Overlaps in collaboration adjustments: A cross-genre study of female university students’ interactions in American English and Japanese

Lala U. Takeda

Abstract

This study examines collaborative utterance overlaps in American English and Japanese interactions between the same participants in two genres, conversation and problem-solving tasks, from the perspective of metacommunication. Quantitative and qualitative analyses indicated that participants’ use of overlap varies in frequency and function by genre. In conversation tasks, speakers of both languages used overlaps to maintain coherence and keep the story on track. In problem-solving tasks, American English overlaps conveyed agreement with or acceptance of the proposed idea, whereas Japanese overlaps in this genre conveyed common understanding. Participants attended to situational adjustment, and the development of collaboration in interactions differed by context and genre depending on the purpose of the conversation and the amount of information shared by participants. These results suggest the importance of teaching students how to use overlaps in both American English and Japanese interactions to enhance their understanding and appreciation of the cultural nuances of collaboration.

Keywords:
Publication history
Table of contents

Several Japanese learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) in my classes have experienced difficulty responding to native English-speaking interlocutors at the right time during conversations in American English. As American English speakers may provide few of the backchannels that Japanese speakers are used to (i.e., continuing to acknowledge the content or context of a shared topic), and especially if their interlocutor remains silent, Japanese speakers may even doubt whether their conversation partner is listening at all. This experience shows that Japanese speakers need to adopt different conversational attitudes when interacting in English and Japanese, at least in certain situations. However, this may not apply to all genres and types or contexts of conversation; when Japanese people talk in Japanese or English, there are various methods of interaction, including overlaps that vary by genre and the relationship between interlocutors. This also pertains to situations in which English speakers speak American English or Japanese, as well as to situations in which speakers of other languages speak in their mother tongue or their non-native languages.

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