Gaze, questions and normativity: using visible behavior to project, align with and close courses of action

Federico Rossano

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Netherlands

WS167: What can face and gaze tell us about language use in interaction?

During an interaction participants deploy various semiotic resources to project, understand and align with the ongoing activities and courses of action. Goffman (e.g. 1981) suggested that participants rely heavily on visible cues to understand what is the “social situation” they are inhabiting and which kind of participation status they have within a conversation. In particular, visual cues are functionally deployed to mark when a social interaction can start or end. Scheflen (1964) has suggested that shifts in posture can be used by interactants to delimitate specific units of interactional behavior and various authors have claimed a systematic relationship between gaze deployment and the beginning and ending of turns (e.g. Argyle and Dean 1965, Kendon 1967, Duncan 1972).

Relying on conversation analysis and video recordings of 10 dyadic face-to-face interactions in Italian, this paper refines the previous claims demonstrating how gaze is organized with respect to the accomplishment of action in interaction. The way in which participants coordinate their glances at each other can affect the development of a conversation. In particular, I will account for the close relationship between the deployment of gaze during questions, the specific actions that these questions implement and the likelihood and timing of their responses. Moreover, I will show the impact of the absence of mutual gaze on the natural flowing of the conversation and how gaze withdrawal marks possible completion of a course of action.

A systematic observation of the coordination of participants’ visible behavior provides the analyst (and the participants) with a window onto their on-line cognitive processing of where they are and what they are doing in specific interactional moments. By unpacking how this semiotic cues are combined and timely deployed, we can get a better grasp of how social actions are designed and how participants deal with the issue of semiotic recognizability.

Session: Workshop
What can face and gaze tell us about language use in interaction?
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 06