Interactional sociolinguistics

Jef Verschueren
Table of contents

As a research tradition, interactional sociolinguistics grew out of the ethnography of speaking, ethnomethodology and cognitive anthropology (with clear Batesonean influences), and it overlaps considerably with certain trends in conversation analysis, discourse analysis, and anthropological linguistics. In particular, more than the major types of conversation analysis, it may be the sociolinguistic application par excellence of basic ethnomethodological tenets (such as the local and situated nature of the creation of meaning, the extra ‘work’ done by interactants in face-to-face settings on top of what is already given in ‘rules’, the reflexive relationship between context and verbal behavior). It is not surprising, therefore, that in principle the term covers a wider area than just those research endeavors directly associated with the label (see, e.g., Schiffrin 1993 for a more extensive discussion). The label was introduced by John Gumperz (1982a) to describe a type of work he and a number of other linguists and anthropologists had been doing for about a decade at the intersection between sociolinguistics and anthropological linguistics, in particular with reference to problems of linguistic and cultural relativity and interethnic or intercultural communication. It was meant to describe interpretive sociolinguistic approaches to the analysis of real time processes of negotiating shared understandings in face-to-face encounters.

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