Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

On Being Swept off Your Feet by the Story: The Discursive Construction of Involvement in Conversational Storytelling

Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

On Being Swept off Your Feet by the Story: The Discursive Construction of Involvement in Conversational Storytelling

Article excerpt

The aim of this paper is to explore the nature of conversational involvement as the result of specific discourse strategies deployed by the speaker (s) with the purpose of creating not only a coherent but above all a sufficiently unique representation of reality to promote the active participation of the interlocutor(s) in the task of sense-making. Through the analysis of one conversational story, recounted in a particular social setting, it is suggested, first of all, that rather than making a point or transmitting a specific message, the function of conversational stories may be that of resolving an interpersonal problem. The analysis also shows how the narrator "works" towards forcing the participation of the addressee(s), sometimes indirectly, through facilitating their reconstruction of the world of the story by introducing details, imagery and external evaluations, and sometimes directly, by means of discourse markers of interactivity.

1. Introduction

This paper constitutes an attempt to explore the discursive construction of conversational involvement. The focus of the study is the discourse strategies a speaker displays in informal conversation to promote the interest and engagement of the other participant(s) in verbal activity. By focusing the analysis on a conversational story, a text type which might, in principle, be defined as monologic, we have created the necessary laboratory conditions which ought to increase the speaker's efforts to involve the addressee(s) in the interaction. The notion of informal conversation usually implies an enthusiastic cooperation of individuals in the task of constructing a specific type of text or communicative event. Because of this, it is usually very difficult to observe strategies that contribute precisely to creating that enthusiasm or involvement. The speakers simply have no need to create that special atmosphere because it is already an intrinsic part of the activity of conversing informally.

One of the most important tasks of any good conversationalist is to secure the involvement of the other(s) participant(s) in the conversation. The easiest way to do this is by requesting their contribution. In the case of the telling of a story, the turn-taking system is momentarily suppressed and the floor is left free for the storyteller. Since the speaker can no longer rely on the possibility of requesting the addressee's contribution, he/she must deploy a series of discourse strategies which are intended to enhance the effectiveness of the message and, consequently, promote the involvement of the addressee by facilitating his/her task of sense-making.

The conversational story that is the object of my analysis was told by an American professor to a colleague in the office of the former and with the presence of a graduate student and the researcher. In the first section, I will introduce the context in which the conversational story took place and I will also summarise the main aspects of the story. Next, I will discuss the role of conversational stories in conversation. The main part of this paper will be devoted to discussing the concept of conversational involvement and its role in the achievement of communication, and to describing four types of involvement strategies used by the narrator. These strategies will be analysed according to their pragmatic function as well as to their formal structure. Finally, I will consider some issues concerning the analysis of conversational discourse.

From a methodological point of view, the analysis adopts the framework of interactional sociolinguistics, initiated by J. Gumperz (1982 a; 1982b; 1992) and continued by Schiffrin (1987), Tannen (1989) and Heller (1999), among many other scholars. In this theoretical framework, discourse is a social and culturally symbolic means through which people attempt to create and recreate both macro-level social meaning and micro-level interpersonal meaning (Schiffrin 1994: 133). …

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