Relational Work and Constructing Identity: Expressions of Gratitude in British and New Zealand English Radio Phone-Ins

Sabine Jautz

University of Siegen, Germany

TP143: Pragmatic variation: the interplay of micro-social and macro-social factors

Radio phone-ins are characterized by an asymmetrical relationship: It is usually hosts who ask questions, while callers answer them. This asymmetrical relationship shapes the verbal practice of the interlocutors in their roles, which consecutively influences the structure of such conversations – it is generally hosts who open the conversations by introducing the callers (and thus giving them an identity) and asking the first question; and it is also hosts who start to bring the conversation to an end, preferably in a way that suits the callers, too. This may be achieved, for instance, by thanking callers for their contributions. Despite the fact that there is an asymmetrical relation and that the order of turns is preallocated, radio phone-ins are expected to sound like casual conversations: as if the interlocutors were on an equal footing and as if the conversations developed spontaneously.

Utilizing data from the British National Corpus and the Wellington Corpus of Spoken New Zealand English, it is attempted to compare two varieties of English concerning the construction of identity and relational work by means of expressions of gratitude. While the large corpora provide ample possibilities for quantitative analyses, some conversations will be examined in detail, drawing on discourse analysis: After briefly examining how callers are introduced (the most obvious way to construct identity), this paper focuses on ending conversations, and here particularly on the use of expressions of gratitude, a key example of relational work. Expressing one's gratitude means to acknowledge a debt – thus, if uttered by hosts, such expressions can be instances of downplaying their power. In addition to the mere use of expressions of gratitude, there are other lexico-grammatical ways by which the hosts' power is downtoned and the callers' importance for the conversation is strengthened and their identity reinforced: For instance, hosts use vocatives (names/terms of endearment) to address callers, or they specify what they are grateful for and thus highlight the callers' contributions and create familiarity. This results in topics being discussed openly and without shyness on the part of callers – and thus as if hosts and callers had a symmetrical relationship. This contributes to the authenticity of the discussion and the verbal practice – and ultimately to the success of the show.


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Session: Themed Panel (part 1)
Pragmatic variation: The interplay of micro-social and macro-social factors
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 15