The use of listener responses in Mandarin Chinese and Australian English conversations

Deng Xudong


In recent cross-cultural studies of pragmatics, we have witnessed a rise in interest in the comparative study of phenomena beyond the level of single and decontextualised utterances encompassing those on the level of speech events such as casual conversations. The underlying premise for such studies is that different cultural groups may have different rules for participation in and interpretation of conversation X that conflicts related to these rules are a major source of cross-cultural miscommunication. This study examines the use of listener responses by Chinese speakers in Chinese Mandarin conversations and by Australians in Australian English conversations. Following X prior framework by Clancy et al. (1996), the study examines similarities and differences in the use of listener responses by these two groups of people in terms of frequency of use, types of listener responses, and the positions of listener responses with respect to transition relevance place. Results show that Australian and Chinese speakers do exhibit quite different conversational styles as evidenced in their use of listener responses. Specifically, while Australians use more listener responses, use a higher percentage of lexical expressions as their listener responses and tend to place their listener responses at a possible completion point, Chinese speakers use fewer listener responses, favour the use of paralinguistic vocalic forms as their listener responses and tend to place their listener responses during a turn. These findings may suggest a culture specific way of turn taking and of what it means to be polite in conversational behaviour.

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