“[hmm yea exactly my point]” Is facilitative overlapping talk (OT) perceived as facilitative by workplace interactants?

Jo Angouri

University of Essex, United Kingdom


This paper reports some of the findings of a recently completed study on the characteristics of overlapping talk and its functions in business meetings. Ethnographic techniques were used, featuring interviews and observations; while a corpus of real life data was also collected. We established an ongoing relationship with the companies and collaborated with the participants not only in the collection but also in the interpretation of the data and we adopted the participatory model as devised by the Wellington Language in the Workplace Project. On a theoretical level, we take the stance that workplaces constitute constellations of Communities of Practice (CofPs) with specific discourse repertoires. As pointed out by Daly et al., “the linguistic manifestations of a shared repertoire provide a basis for describing how a distinctive workplace ‘culture’ is constructed through interaction” (2004:947). We studied employees interacting in different CofPs in their workplace, paying special attention to the functions of facilitative overlapping talk (OT).

Specifically, data drawn from a sample of meetings in seven multinational companies in Europe are examined. The discussion is focused on what the literature would classify as facilitative instances of OT and discusses how the interactants perceive its function and account for their intentions. We discuss excerpts of data featuring the same employees interacting in various CofPs and we analyse how they vary their choices, with respect to facilitative OT, according to the norms of each CofP they participate in. Special attention is also paid to the (in)adequacy of the widely used dichotomy (i.e. facilitative vs. interruptive) to capture the functions of OT in conversation. And a model which is based on the semantic content of the propositions and the participants’ corroboration is suggested.

Our findings show that facilitative OT varies with regard to its degree of a) facilitativeness; b) visibility; and c) function in each CofP. We show that certain instances of facilitative OT are perceived as facilitative by the interactants while others are not. Accordingly, this paper will close by arguing that a) instances of OT can be placed on a continuum ranging from maximally facilitative to maximally interruptive. Hence there are instances of OT in between the two extremes that ‘move the business along,’ but are distinct from maximally facilitative OT. As suggested by Bargiela-Chiappini and Harris, instances of OT can be simply “part of the process of reaching agreement” (1997:193) in a goal-oriented meeting. And b) the functions and features of OT constitute another characteristic of the shared discourse repertoire of the various CofPs throughout the companies.

Bargiela-Chiappini, F., & Harris S.J. (1997). Managing Language: The Discourse of Corporate Meetings. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Daly, N., Holmes, J., Newton, J., & Stubbe, M. (2004). Expletives as solidarity signals in FTAs on the factory floor. Journal of Pragmatics 36, 945-964.

Session: Paper session
Discourse 7
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 11