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.