ people’s faces by asking them to do something that imposes on their freedom, or by criticising them.  We tend to seek to lessen these face-threatening acts or FTAs with politeness strategies.
Strategies that appeal to people’s positive face by making them feel liked, accepted, ‘part of the group’, such as informality, shared references, are known as positive politeness strategies.
Those strategies that appease people’s negative face by lessening the imposition or acknowledging it, such as hedging and modal verbs, are known as negative politeness strategies.  Negative politeness is more polite than positive politeness, and is more likely to be used towards people of higher status.  There are also cultural differences – negative strategies are often considered typically ‘British’.
The terminology can be confusing here – just go with it!

Co-operative Principle (Grice)

All participants in conversation are co-operative.  People don’t always make perfect sense, but we are able to infer what they mean because we make an effort to meet them halfway.  Speakers use impicature, they imply.  Hearers use inference, they infer.  Successful conversations follow 4 maxims:

  • Relation: stay on topic, make relevant contributions.
  • Quality: make contributions which are true or for which you have evidence.
  • Quantity: say neither too much nor too little.
  • Manner: make clear contributions which present information in a well-organised way.

(again, be careful with this terminology – we see students getting it wrong far too often…)

Speech Features

Utterance: a segment of speech, or a turn.  We don’t talk about ‘sentences’ in speech, since we often speak in units which are not grammatically sentences.

Pauses & micropauses: pauses are measured in seconds; a micropauses is less than a second.  Be careful about saying these show hesitancy – with no pauses, we’d never understand each other (or breathe!)

Fillers: words used to fill a gap.  Non-verbal fillers or voice-filled pauses are noises (like er) used to fill a gap.  They don’t have semantic meaning, but can sometimes tell us something about the speaker’s attitude or status.

Hedges: words used to soften (or play down) what’s being said (e.g. Kinda)

Discourse markers: words or phrases used to signal a shift in topic (e.g. anyway)

Adjacency pair: a pair of utterances spoken by different people which have a natural relationship (e.g. question/answer, greeting/greeting)

Three-part exchange: a pattern of ABA speech between two people with a natural relationship (e.g. question/answer/feedback)

Interruption: an utterance at the same time as someone else is speaking, with the intention of stealing the turn or changing the topic,  A competitive move

Overlap: an utterance at the same time as someone else is speaking but without breaking their speech (e.g. mistiming the start of a turn or providing support)

Support/backchannel: utterances which encourage the speaker to keep talking by indicating listening or interest (e.g. Really)

Monitoring device: word or phrase used to elicit feedback or to check people are listening (e.g. y’know)

Tag/tail: extra word/phrase at the end of a turn, sometimes repeating information already established (e.g. I really like her, Sophie – where “her” = Sophie)

Tag question: extra question tagged after a declarative statement where the verb is the same or a dummy auxiliary (e.g. He likes that, doesn’t he – note the polarity swaps as well, so a positive statement has a negative tag and vice versa)


Don’t forget to use terms from other frameworks too – grammatical terms will gain you marks in speech analysis as well.

Blended Mode

This is a huge area – it can perhaps even be argued that so very few texts are ‘really’ written or spoken that the majority of texts are blended in some way.  That’s an extreme position, of course, but it does prove that mode is not straightforward and is worthy of discussion beyond just “x is in the written mode while y is in the spoken mode”.

Things to particularly consider about blended texts include:

  • The primary channel of reception and its effect (i.e. is it a visual or aural text)
  • How interactive the text is – is it monologic or dialogic
  • What is the relationship between writer/speaker and audience, and how does this manifest in the text
  • The degree of spontaniety or pre-planning and how that impacts the text
  • In electronic texts, does the lexis show features of ‘txt lang’ e.g. acronymisation etc
  • How formal or otherwise is the text in terms of lexis, syntax and structure?

Spoken Mode

Speech is often stereotyped as colloquial, spontaneous and less important than writing.  Don’t let yourself slip into such oversimplifications!

Make sure you check out the speech page for help with the features of spoken language.

Things to particularly consider about spoken texts include:

  • How participants use phonology for effect
  • How interaction is managed, e.g. through features for monitoring and feedback and through structures like adjacency pairs and three part exchanges
  • How participants co-operate and use facework or accommodation
  • Aspects of planning and preparation, e.g. does anyone use rhetorical devices
  • The shape of the exchange – this may be traced via topic shifts and/or through the balance of power in the conversation

Written Mode

We often think of written mode texts as being formal, largely because they tend to be planned, permanent and non-interactive.  Make sure your analysis is more subtle and specific than this.

Things to particularly consider about written texts include:

  • How graphology is manipulated for effect
  • How the audience is positioned (what assumptions are made about who will read this text)
  • The level of formality and specificity of the lexis
  • What devices the text uses to relate to the reader (e.g. personalisation – synthetic or otherwise – or features more typical of the spoken mode)
  • How structure is used and created in the text – both at the discourse level (the shape of the text as a whole) and at the sentence level (written language can allow more manipulation of syntax)


At its most basic, mode is about differentiating writing from speech, but of course it’s a lot more complex than that and it is quite possible for you to be quite subtle about it.  Please avoid the temptation to declare everything ‘mixed mode’ – remember to visualise mode as a continuum with the most formal written text (legal statutes perhaps) at one end and the most casual conversation at the other.

It is useful to think of the concept of mode as a set of paired concepts, opposites on a series of continuums.  You could ask yourself questions like the following:

How spontaneous or planned is the text?

How known or unknown is the audience?

How monologic or interactive is the text?

The Interaction page should remind you of the theories to refer to in analysing any text which involves interaction between two or more people.

A consideration of mode will enrich comparative analyses of texts, and is therefore useful in the meanings and representations task when shifting from single text to paired text analysis. It is also a required element in analysis of Paris texts for AQA Lang-Lit.




The context of a text includes several factors:
Genre – what kind of text is it and how does this colour the kind of language that can be used?

Audience – for whom was this text produced?  What assumptions does the producer of the text make about the audience?  Again, how is this evidenced in the language?

Purpose – what are the purposes of this text (there’s very rarely only one)  What in the language tells you these are the purposes?

Mode – how is this text received? What are the mode factors?

Writing about context at A Level requires more subtlety and precision than GCSE.  For example, a broadsheet article may indeed be intended for ‘an educated audience’, but if it’s a piece seeking to persuade people to buy organic fruit and veg, it assumes that its audience doesn’t already, and that they care about the issues the article raises. You will gain more marks for showing how these factors affect the language chosen, than for simply stating them.