The Categories Speaker and Hearer as Interactive Processes

Goodwin, Charles

Applied Linguistics, UCLA, United States of America


The mutual orientation of speaker to hearer constitutes a central point of departure for investigation of the social life of language. The speaker-hearer relationship is intrinsically social in that it requires the coordinated actions of multiple participants, is pervasive in language practice, and creates the environment where language structure, in the form of endogenous utterances, emerges in the natural world. However, frequently this relationship, in which consequential differences between participants are central, is flattened into a homogeneous unity, as in Chomsky’s (1965:4) notion of an ideal “speaker-hearer”, and being a speaker is reduced to being able to construct complex grammatical syntactic structures. On the other hand many discourse approaches to language organization implicitly treat speaker and hearer as separate, analytically distinct individuals. Thus, even a scholar as exquisitely tuned to the nuances of human interaction as Erving Goffman, developed in “Footing” a powerful framework in which the speaker was described with one analytic system, while hearers were investigated with a completely different one. A focus on discrete individuals and their mental lives obscures the way in which the complementary positions of speaker and hearer both emerge within, and continuously structure, a dynamically unfolding interactive field constructed through ongoing public semiosis. The public structure of this field, and the way in which it is organized through situated action, makes it possible for even someone left with a three word vocabulary because of a stroke to nonetheless act as a powerful speaker. As he does so the notion that what constitutes a speaker can be equated with the ability to produce complex syntax, or identified with a single body, is called into question. Here I will focus on the practices through which speakers and hearers mutually constitute and continuously reshape each other, within dynamically unfolding interaction. While much of what speakers do is talk, hearers are largely, though not completely, silent. The way in which speakers systematically take into account the visual displays of the hearer’s body requires that analysis not be restricted to phenomena within the stream of speech, but instead focus on a dynamic interactive field structured through ongoing interlocking multimodal semiosis. Through their bodies, actors continuously build and change interactive frameworks within which other kinds of sign-exchange processes, including utterances, become possible. Data for this talk will consist of videotapes of events in a number of settings, including the daily lives of families in Los Angeles, archaeological excavations, and interaction in the home of a man with severe aphasia.

Session: Charles Goodwin
Friday, April 4, 2008, 09:00-10:00
room: aula