Conversation Analysis in a Literary Context. Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2015

14 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. Theoretical background: From form to content

3. Case study: Conversation analysis in literary texts
3.1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

4. Conclusion

5. Works Cited

1. Introduction

Conversation analysis is one of the central elements in pragmatics. After introducing several pragmatics basics like the pragmatics principles it is important to relate them to a whole conversation. Since utterances do not occur alone but always within a conversation, they need to be analysed as unit. Regarding that, pragmatics wants to study language in use, whereby use is always conversation and communication. However, there is also a close connection to discourse analysis which includes power relations in institutional conversations, feminist analysis as well as literary studies. The interface of all these fields constitutes itself out of communication, of language in use.

Therefore, the structure of this paper will be divided into two parts: the first one establishes the theoretical background with important terms for conversation analysis. Depending on the author, there are always slightly different aspects highlighted which will be summarized in that part to share the same background. Secondly, these tools will be applied to a literary text where especially the addition to a textual interpretation is shown. Taking Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen as the literary example, the attempt is to use a well-known text which concentrates mainly on accurate description of the real world. However, the tool of conversation analysis might be an addition to other interpretation and proves therefore as a interdisciplinary idea.

2. Theoretical background: From form to content

Situated in the field of linguistics, pragmatics is concerned with the use of language. Thus, it focuses on the actual speaker and his language interaction instead of analyzing grammar or the internal structure of words. Regarding that, pragmatics is situated at the border of linguistics and sociolinguistics. However, this paper is not concerned with the question of how and where to place pragmatics as a discipline. Instead, it will examine a specific field of pragmatics: conversation analysis. Conversation analysis is concerned with the structure and use of actual conversations in every-day life. Recently, the last aspect shifted also to institutional conversations, including the idea of power structure. Therefore, conversation analysis as a method became interesting for discourse analyse and feminist studies (see Wooffitt, p.209). Regarding that, it seems that the analysis of conversations adds to the study of social interaction by means of pragmatics tools. Especially, because conversation analysis includes not only verbal but also non-verbal elements.

Whereas the pragmatic principles or speech act theory mainly focus on general use of language or specific utterances, conversation analysis emphasizes the fact that language always used in a conversation and utterances never stand on their own. Conversational analysis is needed for several reasons: First of all speech acts are restricted to the immediate linguistic co-text and therefore do not allow us to effectively analyse conversations as a whole. Speakers are dependent on each other: “Each speaker is affected by what the previous speaker says, and what each speaker says affects what the next speaker says.”(Cutting, p.24). For conversations we need to extend our fields of vision to the context: “the entirety of societal relevant circumstances that surround the production of language”. (Mey, p.135). Consequently, conversation Analysis is more concerned with the extended, open conversation. It asks questions regarding who holds the right to speak at any given time.

The main aspect is the interaction between two or more speaker which includes verbal and non-verbal elements. Most important is the basic structure of any conversation which is an exchange like “I speak - you speak - I speak - you speak”. Therefore, Conversation Analysis points out the linear structure of communication “that unfolds little by little and implies the negotiation of cooperation between speakers along the way, thus viewing conversation as a process” (Cutting, p.28).

Conversation is basically “’doing things with words’ together with other persons”.

(Mey, p.136) and can be divided into two key areas of analysis:

1) Content - what the conversation is about, how the topics are brought into the conversation, how the topics are managed, how the conversation allows the speakers to pursue their (overt or hidden) goals.
2) Formal aspects of conversation - how conversation works, how ‘sequencing’ is achieved (giving up the ‘floor’, turn taking, pausing etc.)

One of the basic units of conversation is the turn. Following that general structure it is only consequently to look how a speaker holds and passes the floor. A turn is a shift in the direction of the speaking ‘flow’. Yielding the ‘floor’ to the next speaker constitutes a turn. To enable a coherent and cohesive conversation the turn-taking should be a smooth process. However, actual conversation may also include problems of turn-taking which does not lead to a complete break-down of communication. Instead, speaker use several elements to repair the conversation. Possible turn-taking moments are central and called Transition Relevance Places (TRP). These TRPs can be exploited by the person holding the floor in order to select the next speaker, e.g. ‘Are there any other comments at this time?’. However, speakers can also select themselves during a TRP. It is possible for a person to ignore an upcoming TRP by masking it from the other participant(s) in the conversation. These TRPs can differ with different cultures and even within one culture regarding position or social context, e.g.”Latin Americans have pauses of a fraction of a second and it is socially acceptable to overlap and interrupt”(Cutting, p.29). Especially in regard to the discourse analysis the institutional specific TRPs are interested. Concerning feminist approaches TRPs and their acceptance or ignorance can hint at certain power structures in conversation.

However, the most important point is the analysis of the turn-taking to stabilize the flow of a conversation. Problems can be overstretched silence or overlaps which are both considered to be uncomfortable on both sides. Often, this situation happens together when speaker do not know each other well or try to start a new conversation/topic.

The Previewing TRPS help to sustain the flow of the conversation because both speakers ‘preview’ the following utterances.


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Conversation Analysis in a Literary Context. Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"
University of Leipzig  (Anglistik)
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conversation, analysis, literary, context, jane, austen, pride, prejudice
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Jana Schäfer (Author), 2015, Conversation Analysis in a Literary Context. Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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