The Nature And Function Of Conversational Strategies

March 13, 2021Klein E

We are already halfway through term 1, so that means students are starting to move towards their first SAC for the English language (if they haven’t had it already). Bearing this in mind and realising that a very high percentage of these tasks have a focus on spoken language, I thought I’d very quickly discuss a couple of these features. The text I have used is text 3 (section B) from the 2012 VCAA exam.

This article will focus on a few significant and common features of conversations. There are many more features than the ones I am about to describe, but I kind of left writing this article to the last minute ????.

  • The first feature I will discuss is long loosely connected syntactic structures. A lot of schools don’t give these much considerations, however, they are actually quite a common feature in the spoken language, and it is worthwhile knowing what they are and their purpose. The easiest way to describe these is that they are similar to the way that a primary school student would describe the events that occurred over the weekend, “… and… and…and…” This can be seen on lines 64-67 of the 2012 exam text. The primary purpose of this feature (and please note that this is general) is for a speaker to hold the floor and indicate to other interlocutors that they are not done with the story that they are telling. In the case of this text, J is recounting how her dog managed to tangle himself and his lead around a pole.
  • Another feature that I will discuss is adjacency pairs. These tend to be taught a little better but are also very common and knowing what they are is very important to this part of the course. These are quite straightforward, they are two-part utterances where the second part is dependent on the first. Probably the most common form of adjacency pair seen in the spoken texts dealt with in this course is the question and answer adjacency pair (I don’t think I need to explain what questions and answers are). Generally speaking, these are used to pass the floor and invite the other interlocutor(s) to speak. These are also used to help control the topics of a conversation as (again, generally) they invite the other people to speak about something specific or provide specific information. These can be found on lines 3, 13, 32 of the 2012 exam text, where J is trying to find out more information about M’s dog Scruffy, such as his swimming ability (13).
  • Finally, I will quickly discuss the back channel, which is also referred to as minimal responses. Again, this is usually taught fairly well but is again vital to a lot of the conversations that you will be analysed in this course. Minimal responses are short noises, gestures or words (usually they are just one-word responses) used by an interlocutor to indicate to the person speaking that they are listening and invites them to hold the floor and keep talking (generally). Backchanneling can be seen on lines 15, 34, 38, 48 and 56. In each of these instances, J is inviting M to keep talking about her dogs, such as how easy Bella is to look after (48).

There are several more features of the spoken language in this text and on the course, however, I just thought I’d explain a few in this article to get the ball rolling in your mind a bit. Hope you guys have found this article useful.

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Klein E

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