The Conversation MOP: A Model of Patterned and Pliable Behavior
University of California, Santa Barbara
Conversational behavior is a study in seeming contradiction. On the one hand, conversation is an intricate interplay between interlocutors; on the other, it is the conveyance of common conventions. Conversation is adjustable and adaptive; it is regular and routine. Routines are available for everything from greetings to goodbyes, turn taking to topic sequencing, linguistically fixed expressions to sequentially dependent acts, and local to global coherence (see, for review, Clarke & Argyle, 1982; Coulmas, 1981; Craig & Tracy, 1983; Levinson, 1983; McLaughlin, 1984; Nofsinger, 1991; Wardbaugh, 1985). Yet, despite such routinization, conversations are not interchangeable events; they reflect a great deal of situationally adaptive and flexible behavior. Persons influence, adapt to, and accommodate the conversational behavior or others; they alter what they say to adjust to different hearers and to achieve different goals (see, for review, Cappella, 1981; Clark, 1992; Giles, Mulac, Bradac, & Johnson, 1987; Levinson, 1983). Conversational behavior is both fixed and flexible, methodical and malleable. Conversation is invention and it is convention, enacted without contradiction.
How can this be? How can conversational behavior be both ordered and changing, routinized and adapted, regular and adjustable? This seeming contradiction of conversational behavior lies not in its enactment, but rather in its study; not in its practice, but instead in its explanation. It is the study of conversation that expects routinization and is surprised by adaptation (or that expects accommodation and is surprised by convention). Inquiry tends to focus on either the fixed or the fashioned part of conversation, ignoring the simultaneity of stability and change in that behavior. Persons' ability to be simultaneously rou-