Summer Institute in Applied Linguistics

At the Penn State Center for Language Acquisition

Linguistics 596 (B): Interactional Competence

Instructor: Richard F. Young, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Instructor's Homepage

Aims of the Course

The focus of interactional competence is the structure of recurring episodes of face-to-face interaction, episodes that are of social and cultural significance to a community of speakers. We will call these episodes discursive practices. Participants co-construct a discursive practice through a configuration of interactional resources that is specific to the practice. This approach to language-in-interaction takes a view of social realities as interactionally constructed rather than existing independently of interaction, of meanings as negotiated through interaction rather than fixed in advance, of the context-bound nature of discourse, and of discourse as social action. In this course we will review the ways in which anthropologists, sociologists, and applied linguists have described discursive practices and we will apply their theories to the analysis of videotaped data.  The course concludes with a discussion of how novices acquire competence in a new practice and how interactional competence may be assessed.


There are two short readings associated with each of the eight topics that we will cover in this course. When the class meets we will spend some time discussing the readings and you should make sure you know what they cover before coming to class. I suggest that you read the titles in the order in which I list them here.

Some of the concepts and terms we cover in this course may be unfamiliar to you.  If you feel like we are talking a foreign language, then I strongly recommend that you refer to this excellent collection of very short essays, which covers the major terms in the field.

Duranti, A. (Ed.). (2001). Key terms in language and culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Grading Procedures

Students can register for this classes on a credit or non-credit basis. Students who register for credit are required to read the readings assigned for each class, attend all eight class meetings, and make one presentation comprising the following four tasks.

bullet Read the assigned readings.
bullet Read any essential readings that are mentioned in the assigned readings.
bullet Prepare an oral presentation that summarizes and critiques for the rest of us the theoretical questions involved, the methods used in the study, and the results of the study.
bullet Write up your presentation as a seminar paper and email it to me (rfyoung at wisc dot edu) before October 15, 2002, for comments and grading.

Course Outline

Monday, July 15: Meaning and Context and An Architecture of Discursive Practice

Instead of viewing context as a fixed entity in which language is embedded, in this first meeting we will argue that context and talk are in a mutually reflexive relationship.  Talk shapes context just as much as context influences talk.  These two readings are useful preparation for this class.

Hanks, W. F. (1996). Introduction: Meaning and matters of context. Chapter 1 (pp. 1-17) of Language and communicative practices. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Goodwin, C., & Duranti, A. (1992). Rethinking context: An introduction. In A. Duranti & C. Goodwin (Eds.), Rethinking context: Language as an interactive phenomenon (pp. 1-42). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tuesday, July 16: Methods for Analyzing Interaction

Because talk and context are mutually constitutive, when we take talk out of context in order to analyze it, what we are doing is in effect reframing the talk in a different context.  In this class we will consider methods by which analysts of talk-in-interaction can attend to the analytical context that their analysis creates.  These two readings are essential preparation for this class.

Birdwhistell, R. L. (1960). Kinesics and communication. In E. S. Carpenter & M. McLuhan (Eds.), Explorations in communication: An anthology (pp. 54-64). Beacon Hill, NC: Beacon Press.

Ochs, E. (1979). Transcription as theory. In E. Ochs & B. B. Schieffelin (Eds.), Developmental pragmatics (pp. 43-72). New York: Academic Press.

Thursday, July 18: Topics and Scripts

In this and the next three classes we will outline the interactional resources that participants bring to a discursive practice. We call this configuration of resources the architecture of the practice.  We will discuss the readings and then apply the insights we gain to the analysis of videotaped interactions.  The first resource that we examine is topical organization: how topics are chosen and sequenced in a discursive practice and how the organization of topics differs from one practice to another. These two readings are essential preparation for this class.

Maynard, D. W. (1980). Placement of topic changes in conversation. Semiotica, 30, 263-290.

Ranney, S. (1992). Learning a new script: An exploration of sociolinguistic competence. Applied Linguistics, 13(1), 25-50.

Friday, July 19: Managing Turns-at-Talk

The second resource of discursive practice is one that has been studied extensively by conversation analysts.  It is how participants achieve orderly transitions from one speaker to the next and how management of that transition differs from one practice to another. These two readings are essential preparation for this class.

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language, 50, 696-735.

Ford, C., & Thompson, S. (1996). Interactional units in conversation: Syntactic, intonational, and pragmatic resources for the management of turns. In E. Ochs & E. A. Schegloff & S. Thompson (Eds.), Interaction and Grammar (pp. 134-184). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Monday, July 22: Participation Frameworks

The next resource of discursive practice is how participants use topical organization, turntaking, and other resources to create roles for themselves that go far beyond the familiar roles of speaker and hearer.  The configuration of these roles is the participation framework of the practice.  The theory of participation framework was first put forward by Goffman and the Hanks chapter shows how it is applied in the analysis of a Mayan ritual.

Goffman, E. (1979). Footing. Semiotica, 25(1), 1-29. Reprinted in Goffman, E. (1981). Forms of talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hanks, W. F. (1996). Exorcism and the description of participant roles. In M. Silverstein & G. Urban (Eds.), Natural histories of discourse (pp. 160-200). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tuesday, July 23: Genre

The Mayan ritual may appear exotic to many of us, but we can use it to begin to look with fresh eyes at practices that are familiar in our everyday lives.  The final resource that we consider is genre: a constellation of formal features of talk that serves speakers as a conventionalized way of orienting themselves to the talk.  The Hymes chapter reviews the contextual features of speech genres while Eggins and Slade use the framework of systemic functional grammar to analyze how speakers create meanings in casual conversation.  Please study their framework carefully before the class meets.

Hymes, D. (1974). Ways of speaking. In R. Bauman & J. Sherzer (Eds.), Explorations in the ethnography of speaking (pp. 433-451). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Eggins, S., & Slade, D. (1997). The grammar of casual conversations: Enacting role relations. Chapter 3 (pp. 67-115) of  Analysing casual conversation (pp. 67-115). London: Cassell.

Thursday, July 25: Acquiring Interactional Competence

The resources we have described until now are those that participants habitually use in order to create a discursive practice.  But how do people learn new practices in an unfamiliar culture?  This is a problem not only for learners of a second language but also for a native speaker who wishes to acquire expertise in an unfamiliar practice.  The article by Shea shows the important role that coparticipants play in helping a novice acquire interactional competence.  How learners transition from peripheral to central participant roles is considered in detail in the theory of situated learning described by Lave and Wenger.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation (pp. 13-43). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Shea, D. P. (1994). Perspective and production: Structuring conversational participation across cultural borders. Pragmatics, 4(3), 357-389.

Friday, July 26: Assessing Interactional Competence

In this final class meeting, we argue that current means of second language assessment are inadequate for evaluating interactional competence.  We review Kramsch's critique of the concept of proficiency as embodied in oral testing, and we review Jacoby and McNamara's comparison of indigenous assessment with the assessment criteria of conventional oral tests.  These three readings are essential preparation for this final class.

Kramsch, C. (1986). From language proficiency to interactional competence. The Modern Language Journal, 70(4), 366-372.

Jacoby, S., & McNamara, T. (1999). Locating competence. English for Specific Purposes, 18(3), 213-241.

Young, R. F. (2002). Discourse approaches to oral language assessment. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 22, 243-262.