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Historical pragmatics and early speech recordings: Diachronic developments in turn-taking and narrative structure in radio talk shows


Jucker, Andreas H; Landert, Daniela (2015). Historical pragmatics and early speech recordings: Diachronic developments in turn-taking and narrative structure in radio talk shows. Journal of Pragmatics, 79:22-39.

Abstract

So far studies in historical pragmatics have invariably relied on written data, but in recent years archives of spoken language have become available that reach back to the early decades of the twentieth century. They make it possible to study the diachrony of spoken language. However, records of dialogic speech that are suitable for a pragmatic analysis are somewhat more recent. One such archive is the collection of podcasts of the popular BBC Radio 4 programme “Desert Island Discs”, which reaches back to the 1950s. In these programmes, a well-known person is interviewed on the eight music recordings that they would take along if they were cast away alone on a desert island. They provide half a century of recordings of a communicative situation that has remained more or less unchanged: a radio presenter in conversation with a celebrity.
In this study we analyse diachronic developments in some of the details of the turn-taking system (turn length, question intonation, hesitation markers) and the role they play in the narrative structures of these conversations. The early recordings are styled as interviews in a question – answer format. The radio presenter asks specific questions and adopts the stance of an audience who is unlikely to know the answers to any of these questions. Whether the presenter himself/herself actually already knows the answer is largely immaterial. The celebrity, in turn, provides short, relatively self-contained answers to these questions. In more recent years, however, the presenter and the celebrity are more likely to cooperate in their different roles to jointly produce a narrative. The presenter brings in a larger amount of background knowledge on the details of the celebrity’s life, which the audience may or may not share, and encourages the celebrity to pick up the narrative and continue the story. This overall change from an interview format to the format of a shared narrative is reflected in the minute details of the turn-taking system with differences in turn length and the use of question intonation and hesitation markers.

So far studies in historical pragmatics have invariably relied on written data, but in recent years archives of spoken language have become available that reach back to the early decades of the twentieth century. They make it possible to study the diachrony of spoken language. However, records of dialogic speech that are suitable for a pragmatic analysis are somewhat more recent. One such archive is the collection of podcasts of the popular BBC Radio 4 programme “Desert Island Discs”, which reaches back to the 1950s. In these programmes, a well-known person is interviewed on the eight music recordings that they would take along if they were cast away alone on a desert island. They provide half a century of recordings of a communicative situation that has remained more or less unchanged: a radio presenter in conversation with a celebrity.
In this study we analyse diachronic developments in some of the details of the turn-taking system (turn length, question intonation, hesitation markers) and the role they play in the narrative structures of these conversations. The early recordings are styled as interviews in a question – answer format. The radio presenter asks specific questions and adopts the stance of an audience who is unlikely to know the answers to any of these questions. Whether the presenter himself/herself actually already knows the answer is largely immaterial. The celebrity, in turn, provides short, relatively self-contained answers to these questions. In more recent years, however, the presenter and the celebrity are more likely to cooperate in their different roles to jointly produce a narrative. The presenter brings in a larger amount of background knowledge on the details of the celebrity’s life, which the audience may or may not share, and encourages the celebrity to pick up the narrative and continue the story. This overall change from an interview format to the format of a shared narrative is reflected in the minute details of the turn-taking system with differences in turn length and the use of question intonation and hesitation markers.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > English Department
Dewey Decimal Classification:820 English & Old English literatures
Language:English
Date:2015
Deposited On:20 Feb 2015 10:56
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 19:06
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0378-2166
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2015.01.010
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-108886

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