Alternative questions and their responses in English interaction

Veronika Drake

Abstract

This conversation analytic study investigates the sequential organization and question constraints of alternative questions in English with a focus on response formats. Building on research on polar and wh-questions (among others, Enfield, Stivers and Levinson 2010Enfield, Nick J., Tanya Stivers, and Stephen C. Levinson 2010 “Question–response Sequences in Conversation across ten Languages: An Introduction.” Journal of Pragmatics 42 (10): 2615–2619. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Raymond 2003Raymond, Geoffrey 2003 “Grammar and Social Organization: Yes/no Interrogatives and the Structure of Responding.” American Sociological Review 68: 939–967. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Thompson, Fox and Couper-Kuhlen 2015Thompson, Sandra A., Barbara A. Fox, and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen 2015 “Responses in Information-Seeking Sequences with ‘Question-Word Interrogatives.’” In Grammar in Everyday Talk: Building Responsive Actions, 16–49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), this article shows that responses to alternative questions that include a repeat of one of the alternatives are type-conforming, those that do not are nonconforming. Additionally, even though the concept of contiguity (Sacks 1973/1987Sacks, Harvey 1973/1987 “On the Preferences for Agreement and Contiguity in Sequences in Conversation.” In Talk and Social Organisation, ed. by Graham Button, and John R. E. Lee, 54–69. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar) might suggest that the second alternative be confirmed, participants confirm either alternative unproblematically. Finally, my work shows that alternative questions can create difficulties for action ascription, because as they are being produced, they often resemble polar questions. My study adds to our understanding of question-answer sequences in English by providing an overview of an understudied question type in English. The data are in American English.

Keywords:
Publication history
Table of contents

1.Introduction

This conversation analytic study explores alternative questions (AQs) – questions that contain two or more alternatives in the format ‘X or Y’11.Theoretically, the number of alternatives connected by ‘or’ are infinite. My data includes examples of two and three alternatives as well as one example with five alternatives. See Section 4 for more details regarding my data. – in ordinary English conversations. Excerpt (1) from talkbank​.org (MacWhinney 2007MacWhinney, Brian 2007 “The TalkBank Project.” In Creating and Digitizing Language Corpora: Synchronic Databases (Vol. 1), ed. by Joan C. Beal, Karen P. Corrigan, and Hermann L. Moisl. Houndsmills, England: Palgrave-Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) serves as an initial example and illustrates the basic sequential organization of adjacency pairs consisting of an AQ first-pair part (FPP) and its second-pair part (SPP) response.

Excerpt 1.

Chicken (CABank/CallFriend/eng-n/6862)22.All data were transcribed according to the transcription system developed by Gail Jefferson (Heritage and Atkinson 1984Heritage, John, and J. Maxwell Atkinson 1984 “Introduction.” In Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, ed. by J. Maxwell Atkinson, and John Heritage, 1–15. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar). I use some additional notations to represent intonation (based on the Gesprächsanalytisches Transkriptionssystem 2 (GAT 2) (Selting et al. 2009Selting, Margret, Peter Auer, Dagmar Barth-Weingarten, Jörg Bergmann, Pia Bergmann, Karin Birkner, Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, Arnulf Deppermann, Peter Gilles, Susanne Günthner, Martin Hartung, Friederike Kern, Christine Mertzlufft, Christian Meyer, Miriam Morek, Frank Oberzaucher, Jörg Peters, Uta Quasthoff, Wilfried Schütte, Anja Stukenbrock, and Susanne Uhmann 2009 “Gesprächsanalytisches Transkriptionssystem 2 (GAT 2) [Conversation analytic transcription system (GAT 2)].” Gesprächsforschung: Online-Zeitschrift Zur Verbalen Interaktion 10: 353–402.Google Scholar). Specifically, I use “?” for rising intonation, “,” for slightly rising intonation, “_” for level intonation, “;” for slightly falling intonation, and “.” for falling intonation. All AQs are marked with an arrow (=>) in the transcripts.

1  =>  F2: Does he eat m↑ea:t or only chicken.
2      F1: u::[m, <basically chicken.>

Here, ‘or’ connects two alternatives (“meat” and “only chicken”). The response repeats a portion of the AQ to confirm one of the alternatives rather than (dis)agreement or (dis)confirmation tokens (i.e., ‘yes’/‘no’).

AQs, as they emerge (i.e., as they are being produced), syntactically resemble polar questions in their turn design until the second conjunct following the conjunction ‘or’ is produced. The similarities between turns-in-progress that shape up to be polar questions and those that shape up to be AQs highlight the action ascription troubles that emerging AQs can pose for participants. The average gap between turns is only about a third of the length it takes participants to plan and produce turns (Levinson 2012Levinson, Stephen C. 2012 “Action Formation and Ascription.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers, 103–130. Oxford, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Participants, then, prepare for their response while the question is still being produced; they must “assign at least one major action to a turn they have only heard part of so far” (Levinson 2012Levinson, Stephen C. 2012 “Action Formation and Ascription.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers, 103–130. Oxford, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 103), even if that action ascription is only a best guess. Participants’ responses to AQs reveal that they generally recognize the turn-in-progress as an AQ; however, the data also show that in several cases, participants treat an AQ in progress as a polar question.

To my knowledge, there has not been conversation analytic or interactional linguistic work on how interactants treat AQs and what kinds of constraints these AQs pose for recipients. In this paper, I analyze the sequential organization and question constraints of AQ question-answer pairs with a focus on different answer formats participants employ in those sequences.

2.Prior work on question-answer sequences

AQs are generally presented as one of three main question types: polar questions, wh-questions, and alternative questions (Biber et al. 1999Biber, Douglas, Stig Johansson, Geoffrey Leech, Susan Conrad, and Edward Finegan 1999Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow, England: Longman.Google Scholar; Enfield et al. 2010Enfield, Nick J., Tanya Stivers, and Stephen C. Levinson 2010 “Question–response Sequences in Conversation across ten Languages: An Introduction.” Journal of Pragmatics 42 (10): 2615–2619. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Quirk et al. 1985Quirk, Randolph, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svartvik 1985A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. New York, NY: Longman.Google Scholar; Stivers 2010 2010 “An Overview of the Question-Response System in American English Conversation.” Journal of Pragmatics 42: 2772–2781. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).33. Sadock (2012)Sadock, Jerry 2012 “Formal Features of Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. de Ruiter, 103–22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar presents as the three main categories polar questions, content questions (or wh-questions), and rhetorical questions, including AQs in the first category. One could argue that polar questions are AQs, because the two alternatives for a response are ‘yes’ and ‘no’. However, Bolinger (1978)Bolinger, Dwight 1978 “Yes-no Questions Are not Alternative Questions.” In Questions, ed. by Henry Hiz, 87–110. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel. CrossrefGoogle Scholar argues that polar questions are not AQs; they seek confirmation/disconfirmation rather than provide true choices for the participants. See Riccioni et al. (2018)Riccioni, Ilaria, Ramona Bongelli, Philip Gill, and Andrzej Zuczkowski 2018 “Dubitative Questions and Epistemic Stance.” Lingua 207: 71–95. CrossrefGoogle Scholar for a short summary of the two perspectives on AQs in the linguistic literature (i.e., polar questions as incomplete AQs versus polar questions and AQs as different question types). As the current study shows, participants in conversations do treat AQs differently from polar questions, providing empirical evidence for two distinct categories. Question-answer sequences – as a prime adjacency pair example (Schegloff 2007 2007Sequence Organization in Interaction. A Primer in Conversation Analysis (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) – have been studied quite extensively within Conversation Analysis (CA) and Interactional Linguistics (IL), especially polar and wh-questions44.The literature uses various labels for these question: Yes/no-questions or yes/no-interrogatives (YNIs) (Raymond 2003Raymond, Geoffrey 2003 “Grammar and Social Organization: Yes/no Interrogatives and the Structure of Responding.” American Sociological Review 68: 939–967. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) for polar questions, content questions (Hayano 2012Hayano, Kaoru 2012 “Question Design in Conversation.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers, 395–414. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) or question-word interrogatives (Thompson, Fox and Couper-Kuhlen 2015Thompson, Sandra A., Barbara A. Fox, and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen 2015 “Responses in Information-Seeking Sequences with ‘Question-Word Interrogatives.’” In Grammar in Everyday Talk: Building Responsive Actions, 16–49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) for wh-questions, and ‘or choice’-questions (Svennevig 2012Svennevig, Jan 2012 “Reformulation of Questions with Candidate Answers.” The International Journal of Bilingualism 17 (2): 189–204. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) for AQs. I use the terms polar question, wh-question, and alternative question here. (among others, Couper-Kuhlen 2012 2012 “Some Truths and Untruths about Final Intonation in Conversational Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. de Ruiter, 123–45. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Couper-Kuhlen and Selting 2018Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth, and Margaret Selting 2018Interactional Linguistics: Studying Language in Social Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar; Enfield et al. 2010Enfield, Nick J., Tanya Stivers, and Stephen C. Levinson 2010 “Question–response Sequences in Conversation across ten Languages: An Introduction.” Journal of Pragmatics 42 (10): 2615–2619. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; de Ruiter 2012De Ruiter, Jan P. 2012Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Fox and Thompson 2010Fox, Barbara A., and Sandra A. Thompson 2010 “Responses to Wh-questions in English Conversation.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 43 (10): 133–156. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Hayano 2012Hayano, Kaoru 2012 “Question Design in Conversation.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers, 395–414. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Heritage 2010 2010 “Questioning in Medicine.” In “Why do You Ask?”: The Function of Questions in Institutional Discourse, ed. by Alice Freed, and Susan Ehrlich, 42–68. 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Questions as such are “actions whose main job (…) is to request information. They make Answers, turns providing the information requested, relevant next” (Couper-Kuhlen and Selting 2018Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth, and Margaret Selting 2018Interactional Linguistics: Studying Language in Social Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar, 218; original capitalization, building on Schegloff and Sack 1973Schegloff, Emanuel A., and Harvey Sacks 1973 “Opening up Closings.” Semiotica 8: 289–327. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Schegloff 2007 2007Sequence Organization in Interaction. A Primer in Conversation Analysis (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; among others). Asking a question does not automatically mean that the questioner is unknowing and the recipient knowing.55.This is not to imply that the distinction between knowing and unknowing is a binary one. Questions involve an epistemic gradient (Heritage 2012a 2012a “Epistemics in Action: Action Formation and Territories of Knowledge.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 45 (1): 1–29. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2012b 2012b “The Epistemic Engine: Sequence Organization and Territories of Knowledge.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 45 (1): 30–52. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Heritage and Raymond 2012Heritage, John, and Geoffrey Raymond 2012 “Navigating Epistemic Landscapes: Acquiescence, Agency and Resistance in Responses to Polar Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. De Ruiter, 179–192. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) and participants negotiate their epistemic status as more or less knowledgeable (K+/K−). Polar questions offer an understanding, or advance a hypothesis (Bolinger 1978Bolinger, Dwight 1978 “Yes-no Questions Are not Alternative Questions.” In Questions, ed. by Henry Hiz, 87–110. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), for confirmation (Heritage and Raymond 2012Heritage, John, and Geoffrey Raymond 2012 “Navigating Epistemic Landscapes: Acquiescence, Agency and Resistance in Responses to Polar Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. De Ruiter, 179–192. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Pomerantz 1988 1988 “Offering a Candidate Answer: An Information Seeking Strategy.” Communication Monographs 55 (4): 360–373. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; see also Betz and Deppermann (2018)Betz, Emma, and Arnulf Deppermann 2018 “Indexing Priority of Position: Eben as Response Particle in German.” Research on Language and Social Interaction, 51 (2): 1–23. CrossrefGoogle Scholar on confirmables). AQs are similar but offer a choice between two understandings (rather than just one) and make relevant confirmation of one of them. Different question types impose specific constraints as to what kind of a conditionally relevant next is an appropriate response (among others, Couper-Kuhlen and Selting 2018Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth, and Margaret Selting 2018Interactional Linguistics: Studying Language in Social Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar; Enfield et al. 2010Enfield, Nick J., Tanya Stivers, and Stephen C. Levinson 2010 “Question–response Sequences in Conversation across ten Languages: An Introduction.” Journal of Pragmatics 42 (10): 2615–2619. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Hayano 2012Hayano, Kaoru 2012 “Question Design in Conversation.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers, 395–414. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Heritage 2012a 2012a “Epistemics in Action: Action Formation and Territories of Knowledge.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 45 (1): 1–29. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2012b 2012b “The Epistemic Engine: Sequence Organization and Territories of Knowledge.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 45 (1): 30–52. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Heritage and Raymond 2012Heritage, John, and Geoffrey Raymond 2012 “Navigating Epistemic Landscapes: Acquiescence, Agency and Resistance in Responses to Polar Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. De Ruiter, 179–192. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Lee 2012Lee, Seung-Hee 2012 “Response Design in Conversation.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers. 415–432. Oxford, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Raymond 2003Raymond, Geoffrey 2003 “Grammar and Social Organization: Yes/no Interrogatives and the Structure of Responding.” American Sociological Review 68: 939–967. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Schegloff 2007 2007Sequence Organization in Interaction. A Primer in Conversation Analysis (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). For polar questions, responses that contain ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (including equivalent tokens such as ‘uh huh’ and ‘yeah’) are type-conforming; those that do not are nonconforming (Raymond 2003Raymond, Geoffrey 2003 “Grammar and Social Organization: Yes/no Interrogatives and the Structure of Responding.” American Sociological Review 68: 939–967. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).66.See Thompson, Fox and Couper-Kuhlen (2015)Thompson, Sandra A., Barbara A. Fox, and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen 2015 “Responses in Information-Seeking Sequences with ‘Question-Word Interrogatives.’” In Grammar in Everyday Talk: Building Responsive Actions, 16–49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar on type-conformity and wh-questions. Responses can, of course, contain more than just these tokens. For instance, certain types of polar questions (i.e., request specifications) make relevant extended responses (Steensig and Heinemann 2013Steensig, Jakob, and Trine Heinemann 2013 “When ‘Yes’ is not Enough – as an Answer to a Yes/No Question.” In Units of Talk – Units of Action, ed. by Beatrice Szczepek Reed, and Geoffrey Raymond, 207–242. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Possible response types and formats include “non-answers/answers, partial/whole answers, direct/indirect answers” and repetitions and response tokens. (Enfield et al. 2010Enfield, Nick J., Tanya Stivers, and Stephen C. Levinson 2010 “Question–response Sequences in Conversation across ten Languages: An Introduction.” Journal of Pragmatics 42 (10): 2615–2619. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2615; Lee 2012Lee, Seung-Hee 2012 “Response Design in Conversation.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers. 415–432. Oxford, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar)). Recipients can side-step a question’s constraints with transformative answers (Stivers and Hayashi 2010Stivers, Tanya, and Makoto Hayashi 2010 “Transformative Answers: One Way to Resist a Question’s Constraints.” Language in Society 39 (1): 1–25. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), repeats (e.g., Bolden 2009Bolden, Galina B. 2009 “Beyond Answering: Repeat-prefaced Responses in Conversation.” Communication Monographs 76 (2): 121–143. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), ‘well’-prefaces (Schegloff and Lerner 2009Schegloff, Emanuel A., and Gene H. Lerner 2009 “Beginning to Respond: Well-prefaced Responses to Wh-questions.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 42 (2): 91–115. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), and no-knowledge claims such as “I don’t know” (De Ruiter 2012De Ruiter, Jan P. 2012Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Enfield et al. 2010Enfield, Nick J., Tanya Stivers, and Stephen C. Levinson 2010 “Question–response Sequences in Conversation across ten Languages: An Introduction.” Journal of Pragmatics 42 (10): 2615–2619. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Fox and Thompson 2010Fox, Barbara A., and Sandra A. Thompson 2010 “Responses to Wh-questions in English Conversation.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 43 (10): 133–156. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Raymond 2003Raymond, Geoffrey 2003 “Grammar and Social Organization: Yes/no Interrogatives and the Structure of Responding.” American Sociological Review 68: 939–967. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Schegloff 2007 2007Sequence Organization in Interaction. A Primer in Conversation Analysis (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Repeat responses to polar questions in English are done for cause (Raymond 2003Raymond, Geoffrey 2003 “Grammar and Social Organization: Yes/no Interrogatives and the Structure of Responding.” American Sociological Review 68: 939–967. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Stivers 2010 2010 “An Overview of the Question-Response System in American English Conversation.” Journal of Pragmatics 42: 2772–2781. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), for instance, to assert epistemic authority (Enfield and Sidnell 2015Enfield, Nick J., and Jack Sidnell 2015 “Language Structure and Social Agency: Confirming Polar Questions in Conversation.” Linguistics Vanguard 1 (1): 131–143. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Raymond 2003Raymond, Geoffrey 2003 “Grammar and Social Organization: Yes/no Interrogatives and the Structure of Responding.” American Sociological Review 68: 939–967. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Stivers 2005Stivers, Tanya 2005 “Modified Repeats: One Method for Asserting Primary Rights from Second Position.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 38 (2): 131–158. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).77.See Bolden (2016) 2016 “A Simple da?: Affirming Responses to Polar Questions in Russian Conversation.” Journal of Pragmatics 100: 40–58. CrossrefGoogle Scholar and Heritage and Raymond (2012)Heritage, John, and Geoffrey Raymond 2012 “Navigating Epistemic Landscapes: Acquiescence, Agency and Resistance in Responses to Polar Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. De Ruiter, 179–192. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar for distinguishing affirmation from confirmation in these contexts.

Overall, Hayano (2012)Hayano, Kaoru 2012 “Question Design in Conversation.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers, 395–414. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar and Lee (2012)Lee, Seung-Hee 2012 “Response Design in Conversation.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers. 415–432. Oxford, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar provide an excellent overview of question design and response design. Stivers, Sidnell and Bergen (2018)Stivers, Tanya, Jack Sidnell, and Clara Bergen 2018 “Children’s Responses to Questions in Peer Interaction: A Window into the Ontogenesis of Interactional Competence.” Journal of Pragmatics 124: 14–30. CrossrefGoogle Scholar condense research on question-response norms in American English: responses that contain answers are preferred over those that are non-answers, answers of the interjection-format are preferred (for polar questions), answers that confirm a question’s proposition are preferred, and answers that accept, confirm, or grant (“optimal answers” (Stivers, Sidnell and Bergen 2018Stivers, Tanya, Jack Sidnell, and Clara Bergen 2018 “Children’s Responses to Questions in Peer Interaction: A Window into the Ontogenesis of Interactional Competence.” Journal of Pragmatics 124: 14–30. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 17) are provided faster than other answers. I turn to an overview of prior research specifically on AQs next.

3.Prior Research on alternative questions

AQs are the least frequent question type in English conversations. AQs make up less than 3% of English questions overall (Stivers 2010 2010 “An Overview of the Question-Response System in American English Conversation.” Journal of Pragmatics 42: 2772–2781. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), they constitute less than 1% of questions in non-adult interaction (Stivers, Sidnell and Bergen 2018Stivers, Tanya, Jack Sidnell, and Clara Bergen 2018 “Children’s Responses to Questions in Peer Interaction: A Window into the Ontogenesis of Interactional Competence.” Journal of Pragmatics 124: 14–30. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), and in courtroom interactions, only 3.5% of questions are AQs (Seuren 2019Seuren, Lucas M. 2019 “Questioning in Court: The Construction of Direct Examinations.” Discourse Studies 21 (3): 340–357. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Their infrequency may be one of the reasons they have not been investigated nearly as systematically or as extensively as polar and wh-questions.

As Stivers (2010) 2010 “An Overview of the Question-Response System in American English Conversation.” Journal of Pragmatics 42: 2772–2781. CrossrefGoogle Scholar shows, AQs occur in a variety of formats (for example, interrogative and declarative turn shapes). Of the eight instances of information-seeking AQs referenced in Stivers’ study, five receive an answer as a response, three receive a non-answer such as no-knowledge claims. Sadock (2012)Sadock, Jerry 2012 “Formal Features of Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. de Ruiter, 103–22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, based on data from the TV show The Simpsons and the internet, discusses formal features of questions and focuses on intonation of AQs. Using the question “Is poo-poo one word or two”, he illustrates that the pitch pattern for AQs is one that first rises on the first alternative, then falls but features a slight rise on the second alternative. Sadock contrasts this with the polar disjunctive question “Has science ever kissed a woman or won the Super bowl or put a man on the moon?” (where (dis)confirmation of all disjuncts is relevant next), where the pitch continuously rises and reaches its highest point turn-finally. This correlates with claims about intonation in compendium grammars such as Quirk et al. (1985)Quirk, Randolph, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svartvik 1985A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. New York, NY: Longman.Google Scholar, where final rising intonation for polar questions (and falling final intonation for wh-questions) is often noted.88.But see Couper-Kuhlen’s (2012) 2012 “Some Truths and Untruths about Final Intonation in Conversational Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. de Ruiter, 123–45. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar work on intonation, which convincingly demonstrates that both question types are produced with a variety of intonation contours. She shows that such claims do not hold up, because intonation works in concert with epistemics and with the specific social action accomplished by the question.

Seuren (2019)Seuren, Lucas M. 2019 “Questioning in Court: The Construction of Direct Examinations.” Discourse Studies 21 (3): 340–357. CrossrefGoogle Scholar studied questions in a direct examination of an American criminal court case. His findings include that AQs “are presented as non-leading questions” (355) because they include multiple alternatives that are presented as exhaustive. Svennevig (2012)Svennevig, Jan 2012 “Reformulation of Questions with Candidate Answers.” The International Journal of Bilingualism 17 (2): 189–204. CrossrefGoogle Scholar shows that in native/non-native interactions among Norwegian native speakers and non-native speakers in institutional encounters, AQs are regularly used. Questioners often reformulate an open question either as a polar question or as an AQ. AQ-reformulations provide “candidate answers to the original question” (189) and are deployed to assist non-native speakers with providing an appropriate response to a question that initially was treated as difficult to answer.

Koshik (2005a)Koshik, Irene 2005a “Alternative Questions Used in Conversational Repair.” Discourse Studies 7 (2): 193–211. CrossrefGoogle Scholar explores AQs that initiate repair. She found that by presenting two candidate understandings, a participant can locate more precisely the trouble sources. Koshik (2005a)Koshik, Irene 2005a “Alternative Questions Used in Conversational Repair.” Discourse Studies 7 (2): 193–211. CrossrefGoogle Scholar shows that there is generally not a preference for either first or second alternative. The exception involves error corrections, where there is a preference for confirmation of the alternative that will correct the error (which can be produced as the first or second alternative in the AQ itself). Park (2015)Park, Innhwa 2015 “Or-prefaced Third Turn Self-repairs in Student Questions.” Linguistics and Education 31: 101–114. CrossrefGoogle Scholar describes how participants use a similar practice to initiate repair: ‘or’-prefaced turns. This format is used in third turn self-repairs when students project a dispreferred response. The or-prefaced99.In addition to ‘or’-prefaced turns, participants employ turns ending in ‘or’. For Icelandic eða, see Blöndal (2008)Blöndal, Þórunn 2008 “Turn-final eða (‘or’) in Spoken Icelandic.” In Språk och Interaction 1, ed. by Jan Lindström, 151–168. Institutionen för nordiska språk och nordisk litteratus vid Helsingfors universitet.Google Scholar; for Swedish eller, see Lindström (1997)Lindström, Anna 1997Designing Social Actions: Grammar, Prosody, and Interaction in Swedish conversation (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of California, Los Angeles, CA.Google Scholar; for English ‘or,’ see Drake (2015)Drake, Veronika 2015 “Indexing Uncertainty: The Case of Turn-final or ”. Research on Language and Social Interaction 48 (3): 301–318. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; for German oder, see Drake (2016) 2016 “German Questions and Turn-final oder.” Gesprächsforschung – Online-Zeitschrift zur verbalen Interaktion 17: 168–195.Google Scholar and König (2017)König, Katharina 2017 “Question Tags als Diskursmarker? – Ansätze zu einer systematischen Beschreibung von ne im gesprochenen Deutsch.” In Diskursmarker im Deutschen. Reflexionen und Analysen, ed. by Hardarik Blühdorn, Arnulf Deppermann, Henrike Helmer, and Thomas Spranz-Fogasy, 233–258. Göttingen: Verlag für Gesprächsforschung.Google Scholar; for Estonian või, see Keevallik (2009)Keevallik, Leelo 2009 “The Grammar-Interaction Interface of Negative Questions in Estonian.” SKY Journal of Linguistics 22: 139–173.Google Scholar. turn introduces an alternative that is cast as a correction to the initial question formulation. Koivisto (2017)Koivisto, Aino 2017 “On-line Emergence of Alternative Questions in Finnish with the Conjunction/Particle vai ‘or’.” In Linking Clauses and Actions in Social Interaction, ed. by Ritva Laury, Marja Etelämäki, and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, 131–152. Helsinki, Finnish Literature Society.Google Scholar investigates a similar practice in Finnish. She shows that participants rely on vai-increments (‘or’-increments) when they are faced with a lack of uptake, allowing them to circumvent potential disagreement or disaffiliation.

Finally, Antaki and O’Reilly (2014)Antaki, Charles, and Michelle O’Reilly 2014 “Either/or Questions in Child Psychiatric Assessments: The Effect of the Seriousness and Order of the Alternatives.” Discourse Studies 16 (3): 327–345. CrossrefGoogle Scholar examine AQs in interactions where health practitioners ask children questions to determine appropriate mental health treatment. Based on the concepts of contiguity and preference for agreement (Sacks 1973/1987Sacks, Harvey 1973/1987 “On the Preferences for Agreement and Contiguity in Sequences in Conversation.” In Talk and Social Organisation, ed. by Graham Button, and John R. E. Lee, 54–69. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar), they argue that answerers will orient to the second alternative in AQs. They argue that the more negative alternative is given first in an AQ, and that it is harder to agree with or confirm that alternative. Because of this, if a child were to confirm this more negative, first alternative, it would be “more diagnostically reliable” (338). Antaki and O’Reilly (2014)Antaki, Charles, and Michelle O’Reilly 2014 “Either/or Questions in Child Psychiatric Assessments: The Effect of the Seriousness and Order of the Alternatives.” Discourse Studies 16 (3): 327–345. CrossrefGoogle Scholar examined questions that feature micropauses prior to ‘or’ (i.e., those that could be seen as a polar question followed by an ‘or’-prefaced TCU similar to those discussed by Park (2015)Park, Innhwa 2015 “Or-prefaced Third Turn Self-repairs in Student Questions.” Linguistics and Education 31: 101–114. CrossrefGoogle Scholar and Koivisto (2017)Koivisto, Aino 2017 “On-line Emergence of Alternative Questions in Finnish with the Conjunction/Particle vai ‘or’.” In Linking Clauses and Actions in Social Interaction, ed. by Ritva Laury, Marja Etelämäki, and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, 131–152. Helsinki, Finnish Literature Society.Google Scholar above), questions that as their second alternative spell out the negated version of the first, and questions ending in ‘or no’ (as in “do they have to be in order or no” (Antaki and O’Reilly 2014Antaki, Charles, and Michelle O’Reilly 2014 “Either/or Questions in Child Psychiatric Assessments: The Effect of the Seriousness and Order of the Alternatives.” Discourse Studies 16 (3): 327–345. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 343)). It is important to note that a preference for either first or second alternative in AQs has not been established empirically; such a preference might, of course, exist in institutional encounters such as the one Antaki and O’Reilly (2014)Antaki, Charles, and Michelle O’Reilly 2014 “Either/or Questions in Child Psychiatric Assessments: The Effect of the Seriousness and Order of the Alternatives.” Discourse Studies 16 (3): 327–345. CrossrefGoogle Scholar investigate. Recall, however, that Koshik (2005a)Koshik, Irene 2005a “Alternative Questions Used in Conversational Repair.” Discourse Studies 7 (2): 193–211. CrossrefGoogle Scholar shows that there is no preference for confirmation of either first or second alternative in AQ repair initiators. The analysis here further underscores that there is no such preference in ordinary conversation. Despite the scarcity of work on AQs, there is a general assumption that an AQ makes relevant “a statement as to which of the alternatives that the question presents is correct” (Sadock 2012Sadock, Jerry 2012 “Formal Features of Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. de Ruiter, 103–22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 107; see also Heritage and Raymond 2012Heritage, John, and Geoffrey Raymond 2012 “Navigating Epistemic Landscapes: Acquiescence, Agency and Resistance in Responses to Polar Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. De Ruiter, 179–192. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Park 2015Park, Innhwa 2015 “Or-prefaced Third Turn Self-repairs in Student Questions.” Linguistics and Education 31: 101–114. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Rossano 2010Rossano, Federico 2010 “Questioning and Responding in Italian.” Journal of Pragmatics 42: 2756–277. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Riccioni et al. 2018Riccioni, Ilaria, Ramona Bongelli, Philip Gill, and Andrzej Zuczkowski 2018 “Dubitative Questions and Epistemic Stance.” Lingua 207: 71–95. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) rather than ‘yes’/‘no’.

With the exception of AQs, CA and IL research on questions is robust. The current paper adds to our understanding of how question sequences are organized in English conversations by focusing on AQs. The analysis will show that AQs create contingencies different from other questions, and that emerging AQs – due to their similarities with polar questions – can pose action ascription challenges for interactants. The analysis will also show that responses that contain a (partial) repeat of one of the AQ-alternatives constitute type-conforming responses to AQs. In contrast to polar questions, repeat responses are not done for cause. As with other question-answer sequences, answers are preferred over non-answers and recipients of AQs can sidestep the AQs’ constraints by, for example, providing a third alternative in their response.

4.Data

The data for this study come from the transcribed portions of mundane, dyadic telephone interactions found in the CallHome and CallFriend corpora on the publicly available database Talkbank (MacWhinney 2007MacWhinney, Brian 2007 “The TalkBank Project.” In Creating and Digitizing Language Corpora: Synchronic Databases (Vol. 1), ed. by Joan C. Beal, Karen P. Corrigan, and Hermann L. Moisl. Houndsmills, England: Palgrave-Macmillan. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) and from my own corpus of video-recorded, ordinary, multi-party interactions (roughly two hours). Participants range in age from eight to eighty and are all native speakers of American English from a variety of geographic areas in the United States. This corpus yielded 75 examples of AQs. 35 of these examples were employed as repair initiators and excluded here (see Koshik 2005aKoshik, Irene 2005a “Alternative Questions Used in Conversational Repair.” Discourse Studies 7 (2): 193–211. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). This resulted in a collection of 40 information-seeking AQs.1010.Given the small percentage of AQs reported in Stivers (2010) 2010 “An Overview of the Question-Response System in American English Conversation.” Journal of Pragmatics 42: 2772–2781. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, and my focus on AQs that do not initiate repair, this number is not surprising. Names, images and other identifiers have been anonymized in all data excerpts. All data for this study were collected in compliance with the regulations and policies set by the author’s university’s Institutional Review Board.

My collection does not include any examples where the second alternative is produced after a delay of uptake, that is, separately from the first alternative (such as those examined by Koivisto (2017)Koivisto, Aino 2017 “On-line Emergence of Alternative Questions in Finnish with the Conjunction/Particle vai ‘or’.” In Linking Clauses and Actions in Social Interaction, ed. by Ritva Laury, Marja Etelämäki, and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, 131–152. Helsinki, Finnish Literature Society.Google Scholar and Park (2015)Park, Innhwa 2015 “Or-prefaced Third Turn Self-repairs in Student Questions.” Linguistics and Education 31: 101–114. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). To be included in this data set, the AQ had to be produced as one unit turn, because response-pursuing ‘or’-prefaced increments create different contingencies. Finally, examples of the format “Can she call you back or not” were excluded. In these instances, the second alternative is the negation of the first, and does not constitute a ‘true’ alternative. Drake et al. (2019)Drake, Veronika, Andrea Golato, and Peter Golato 2019 Or not-questions in German, French, and English. Paper presented at the National Communication Association annual conference. Baltimore. demonstrate that ‘or not’-questions in German, English, and French in fact are treated as polar questions. Participants use a variety of AQ formats in my data, including interrogative and declarative formats (most frequent) such as “Was he American or Spanish” and “with your heart specialist or this was your regular doctor” where the prepositional phrase “with your heart specialist” is expanded into an AQ by linking the declarative clause “this was your regular doctor’ via the conjunction ‘or’. Participants also use phrases such as “A long time ago or recently”. Finally, they combine declarative and interrogative clauses in AQs as in “Did your mother know or you didn’t tell anyone”; both the declarative and the interrogative structure can be turn-initial or turn-final. Regardless of syntactic structure, participants in my data treat these AQs as questions.

The majority of AQs in my data set are AQs consisting of two alternatives. In one instance, the AQ consists of a five-item list (a participant in a board game is asked which set of game pieces he would like to have via a list of five color choices). Only seven instances include three alternatives. In my data, the third alternative can be a wh-clause such as “you feeling energetic or tired or how you going’, the phrase “or what” as in “Are you buying or are you just gonna rent or what”, or another interrogative clause as in “Is it a windows for workgroups or a windows three one version or is it a Windows ninety-five slash NT version”. Questions with more than two alternatives are responded to in the same ways as questions with just two alternatives.

5.Analysis

In this section, I focus on how recipients of AQs deal with AQ constraints by outlining two response formats found in my data: (i) responses that contain a repeat, (ii) responses that provide a third alternative. I also discuss challenges in terms of action ascription that can arise for recipients of AQs.

5.1Response type 1: Repeat responses

The data illustrate that a response that repeats at least a portion of one of the alternatives of the AQ constitutes an appropriate next and typed response. Either alternative can be confirmed unproblematically. Repeats in response to AQs do not have to be identical. In most cases, the repeat is a partial repeat.1111. Schegloff (1996)Schegloff, Emanuel A. 1996 “Confirming Allusions: Toward an Empirical Account of Action.” American Journal of Sociology 102 (1): 161–216. CrossrefGoogle Scholar defines identical repeats based on lexical criteria; that is, repeats that are lexically the same as that which is repeated, with the exception of potential prosodic changes, deictic shifts, and “speaker change adjustments” (179). Adjustments due to speaker change are, for instance, pronoun shifts. If participant A asks participant B “is that still yourself” and the answer is done via a repeat, the reflexive pronoun will likely be modified from “yourself” to “myself” in “it is still myself”. A different intonation contour, however, is interactionally consequential (Couper-Kuhlen 1996Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth 1996 “The Prosody of Repetition: On Quoting and Mimicry.” In Prosody in Conversation: Interactional Studies, ed. by Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, and Margaret Selting, 366–405. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Curl 2005Curl, Tracy S. 2005 “Practices in Other-initiated Repair Resolution: The Phonetic Differentiation of ‘Repetitions’.” Discourse Processes 39 (1): 1–43. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Curl, Local and Walker 2006Curl, Tracy S., John Local, and Gareth Walker 2006 “Repetition and the Prosody-pragmatics Interface.” Journal of Pragmatics 38 (10): 1721–1751. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Ogden 2006Ogden, Richard 2006 “Phonetics and Social Action in Agreements and Disagreements.” Journal of Pragmatics 10: 1752–1775. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Persson 2015Persson, Rasmus 2015 “Indexing One’s Own Previous Action as Inadequat: On ah-prefaced Repeats as Receipt Tokens in French Talk-in-Interaction.” Language in Society 44 (4): 497–524. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Repeating what another has said will always involve some degree of modification. In this study, repeats that match the original more closely and those that do not did not emerge as interactionally consequential categories. Hence, I refer to all repeats as ‘repeats’. Excerpt (2) is a first example of cases in which the response contains a repeat. Here, Sara tells Deb about a man she befriended during her recent vacation to Puerto Rico.

Excerpt 2.

American (CABank/CallFriend/eng-n/6239)

1      Sa:  .hhh one of the most important thing is to get that
2           beer on ice=hihi[hi hahaHAHAHA =I] was like OH I LOve
3      De:                  [hahahahahaha    ]
4      Sa:  You. [hehehe         ]
5  =>  De:       [was he American] or Spa:ni[sh]_
6      Sa:                                  [ A]m↑erican.
7      De:  °w↑o:w.°
8      Sa:  >I mean_< he like_ (0.6) >I don’t know;< he got kicked
            out of three colleges

In lines 1 and 2, Sara presents what this man said about beer as reported speech. She also presents her reaction – “Oh I love you” (lines 2 and 4) – as reported speech.1212.I thank an anonymous reviewer for pointing out that these utterances are done as reported speech but do not necessarily constitute reported speech. Deb joins in with Sara’s laughter. Note that her laughter begins after Sara has already produced two laughter tokens. Jefferson’s work (e.g. 1984b 1984b “On the Organization of Laughter in Talk about Troubles.” In Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, ed. by J. Maxwell Atkinson, and John Heritage, 346–369. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar) shows that laughter placed any later than this would be heard as unaffiliative. Some slight misalignment between the participants might also account for Sara’s very positive assessment of this man, “I was like Oh I love you” (lines 2 and 3).1313.I thank an anonymous reviewer for this precise laughter analysis. Deb then poses a follow-up question “was he American or Spanish” (line 5). This is the AQ of interest and functions as an information request. The grammatical format of the AQ is an interrogative clause with an embedded noun-phrase conjoin. This FPP makes relevant a SPP next. The response, which repeats the first portion of the noun-phrase conjoin, is provided immediately, without any delays, hedges, or accounts; in fact, it is provided in slight terminal overlap. Deb receipts this answer with an assessment in third position (line 7), treating the AQ-response as an appropriate and fitted next.

In Excerpt (3), Angela and Jessica are playing the board game Risk together with two other participants. It is Angela’s turn to play.

Excerpt 3.

Territories

1      An: SO_ WHat- (ONe)? when you get like pieces >at the
2  =>      beginning;=do you count how many< you ha:ve or how many
3          territories you have.
4      Je: how many territor[ies.
5      An:                  [oh damn. °one two three four°

Here, the AQ (line 2 and 3) functions as a request for information about an aspect of the game rules. The choice is between how many pieces one has (alternative X) versus how many territories one has (alternative Y). The AQ encodes the two alternatives in a full interrogative clause with an embedded clausal ‘or’-conjoin. Jessica provides a relevant SPP (line 4) by repeating one of the alternatives. Specifically, the response turn consists of a partial repeat of alternative Y, “how many territories”. This response is again produced immediately, without any delays or hedges. It is treated as a fitted and appropriate response to the AQ, as evidenced by Angela’s assessment in line 5 and her move to continue the game play.

In Excerpt (4), A and B are talking on the phone. Line 1 constitutes a new topic. A is asking B a question on behalf of a third party, Spencer. The topic seems to be B’s upcoming wedding event at which Spencer will be the photographer.

Excerpt 4.

Spencer (CABank/CallHome/eng4184)

1      A:  I was talking to Spencer?
2      B:  uhhuh?
3  =>  A:  ((lip smack)) and .hhh He: nee:ds to know:_ .hh a- whether
4          there’ll be more than one set up or <just one set up;>
5          (0.5)
6      B:  [°((lip smack))° ju[st one.
7      A:  [.h                [>now the< set up would be:_ you know,
8          everybody being photographed in the same place.
9      B:  yeah I know; >yeah< just one.
10     A:  one. okay:? .hh and then he needs to know

The AQ (line 3) is an embedded, indirect question “he needs to know whether there’ll be more than one set up or just one set up”. As a type of compound turn constructional unit (similar to if….then formats), which “projects continuation with a specifiable type of second part” (Mazeland 2012Mazeland, Harrie 2012 “Grammar in Conversation.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers, 475–491. Oxford, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 477), “whether” projects a second alternative early. In my data, this is the only example in which a turn’s syntax projects two alternatives. Immediately following the AQ, there is a pause of 0.5 seconds. Then, B produces a lip smack, signaling that she is getting ready to respond. In overlap with this lip smack, B’s in-breath also signals impeding speakership. B’s talk starts slightly sooner than A’s talk. B’s turn (line 6) constitutes a response to the AQ; it is a partial repeat confirming alternative Y (“just one set up”). It is produced after a pause and in partial overlap with A’s response pursuit in form of an explanation for one of the alternative’s implications.

A continues his turn (line 7 and 8), which contains features typical of overlap: He rushes through the first two words before slowing down once he is in the clear (Jefferson 1984aJefferson, Gail 1984a “Notes on Some Orderlinesses of Overlap Onset.” In Discourse Analysis and Natural Rhetoric, ed. by Valentina D’Urso, 11–38. Padua, Cleup.Google Scholar, 1986 1986 “Notes on ‘Latency’ in Overlap Onset.” Human Studies 9 (2): 153–184. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). A provides evidence as to why the first alternative might be the better set-up. If the first alternative were to be chosen, then not everyone would be photographed in the same place. Because this account is provided in overlap, I argue that it is not in response to the repeat-response from line 6, but in response to the pause in line 5. In line 9, B asserts that she knows and is aware of what A has just explained via “yeah” and an explicit “I know”, claiming K+ status (Heritage and Raymond 2012Heritage, John, and Geoffrey Raymond 2012 “Navigating Epistemic Landscapes: Acquiescence, Agency and Resistance in Responses to Polar Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. De Ruiter, 179–192. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) regarding this information. Then, she re-affirms, this time explicitly with a “yeah”, the alternative her repeat had already confirmed before. She then repeats her original partial-repeat answer (“just one”) to the AQ again (line 9). This time, A receipts this answer by repeating it (“one”) and producing a third-position receipt (“okay”). The “okay” also marks sequence closure and transitions to the next sequence (Beach 1993Beach, Wayne A. 1993 “Transitional Regularities for ‘Casual’ “Okay” Usages.” Journal of Pragmatics 19 (4): 325–352. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 1995 1995 “Preserving and Constraining Alternatives: ‘Okays’ and ‘Official’ Priorities in Medical Interviews.” In The Talk of the Clinic: Explorations in the Analysis of Medical and Therapeutic Discourse, ed. by George H. Morris, and Ronald J. Chenail, 259–289. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar; Schegloff 2007 2007Sequence Organization in Interaction. A Primer in Conversation Analysis (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Thompson et al. 2015Thompson, Sandra A., Barbara A. Fox, and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen 2015 “Responses in Information-Seeking Sequences with ‘Question-Word Interrogatives.’” In Grammar in Everyday Talk: Building Responsive Actions, 16–49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). The repeat-answer to the AQ is thus treated as an appropriate response.

Even though the excerpt contains a “yeah”-token in the second response turn to the AQ, it further demonstrates that a (partial) repeat of one of the alternatives satisfies the constraints of an AQ. The partial repeat of one of the alternatives is produced at the first relevant point – after the AQ itself (albeit after a pause). Following the additional explanation by A due to the pre-response delay, B first attends to that explanation and then provides a second response to the AQ. This second AQ response features the confirmation token “yeah” followed by the partial repeat. I suggest that this “yeah” token reaffirms the original repeat response rather than one of the original question’s alternatives.

In addition to responses that consist of repeats only, participants also produce responses that include ‘no’ prior to the repeat. In Excerpt (5), we join M1 and RHO about four minutes into the call. Prior to the excerpt, M1 explained the recording procedure. Line 1 comes after a previous sequence has been closed.

Excerpt 5.

One call (CABank/CallFriend/eng-n5220)

1  =>  RHO: >can you just make< one call or can you call your
2           ↑mom and dad [or_
3      M1:               [nah;=↑just one.
4      RHO: °just one   c[all.°
5      M1:               [and I chose you.=how bout that.

The AQ in line 1 consists of two full interrogative clauses joined by ‘or’ and functions as an information request. This turn ends in turn-final ‘or’ (Drake 2015Drake, Veronika 2015 “Indexing Uncertainty: The Case of Turn-final or ”. Research on Language and Social Interaction 48 (3): 301–318. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), which is overlapped by M1’s response (line 3). M1’s response begins in terminal overlap and contains more than just a (partial) repeat of one of the alternatives. Specifically, he disconfirms alternative Y with “nah” and moves on to confirm alternative X with a partial repeat “just one”. His response turn thus addresses both alternatives. RHO receipts this response with a modified repeat of the repeat-response in line 4, treating M1’s response as an appropriate next.

These four excerpts demonstrate that participants regularly repeat one of the alternatives in their responses to AQs. Twenty-two of the forty samples include a repeat in the response. Fourteen include a repeat only, eight include a repeat and ‘no’. Of the fourteen repeat-only responses, seven repeat the first alternative, six repeat the second alternative; one response repeats one of five AQ-alternatives. Of the eight that include a ‘no’ in addition to the repeat, the repeat confirms the first alternative, the ‘no’ disconfirms the second alternative (in one instance, this is reversed). Overall, then, the numbers suggest that the second alternative is confirmed less frequently than the first alternative. However, confirming either first or second alternative is done unproblematically in my data set, highlighting that participants do not orient to the first or second alternative as being preferred (in line with Koshik’s (2005a)Koshik, Irene 2005a “Alternative Questions Used in Conversational Repair.” Discourse Studies 7 (2): 193–211. CrossrefGoogle Scholar work on repair-initiating AQs).

The eight instances that include a ‘no’ show that the repeat remains crucial to avoid ambiguity and to satisfy the question constraints. The repeat also demonstrates the recipients’ orientation to the question as an AQ. In most examples, then, recipients of AQs first attend to the more recently produced portion of talk first, enacting the principle of contiguity (Sacks 1973/1987Sacks, Harvey 1973/1987 “On the Preferences for Agreement and Contiguity in Sequences in Conversation.” In Talk and Social Organisation, ed. by Graham Button, and John R. E. Lee, 54–69. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar). However, Sacks had speculated that participants might be compelled to confirm both alternatives (first the second alternative and then the first alternative). This is not the case in my data. When participants’ responses attend to both alternatives, they explicitly disconfirm one and confirm the other. This format also exemplifies that participants quite easily (in thirteen of twenty-one instances) “reach into the body of the question” and choose “the more hidden alternative” (Antaki and O’Reilly 2014Antaki, Charles, and Michelle O’Reilly 2014 “Either/or Questions in Child Psychiatric Assessments: The Effect of the Seriousness and Order of the Alternatives.” Discourse Studies 16 (3): 327–345. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 338), i.e., the first alternative.

Just like responses to polar questions that minimally contain a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are type-conforming responses (Raymond 2003Raymond, Geoffrey 2003 “Grammar and Social Organization: Yes/no Interrogatives and the Structure of Responding.” American Sociological Review 68: 939–967. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), so – too – are responses to AQs that contain a repeat of one of the alternatives provided in the question. They are treated as appropriate; questioners accept the repeat via third-position receipts, assessments, or by moving on to a new sequence. They do not lead to repair initiations or other talk that would suggest trouble, indicating that the questioner accepts and treats the response as appropriate. The examples also show that participants treat AQs differently from polar questions. Instead of confirming with a ‘yes’ token, they confirm with a repeat of one of the alternatives. Repeat responses are generally produced immediately and without hedging (but slight delays as in Excerpt (4) can occur). They are produced and treated as straightforward, type-conforming responses. In contrast to responses that include a repeat and a ‘no’, responses that include a repeat and a ‘yes’ (in which the ‘yes’ confirms one of the alternatives) do not occur in my data, reinforcing that a repeat functions as the default confirmation type in AQ-responses. In addition to repeating one of the two alternatives, participants also sometimes introduce a third alternative in response.

5.2Response type 2: Third alternative responses

Responses to AQs that contain a repeat of one alternative are overwhelmingly produced in preferred turn shape formats, although participants can (and do) produce repeat answers that include slight delays. Dispreferred turns (among others, Pomerantz and Heritage 2012Pomerantz, Anita, and John Heritage 2012 “Preference.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers, 210–228. Oxford, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Schegloff 2007 2007Sequence Organization in Interaction. A Primer in Conversation Analysis (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Schegloff, Jefferson and Sacks 1977Schegloff, Emanuel A., Gail Jefferson, and Harvey Sacks 1977 “The Preference for Self-correction in the Organization of Repair in Conversation.” Language 53: 361–82. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Sidnell 2010Sidnell, Jack 2010Conversation Analysis: An Introduction. Chichester, U.K.; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar) can include pro-forma agreements, delays, accounts as well as epistemic phrases such as “I don’t think” (Kärkkäinen 2003Kärkkäinen, Elise 2003Epistemic Stance in English Conversation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) and other hedges such as “well” (Heritage 2015 2015 “Well-prefaced Turns in English Conversation: A Conversation Analytic Perspective.” Journal of Pragmatics 88: 88–104. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Stivers, Sidnell and Bergen 2018Stivers, Tanya, Jack Sidnell, and Clara Bergen 2018 “Children’s Responses to Questions in Peer Interaction: A Window into the Ontogenesis of Interactional Competence.” Journal of Pragmatics 124: 14–30. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Pomerantz 1984Pomerantz, Anita 1984 “Agreeing and Disagreeing with Assessments: Some Features Found in Preferred/Dispreferred Turn Shapes.” In Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, ed. by J. Maxwell Atkinson, and John Heritage, 57–101. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar; Schegloff and Lerner 2009Schegloff, Emanuel A., and Gene H. Lerner 2009 “Beginning to Respond: Well-prefaced Responses to Wh-questions.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 42 (2): 91–115. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Such features amount to various ways in which interactants break contiguity with questions and index misalignment. Overwhelmingly, repeat-containing responses are treated as type-conforming and preferred responses in my data. They move the initiated action forward. Excerpt (6) and (7) illustrate that in contrast to these repeat-containing responses, those that do not contain repeats are – in my data set – always produced as dispreferred turns, indicating issues with the question as it was asked. Excerpt (6) shows a first example. Prior to the transcript provided, Sara told Deb about how she and her friend spent time together in Puerto Rico.

Excerpt 6.

Little Guest House (CABank/CallFriend/eng-n/6239)

1      SAR:  and then we’d fall asleep but;
2            (.)
3      SAR:  U[m:,
4  =>  DEB:   [does she have a nice pla:ce or >does she live< in a do:rm
5            or [what_]
6      SAR:     [   n:]No:, she:- (0.4) no.=a:ctually she’s moving right
7            now, .hh But U:m,
8            (0.6)
9      SAR:  no. SHe rents a r::roo:m:,
10           (1.1)
11     SAR:  >it’s kind of like< this little house or guest house type
12           thing, behi:nd, (.) >the people’s house?<
13     DEB:  m hm,
14     SAR:  .hh and that’s where she: (.) has a bedroom or whatever;=
15           =but, >uh< she’s kind of had some problems cause_ I don’t
16           know; (.) this morning I guess she woke up and there were
17           (her) like fifty fli:es in her room;=and so she sprayed;
18           and she’s (.) moving out. (.) [°today.°]
19     DEB:                                [o:h.    ]

In line 4, Deb asks a question about Sara’s friend’s living arrangements. This information request takes the shape of an AQ consisting of two full interrogative clauses, followed by a turn-final “or what”-phrase. The X alternative is “does she have a nice place” and the Y alternative is “does she live in a dorm or what”. In overlap with “what”, Sara begins her response with a ‘no’ token, and the cut-off pronoun “she”. After 0.4 seconds, Sara repeats the “no”, followed by “actually” and an account for why neither alternative can be confirmed: The friend does not have a place and she does not live in a dorm; she is moving. After more delays in line 8, Sara repeats the “no” one more time followed by a third alternative: “she rents a room”. In what follows, Sara describes the living arrangements in some more detail. This explanation reveals why the question, as it was asked, was difficult to answer, and accounts for the dispreferred turn shape format. Not only did neither of the two alternatives of the AQ apply, the third alternative was not even “nice” and the living arrangements had just changed in the morning of the day of the phone call. In line 19, Deb claims to have understood the situation by producing a change of state token (Heritage 1984Heritage, John 1984 “A Change-of-State Token and Aspects of its Sequential Placement.” In Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, ed. by J. Maxwell Atkinson, and John Heritage, 299–345. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar).

The next excerpt illustrates this pattern further. In Excerpt (7), we join a group of friends playing the board game Risk. Prior to the excerpt, Angela has rolled two dice as part of her game move.

Excerpt 7.

Dice (author’s corpus)

1  =>  An:  do we add em ↑up or is it just like individual dice.=
2      Je:  =uhm
3           (.)
4      Al:  [I think it’s the-]
5      Je:  [I think it’s the] highest_ like_ it just gives you
6           better chances of getting a higher [one.
7      An:  [Oh:. damn.

Here, the AQ contains two interrogative clauses linked by ‘or’. Alternative X is “do we add em up” and alternative Y is “is it just like individual dice”. The response is delayed by “uhm”, a micropause, and the epistemic marker “I think” (Kärkkäinen 2003Kärkkäinen, Elise 2003Epistemic Stance in English Conversation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). The turn “it’s the highest like it just gives you better chances of getting a higher one” is responsive to alternative Y, as it provides an account for why alternative Y applies (i.e., it is the highest die that counts, not the total of adding up both dice), but it does not confirm alternative Y straightforwardly. The response does not contain a repeat of one of the alternatives, and it is produced with dispreferred turn elements. The response also indicates that the question, as it was asked, is difficult to answer, because as Angela’s negative assessment in line 7 indexes, the confirmation of alternative Y is disadvantageous for her game move.

In my data, providing a third alternative is one way that participants use to indicate that the question as it was asked is difficult to answer on its terms, making these responses a type of transformative answer (Stivers and Hayashi 2010Stivers, Tanya, and Makoto Hayashi 2010 “Transformative Answers: One Way to Resist a Question’s Constraints.” Language in Society 39 (1): 1–25. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), sidestepping the AQ constraints. Neither of the propositions are confirmable as asked. In these response types, accounts are usually produced. In my data, in thirteen examples, participants confirm neither alternative and instead present a third alternative altogether. In three of these examples, the response contains a “no”-token (as did Excerpt (7) above) and in seven instances, the response contains no such disconfirmation token. While such third-alternative responses sidestep the AQ constraints, they constitute answers to the AQ-FPP, thereby demonstrating that responses that contain an answer are preferred over non-answers (Stivers, Sidnell and Bergen 2018Stivers, Tanya, Jack Sidnell, and Clara Bergen 2018 “Children’s Responses to Questions in Peer Interaction: A Window into the Ontogenesis of Interactional Competence.” Journal of Pragmatics 124: 14–30. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Schegloff 2007 2007Sequence Organization in Interaction. A Primer in Conversation Analysis (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Stivers and Robinson 2006Stivers, Tanya, and Jeffrey D. Robinson 2006 “A Preference for Progressivity in Interaction.” Language in Society 35 (3): 367–392. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Stivers et al. 2009Stivers, Tanya, Nick J. Enfield, Penelope Brown, Christina Englert, Makoto Hayashi, Trine Heinemann, Gertie Hoymann, Federico Rossano, Jan Peter De Ruiter, Kyung Eun Yoon, and Stephen C. Levinson 2009 “Universals and Cultural Variation in Turn-Taking in Conversation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106: 10587–10592. CrossrefGoogle Scholar).

5.3AQs and action ascription

My data also contain five instances in which an AQ is first oriented to as a polar question. When participants treat the question in progress as a polar question, and when they confirm the proposition of that turn-in-progress while that turn is still being shaped, the answerer engages in subsequent additional interactional work. Excerpt (8) is illustrative of the cases in which AQs are (initially) oriented to as polar questions.

In Excerpt (8), M2 had asked M1 if he had looked further into the requirements for a job, and M1 replies that it depends on whether he will get the clerk of the works job. M2 initiates repair on that in line 1.

Excerpt 8.

Clerk of the works (CABank/CallFriend/eng-n/6952)

1      M2:  get the what?
2      M1:  the clerk of the works job. you kno:w, ru- uh overseeing
3           construction of the .hh library addition in town;
4      M2:  .hhh
5           (0.9)
6  =>  M2:  o:h=okay;=is tha:t (.) is that something with the town
7           of Newtown or is [that ] <still: yourself.>
8      M1:                   [yeah.]
9           (0.3)
10     M1:  well_ y- n:o. it’s still myself.

After the repair solution in line 1, M1 begins to explain in more detail the “clerks of the works job”. M2 receipts this information with “oh okay” (line 6), indexing a change of state (Heritage 1984Heritage, John 1984 “A Change-of-State Token and Aspects of its Sequential Placement.” In Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, ed. by J. Maxwell Atkinson, and John Heritage, 299–345. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar), and adds a follow-up question requesting information. This AQ consists of two alternatives: overseeing the library construction could be “something with the town of Newtown” or it could be that M2 continues to be self-employed (“is that still yourself”). M1 produces a confirmation with “yeah” (line 8) in overlap with M2’s emerging AQ production, thereby orienting to the turn in progress as a polar question. The confirmation is uttered after ‘or’, it is produced prior to the second alternative. When the “yeah” is produced, only one alternative is available for confirmation.

However, having interpreted the emerging question to be a polar question turns out to be premature. M2 continues the production of the AQ (rather than dropping out of overlap), and he treats the “yeah” as not responding to his question; in other words, the “yeah” is treated as a response that is not appropriate at this moment in the interaction. Once the AQ has been fully produced, there is a pause of 0.3 seconds (line 10). M1 then begins formulating his responding turn. It is prefaced with “well”, indicative of a non-straightforward response (Schegloff and Lerner 2009Schegloff, Emanuel A., and Gene H. Lerner 2009 “Beginning to Respond: Well-prefaced Responses to Wh-questions.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 42 (2): 91–115. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Heritage 2015 2015 “Well-prefaced Turns in English Conversation: A Conversation Analytic Perspective.” Journal of Pragmatics 88: 88–104. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), followed by what could be the beginning of another ‘yes’, but the cut-off after “y” is followed by “no”, which disconfirms his earlier positive response. Finally, M1 produces an answer that satisfies the constraints of the AQ: a repeat of alternative Y: “it’s still myself”. The additional interactional work that is necessary here as part of the response to the AQ is a result of M1’s initial ‘best guess’ action ascription having been incorrect. Once the AQ was fully formed and had been recognized as such, M1 revises his earlier response into one that corresponds to the AQ constraints.

This excerpt shows that when recipients orient to the question in progress as a polar question, they provide confirmation tokens as a response. When the question in progress continues to shape up into an AQ, these initial positive responses are subsequently modified. In my data, participants do not produce disconfirmations as ‘early’ responses to the question in progress. Given that confirmations are produced more quickly than disconfirmations (Stivers et al. 2009Stivers, Tanya, Nick J. Enfield, Penelope Brown, Christina Englert, Makoto Hayashi, Trine Heinemann, Gertie Hoymann, Federico Rossano, Jan Peter De Ruiter, Kyung Eun Yoon, and Stephen C. Levinson 2009 “Universals and Cultural Variation in Turn-Taking in Conversation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106: 10587–10592. CrossrefGoogle Scholar), this is not surprising. Note that ‘no’ can be part of a an AQ-response only if the response includes a repeat or a third alternative.

This section illustrates that AQs pose unique interactional challenges for participants. Emerging AQs syntactically look like polar questions until the second conjunct following the coordinating conjunction ‘or’ is produced;1414.Recall that in my data set, only one example contains syntactic elements that project more than one alternative via a whether-format. this can lead to recipients of AQ-turns initially orienting to the emerging turn as a polar question. If participants follow their best guess in terms of action ascription too soon, they might provide an answer consistent with the constraints made relevant by polar questions rather than those of AQs. This illustrates that with the case of AQs, action ascription is not “only a best guess” (Couper-Kuhlen and Selting 2018Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth, and Margaret Selting 2018Interactional Linguistics: Studying Language in Social Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar), but action ascription itself emerges as turns are being produced. When a participant’s action ascription is left “uncorrected in the following turn(s), [it] becomes in some sense a joint ‘good enough’ understanding” (Levinson 2012Levinson, Stephen C. 2012 “Action Formation and Ascription.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers, 103–130. Oxford, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 104). These instances show that when the understanding of a turn-in-progress is not ‘good enough’, participants engage in subsequent interactional work. Of course, recognizing a particular turn-in-progress’s structure does not automatically mean that the action that turn implements is recognized. The action of information-seeking is commonly implemented via polar questions, which further complicates AQ recipients’ action ascription. They might be ascribing “information seeking” to a turn or they might project that confirmation or disconfirmation is relevant next, but when the AQ fully emerges, this action requires responses of a format different from those for polar questions, i.e., repeats, and not other types of confirmations are oriented to as type-conforming and relevantly appropriate nexts in response to AQs.

Prosodic cues might be a resource that can help disambiguate polar questions from AQs. Sadock (2012)Sadock, Jerry 2012 “Formal Features of Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. de Ruiter, 103–22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar shows (based on scripted examples) clearly different intonation patterns for AQs in comparison to disjunctive polar questions. The intonation pattern for his AQs shows a rise on the first alternative, subsequent falling intonation and a secondary slight rise on the second alternative. The current study does not systematically investigate the AQs’ intonation patterns, but Sadock’s (2012)Sadock, Jerry 2012 “Formal Features of Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. de Ruiter, 103–22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar description seems to apply based on perceptual analysis only. Sadock (2012)Sadock, Jerry 2012 “Formal Features of Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. de Ruiter, 103–22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar describes the intonation pattern for disjunctive polar questions as continually rising intonation that reaches its highest point turn-finally. However, if systematic analysis of AQ intonation patterns in naturally occurring talk confirms Sadock’s (2012)Sadock, Jerry 2012 “Formal Features of Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. de Ruiter, 103–22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar findings, then those patterns might not be that helpful for participants in the moment when AQs are being produced. If there is a rise on the first alternative of AQs, this rise could be interpreted as being the final rising intonation of a polar question. The picture gets further complicated, because not all polar questions feature turn-final rising intonation (see Couper-Kuhlen 2012 2012 “Some Truths and Untruths about Final Intonation in Conversational Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. de Ruiter, 123–45. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Future research can establish more systematically how prosodic cues might be employed in aiding participants in action ascription and in disambiguating AQs from polar questions.

6.Concluding discussion

In this paper, I argue that AQs make relevant a response that contains at least a repeat of one of the alternatives; the response may include ‘no’ tokens, but in these cases, the confirmed alternative nevertheless gets repeated. These repeat responses are treated as appropriate nexts, as type-conforming responses. Responses that do not include a repeat of one AQ-alternative are nonconforming. In these nonconforming responses, participants resist the AQ constraints and respond with a third alternative (here, too, ‘no’ tokens can be produced as part of the response). Those responses are produced as dispreferred turns. Finally, participants may modify a ‘yes’ response that turns out to have been given prematurely when participants treat the question in progress as a polar question first, leading to additional interactional work. Overall, AQs then make relevant more than a confirmatory ‘yes’ or disconfirmatory ‘no’, because these tokens would create ambiguity as to which alternative is being (dis)confirmed. In line with Koshik’s (2005a)Koshik, Irene 2005a “Alternative Questions Used in Conversational Repair.” Discourse Studies 7 (2): 193–211. CrossrefGoogle Scholar work on repair initiating AQs, either first or second alternative can be confirmed unproblematically.

AQ sequences share features with other question-answer adjacency pairs. Most notably, they require specific type-conforming responses next, similar to polar questions (Raymond 2003Raymond, Geoffrey 2003 “Grammar and Social Organization: Yes/no Interrogatives and the Structure of Responding.” American Sociological Review 68: 939–967. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Consistent with other question-answer sequences, AQs create constraints as to what ought to come next. These constraints have been described as limiting. Romaniuk (2013)Romaniuk, Tanya 2013 “Pursuing Answers to Questions in Broadcast Journalism.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 46 (2): 144–164. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, for instance argues that AQs are a way to “tighten the reigns’ (161) in interviews, and as such, are suitable for response pursuit actions. In my information seeking AQs, participants overwhelmingly respond unproblematically. Although participants can sidestep the AQ constraints (as they can for other question types as well), they do not show an orientation to the AQ being more limiting than other question types. A fascinating area for further research would be to examine if and how the specific syntactic format of an AQ is employed for specific purposes. In other words, participants might employ an AQ consisting of an embedded conjoin (as in Excerpt (2)) in different interactional environments than an AQ consisting of two full interrogative clauses (as in Excerpt (6)).

Research on polar questions has found that confirming responses are preferred and that they are provided more quickly and more frequently than disconfirmations (Lee 2016 2016 “Information and Affiliation: Disconfirming Responses to Polar Questions and What Follows in Third Position.” Journal of Pragmatics 100: 59–72. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Sacks 1973/1987Sacks, Harvey 1973/1987 “On the Preferences for Agreement and Contiguity in Sequences in Conversation.” In Talk and Social Organisation, ed. by Graham Button, and John R. E. Lee, 54–69. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar; Stivers et al. 2009Stivers, Tanya, Nick J. Enfield, Penelope Brown, Christina Englert, Makoto Hayashi, Trine Heinemann, Gertie Hoymann, Federico Rossano, Jan Peter De Ruiter, Kyung Eun Yoon, and Stephen C. Levinson 2009 “Universals and Cultural Variation in Turn-Taking in Conversation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106: 10587–10592. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; also Pomerantz and Heritage 2012Pomerantz, Anita, and John Heritage 2012 “Preference.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers, 210–228. Oxford, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Kärkkäinen and Thompson (2018)Kärkkäinen, Elise, and Sandra A. Thompson 2018 “Language and Bodily Resources: ‘Response Packages’ in Response to Polar Questions in English.” Journal of Pragmatics 123: 220–238. CrossrefGoogle Scholar work on response packages of type-conforming responses includes “some support to Sacks’s (1987)Sacks, Harvey 1973/1987 “On the Preferences for Agreement and Contiguity in Sequences in Conversation.” In Talk and Social Organisation, ed. by Graham Button, and John R. E. Lee, 54–69. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar arguments that questions are designed to elicit a yes response” (222). Interactants have also been shown to “design their response so as to maximize elements of confirmation and avoid or minimize disconfirmation” (Lee 2016 2016 “Information and Affiliation: Disconfirming Responses to Polar Questions and What Follows in Third Position.” Journal of Pragmatics 100: 59–72. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 159; also Pomerantz and Heritage 2012Pomerantz, Anita, and John Heritage 2012 “Preference.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers, 210–228. Oxford, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). This applies to AQ sequences as well: Of the 21 instances in which repeats are provided as a response, only seven contain a “no” as part of that response. The more frequent response type is the one that contains simply the confirmation repeat and avoids explicit disconfirmation via ‘no’. This also ties back to Sacks (1983/1987)Sacks, Harvey 1973/1987 “On the Preferences for Agreement and Contiguity in Sequences in Conversation.” In Talk and Social Organisation, ed. by Graham Button, and John R. E. Lee, 54–69. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar observations about potential pressure to agree with both alternatives. My data does not show any instances in which both alternatives are confirmed. Participants clearly treat AQs as creating constraints that make relevant a repeat response confirming one of the two alternatives proffered. These typed responses promote contiguity and progressivity in interaction most straightforwardly.

Funding

Research funded by Saginaw Valley State University (000883) to Veronika Drake.

Acknowledgements

I wish to thank Alissa Rutkowski – my student assistant – for her invaluable assistance with this project. I thank Emma Betz, Andrea Golato, Peter Golato, and Carmen Taleghani-Nikazm for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. I also thank two anonymous reviewers and the journal editor for their invaluable feedback. All remaining errors are entirely my own.

Notes

1.Theoretically, the number of alternatives connected by ‘or’ are infinite. My data includes examples of two and three alternatives as well as one example with five alternatives. See Section 4 for more details regarding my data.
2.All data were transcribed according to the transcription system developed by Gail Jefferson (Heritage and Atkinson 1984Heritage, John, and J. Maxwell Atkinson 1984 “Introduction.” In Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, ed. by J. Maxwell Atkinson, and John Heritage, 1–15. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar). I use some additional notations to represent intonation (based on the Gesprächsanalytisches Transkriptionssystem 2 (GAT 2) (Selting et al. 2009Selting, Margret, Peter Auer, Dagmar Barth-Weingarten, Jörg Bergmann, Pia Bergmann, Karin Birkner, Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, Arnulf Deppermann, Peter Gilles, Susanne Günthner, Martin Hartung, Friederike Kern, Christine Mertzlufft, Christian Meyer, Miriam Morek, Frank Oberzaucher, Jörg Peters, Uta Quasthoff, Wilfried Schütte, Anja Stukenbrock, and Susanne Uhmann 2009 “Gesprächsanalytisches Transkriptionssystem 2 (GAT 2) [Conversation analytic transcription system (GAT 2)].” Gesprächsforschung: Online-Zeitschrift Zur Verbalen Interaktion 10: 353–402.Google Scholar). Specifically, I use “?” for rising intonation, “,” for slightly rising intonation, “_” for level intonation, “;” for slightly falling intonation, and “.” for falling intonation. All AQs are marked with an arrow (=>) in the transcripts.
3. Sadock (2012)Sadock, Jerry 2012 “Formal Features of Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. de Ruiter, 103–22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar presents as the three main categories polar questions, content questions (or wh-questions), and rhetorical questions, including AQs in the first category. One could argue that polar questions are AQs, because the two alternatives for a response are ‘yes’ and ‘no’. However, Bolinger (1978)Bolinger, Dwight 1978 “Yes-no Questions Are not Alternative Questions.” In Questions, ed. by Henry Hiz, 87–110. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel. CrossrefGoogle Scholar argues that polar questions are not AQs; they seek confirmation/disconfirmation rather than provide true choices for the participants. See Riccioni et al. (2018)Riccioni, Ilaria, Ramona Bongelli, Philip Gill, and Andrzej Zuczkowski 2018 “Dubitative Questions and Epistemic Stance.” Lingua 207: 71–95. CrossrefGoogle Scholar for a short summary of the two perspectives on AQs in the linguistic literature (i.e., polar questions as incomplete AQs versus polar questions and AQs as different question types). As the current study shows, participants in conversations do treat AQs differently from polar questions, providing empirical evidence for two distinct categories.
4.The literature uses various labels for these question: Yes/no-questions or yes/no-interrogatives (YNIs) (Raymond 2003Raymond, Geoffrey 2003 “Grammar and Social Organization: Yes/no Interrogatives and the Structure of Responding.” American Sociological Review 68: 939–967. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) for polar questions, content questions (Hayano 2012Hayano, Kaoru 2012 “Question Design in Conversation.” In The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, ed. by Jack Sidnell, and Tanya Stivers, 395–414. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) or question-word interrogatives (Thompson, Fox and Couper-Kuhlen 2015Thompson, Sandra A., Barbara A. Fox, and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen 2015 “Responses in Information-Seeking Sequences with ‘Question-Word Interrogatives.’” In Grammar in Everyday Talk: Building Responsive Actions, 16–49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) for wh-questions, and ‘or choice’-questions (Svennevig 2012Svennevig, Jan 2012 “Reformulation of Questions with Candidate Answers.” The International Journal of Bilingualism 17 (2): 189–204. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) for AQs. I use the terms polar question, wh-question, and alternative question here.
5.This is not to imply that the distinction between knowing and unknowing is a binary one. Questions involve an epistemic gradient (Heritage 2012a 2012a “Epistemics in Action: Action Formation and Territories of Knowledge.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 45 (1): 1–29. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, 2012b 2012b “The Epistemic Engine: Sequence Organization and Territories of Knowledge.” Research on Language and Social Interaction 45 (1): 30–52. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Heritage and Raymond 2012Heritage, John, and Geoffrey Raymond 2012 “Navigating Epistemic Landscapes: Acquiescence, Agency and Resistance in Responses to Polar Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. De Ruiter, 179–192. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar) and participants negotiate their epistemic status as more or less knowledgeable (K+/K−).
6.See Thompson, Fox and Couper-Kuhlen (2015)Thompson, Sandra A., Barbara A. Fox, and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen 2015 “Responses in Information-Seeking Sequences with ‘Question-Word Interrogatives.’” In Grammar in Everyday Talk: Building Responsive Actions, 16–49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar on type-conformity and wh-questions.
7.See Bolden (2016) 2016 “A Simple da?: Affirming Responses to Polar Questions in Russian Conversation.” Journal of Pragmatics 100: 40–58. CrossrefGoogle Scholar and Heritage and Raymond (2012)Heritage, John, and Geoffrey Raymond 2012 “Navigating Epistemic Landscapes: Acquiescence, Agency and Resistance in Responses to Polar Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. De Ruiter, 179–192. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar for distinguishing affirmation from confirmation in these contexts.
8.But see Couper-Kuhlen’s (2012) 2012 “Some Truths and Untruths about Final Intonation in Conversational Questions.” In Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives, ed. by Jan P. de Ruiter, 123–45. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar work on intonation, which convincingly demonstrates that both question types are produced with a variety of intonation contours. She shows that such claims do not hold up, because intonation works in concert with epistemics and with the specific social action accomplished by the question.
9.In addition to ‘or’-prefaced turns, participants employ turns ending in ‘or’. For Icelandic eða, see Blöndal (2008)Blöndal, Þórunn 2008 “Turn-final eða (‘or’) in Spoken Icelandic.” In Språk och Interaction 1, ed. by Jan Lindström, 151–168. Institutionen för nordiska språk och nordisk litteratus vid Helsingfors universitet.Google Scholar; for Swedish eller, see Lindström (1997)Lindström, Anna 1997Designing Social Actions: Grammar, Prosody, and Interaction in Swedish conversation (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of California, Los Angeles, CA.Google Scholar; for English ‘or,’ see Drake (2015)Drake, Veronika 2015 “Indexing Uncertainty: The Case of Turn-final or ”. Research on Language and Social Interaction 48 (3): 301–318. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; for German oder, see Drake (2016) 2016 “German Questions and Turn-final oder.” Gesprächsforschung – Online-Zeitschrift zur verbalen Interaktion 17: 168–195.Google Scholar and König (2017)König, Katharina 2017 “Question Tags als Diskursmarker? – Ansätze zu einer systematischen Beschreibung von ne im gesprochenen Deutsch.” In Diskursmarker im Deutschen. Reflexionen und Analysen, ed. by Hardarik Blühdorn, Arnulf Deppermann, Henrike Helmer, and Thomas Spranz-Fogasy, 233–258. Göttingen: Verlag für Gesprächsforschung.Google Scholar; for Estonian või, see Keevallik (2009)Keevallik, Leelo 2009 “The Grammar-Interaction Interface of Negative Questions in Estonian.” SKY Journal of Linguistics 22: 139–173.Google Scholar.
10.Given the small percentage of AQs reported in Stivers (2010) 2010 “An Overview of the Question-Response System in American English Conversation.” Journal of Pragmatics 42: 2772–2781. CrossrefGoogle Scholar, and my focus on AQs that do not initiate repair, this number is not surprising.
11. Schegloff (1996)Schegloff, Emanuel A. 1996 “Confirming Allusions: Toward an Empirical Account of Action.” American Journal of Sociology 102 (1): 161–216. CrossrefGoogle Scholar defines identical repeats based on lexical criteria; that is, repeats that are lexically the same as that which is repeated, with the exception of potential prosodic changes, deictic shifts, and “speaker change adjustments” (179). Adjustments due to speaker change are, for instance, pronoun shifts. If participant A asks participant B “is that still yourself” and the answer is done via a repeat, the reflexive pronoun will likely be modified from “yourself” to “myself” in “it is still myself”. A different intonation contour, however, is interactionally consequential (Couper-Kuhlen 1996Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth 1996 “The Prosody of Repetition: On Quoting and Mimicry.” In Prosody in Conversation: Interactional Studies, ed. by Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, and Margaret Selting, 366–405. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Curl 2005Curl, Tracy S. 2005 “Practices in Other-initiated Repair Resolution: The Phonetic Differentiation of ‘Repetitions’.” Discourse Processes 39 (1): 1–43. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Curl, Local and Walker 2006Curl, Tracy S., John Local, and Gareth Walker 2006 “Repetition and the Prosody-pragmatics Interface.” Journal of Pragmatics 38 (10): 1721–1751. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Ogden 2006Ogden, Richard 2006 “Phonetics and Social Action in Agreements and Disagreements.” Journal of Pragmatics 10: 1752–1775. CrossrefGoogle Scholar; Persson 2015Persson, Rasmus 2015 “Indexing One’s Own Previous Action as Inadequat: On ah-prefaced Repeats as Receipt Tokens in French Talk-in-Interaction.” Language in Society 44 (4): 497–524. CrossrefGoogle Scholar). Repeating what another has said will always involve some degree of modification. In this study, repeats that match the original more closely and those that do not did not emerge as interactionally consequential categories. Hence, I refer to all repeats as ‘repeats’.
12.I thank an anonymous reviewer for pointing out that these utterances are done as reported speech but do not necessarily constitute reported speech.
13.I thank an anonymous reviewer for this precise laughter analysis.
14.Recall that in my data set, only one example contains syntactic elements that project more than one alternative via a whether-format.

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Address for correspondence

Veronika Drake

Saginaw Valley State University

Science West 355

7400 Bay Road

University Center MI 48710

USA

avdrake@svsu.edu

Biographical notes

Veronika Drake is Associate Professor of English at Saginaw Valley State University. She uses conversation analysis and interactional linguistics to research grammar in interaction. Her research has examined turn-final phrases in English and German in an effort to better understand how similar linguistic formats function differently across languages. As part of a research team, she also investigates repeats and multimodality in interaction.