Displays of concession in university faculty meetings: Culture and interaction in Japanese

Scott Saft


In light of the tendency in studies of Japanese discourse and communication to account for patterns of social interaction in terms of cultural concepts such as wa (“harmony”), omoiyari (“empathy”), and enryo (“restraint”), this report sets out to demonstrate how much of an endogenously produced, local achievement social interaction can be in Japanese. To do so, the techniques and principles of conversation analysis are employed to describe how a particular social action, the expression of concession to statements of opposition, is produced by participants in a set of Japanese university faculty meetings. Although it is suggested that the very direct and explicit design of the concession displays could be explained in terms of concepts such as wa and/or enryo, it is nonetheless argued that the interactional significance of this action can be best understood by undertaking a detailed, sequential analysis of the interaction. The analysis itself is divided into two parts: First it is demonstrated that the concessions are products of the participants’ close attendance to and monitoring of the details of the unfolding interaction; second it is shown that instead of turning to pre-determined cultural concepts to account for the trajectory of the interaction, it is possible to understand the concession displays by situating them within the flow of the interaction itself.

Quick links
A browser-friendly version of this article is not yet available. View PDF
Barnlund, Dean
(1989) Communicative styles of Japanese and Americans. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.Google Scholar
Boden, Deirdre
(1994) The Business of talk: Organizations in action. Cambridge: Polity Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Boden, Deirdre, & Don H. Zimmerman
(eds.) (1991) Talk & social structure: Studies in ethnomethodology and conversation analysis. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Drew, Paul, & John Heritage
(eds.) (1992) Talk at work: Interaction in institutional settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Fox, Barbara, Makoto Hayashi, & Robert Jasperson
(1996) Resources and repair: A cross-linguistic study of syntax and repair. In E. Ochs, E. Schegloff, and S. Thompson (eds.), Interaction and grammar. Cambridge University Press, pp. 185-237. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Goffman, Erving
(1981) Forms of talk. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Goodwin, Charles
(1981) Conversational organization: Interaction between speakers and hearers. New York: Academic Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Hayashi, Makoto
(1994) A comparative study of self-repair in English and Japanese conversation. In N. Akatsuka (ed.), Japanese/Korean linguistics 4. Stanford: CSLI Publications, pp. 77-94.Google Scholar
(1999) Where grammar and interaction meet: A study of co-participant completion in Japanese conversation. Human Studies 22.(2-4): 475-499. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Hayashi, Makoto, & Junko Mori
(1998) Co-construction in Japanese revisited: We do "finish each others sentences". In N. Akatsuka, H. Hoji, S. Iwasaki, S. Sohn, and S. Strauss (eds.), Japanese/Korean linguistics 7. Stanford: CSLI Publications, pp. 77-93.Google Scholar
Heath, Christian
(1984) Talk and recipiency: Sequential organization in speech and body movement. In J.M. Atkinson and J. Heritage (eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 247-265.Google Scholar
Heritage, John
(1984) A change-of-state token and aspects of its sequential placement. In J. M. Atkinson J. Heritageand (eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 299-345.Google Scholar
(1998) Oh-prefaced responses to inquiry. Language in Society 27: 291-334. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Hester, Stephen, & Peter Eglin
(eds.) (1997) Culture in action: Studies in membership category analysis. Washington D.C.: University Press of America.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Hutchby, Ian
(1996) Confrontation talk: Arguments, asymmetries, and power on talk radio. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Iwasaki, Shoichi
(1997) The Northridge earthquake conversations: The floor structure and the ‘loop’ sequence in Japanese conversation. Journal of Pragmatics 28: 661-693. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Kendon, Adam
(1982) The organization of behavior in face-to-face interaction: Observations on the development of a methodology. In K. Scherer P. Ekmanand (eds.), Handbook of methods in nonverbal behavior research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 440-505.Google Scholar
Lebra, Takie
(1976) Japanese patterns of behavior. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.Google Scholar
Lerner, Gene, & Tomoyo Takagi
(1999) On the place of linguistic resources in the organization of talk-in-interaction: A co-investigation of English and Japanese practices. Journal of Pragmatics 31: 49-75. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Locastro, Virginia
(1987) Aizuchi: A Japanese conversational routine. In L. Smith (ed.), Discourse across cultures. New York: Prentice Hall, pp. 101-113.Google Scholar
Lynch, Michael
(2000) The ethnomethodological foundations of conversation analysis. Text 20.4: 517-532.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Maynard, Senko
(1986) On back-channel behavior in Japanese and English casual conversation. Linguistics 24: 1079-1108. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
(1989) Japanese conversation: Self-contextualization, structure, and interactional management. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
Mizutani, Osamu, & Nobuko Mizutani
(1987) How to be polite in Japanese. Tokyo: The Japan Times.Google Scholar
Mori, Junko
(1999) Negotiating agreement and disagreement in Japanese: Connective expressions and turn construction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Nakane, Chie
(1970) Japanese society. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Pomerantz, Anita
(1984) Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments: Some features of preferred/dispreferred turn shapes. In J.M. Atkinson and J. Heritage (eds.), Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 57-101.Google Scholar
Sacks, Harvey
(1992) Lectures on conversation. Edited by G. Jefferson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
Sacks, Harvey, Emanuel Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson
(1974) A simplest systematics for the organization of turn taking in conversation. Language 50: 697-735. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Saft, Scott
(1998) Some uses and meanings of utterance initial iya in Japanese Discourse. In N. Akatsuka, H. Hoji, S. Iwasaki, S.O. Sohn, and S. Strauss (eds.), Japanese/Korean linguistics Vol. 7. Stanford: CSLI Publications, pp. 121-137.Google Scholar
(2000) Arguing in the institution: Context, culture, and conversation analysis in a set of Japanese university faculty meetings. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Hawai’i at Manoa.
(2001a) Concession displays in arguments and disagreements that occur in Japanese discourse: Unique cultural style or situated interactional achievement. In E. Németh (ed.), Pragmatics in 2000: Selected papers from the 7th International Pragmatics Conference. Antwerp: IPrA, pp. 496-507.Google Scholar
(2001b) Acknowledgement tokens and arguments in Japanese university faculty meetings. Paperpresented at the IIEMCA conference on ‘Orders of Ordinary Action’. July 9-11, Manchester, UK.
Schegloff, Emanuel
(1992) Introduction in Harvey Sacks’ Lectures on conversation. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. IX-LXII.Google Scholar
Smith, Robert J
(1983) Japanese society: Tradition, self, and the social order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Takagi, Tomoyo
(1999) "Questions" in argument sequences in Japanese. Human Studies 22: 397-423. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Tanaka, Hiroko
(1999) Turn-taking in Japanese conversation: A study in grammar and Interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(2000) Turn projection in Japanese talk-in-interaction. Research on Language and Social Interaction 33.1: 1-38. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Watanabe, Suwako
(1993) Cultural differences in framing: American and Japanese group discussions. In D. Tannen (ed.), Framing in discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 176-209.Google Scholar
White, Sheida
(1989) Back-channels across cultures: A study of Americans and Japanese. Language in Society 18: 59-77. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Wierzbicka, Anna
(1991) Japanese key words and core cultural values. Language in Society 20: 333-385. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Yamada, Haru
(1992) American and Japanese business discourse: A comparison of interactional styles. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
(1997) Different games/Different rules: Why Americans and Japanese misunderstand each other. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar