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Discourse Analysis

Discourse Analysis. Force Migration and Refugee Studies Program The American University in Cairo Professor Robert S. Williams. Goals of Tonight’s Talk. To introduce the rules of conversation

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Discourse Analysis

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  1. Discourse Analysis Force Migration and Refugee Studies ProgramThe American University in Cairo Professor Robert S. Williams

  2. Goals of Tonight’s Talk • To introduce the rules of conversation • To discuss whether or not training in the rules of conversation would be helpful to you as community interpreters

  3. The Rules of Language All of us who have learned a second language or studied our own language are aware that language has rules. What are some of these rules?

  4. The Rules of Language Phonological rules – how we put sounds together to make words (1a) cat + s (1b) dog +z Syntactic rules – how we put words together to make sentences (2a) The big dog quickly ate my breakfast (2b) *The dog big ate quickly my breakfast

  5. The Rules of Conversation We also have rules for putting sentences, whether they are written or spoken, together to make larger units of discourse. Here, discourse means any spoken or written languagethat has been produced in order to communicate. As interpreters, your primary concern is with spoken language – more specifically with conversation. In any language, there are rules for conversation that govern such things as how to interrupt a speaker, how to know when a speaker’s turn is over, how to change a topic, what topic is appropriate, etc.

  6. Discourse Markers In addition, speakers give us clues about when they are finished speaking, about when they are going to change a topic, or when they expect us to speak or not to speak. These clues are known as discourse markers. There are certain kinds of discourse markers, called logical connectors, that gives us information about how one part of spoken discourse relates to the next. It is important to know that all languages have conversational rules and discourse markers. However, these rules and discourse markers are different for different languages. Knowing a language also means knowing the system of conversational rules and discourse markers.

  7. Rules of Talk Talk is structured and is based upon principles which govern who may talk and for how long Principles of conversation are culturally specific Rules of talk have their own internal organization, but they also operate within a social context. This means that the relative status of conversation participants affects who gets longer speaker turns, who selects topics, etc

  8. Rules of Talk • Rules of talk determine: • Who talks and when they talk (turn taking) • Who sets the topic of the talk • Who may change the topic and when it may be changed • What kind of language is used in the talk (formal, informal, polite)

  9. The Social Context of Talk The social structure of your conversations as interpreters, on behalf of our clients, is usually predetermined. That is, your client is going before some non-governmental organization or is visiting a health care or legal organization. If your client is asking for determination of refugee status or some other services, then he or she is probably of a lower social status – at least according to conversational rules – than the person he is talking to. This relationship will affect the rules of talk.

  10. The Situational Context of Talk Another factor that will affect the rules of talk is the situation itself. That is, the purpose of talk. If you are seeking refugee status, there are probably procedures in place that will dictate things such as the topic, who speaks when, who asks and answers questions, what kinds of questions may be asked, etc. Talk in the context of seeking medical or legal services – visiting a doctor or a lawyer, will determine different rules of setting the topic, who speaks when, etc. It is very important to be aware of the social and situational contexts of an interview and how they will affect the rules of talk.

  11. More About the Rules of Talk:The Topic As we know, the topic of your talk is set by the context of the talk: interview seeking status, services, etc. During the interview, the topic may change. Whether or not your client may initiate a change in topic depends upon the context of the talk and the nature of the social relationship between your client and the person to whom he or she is talking. If the person is an official of some organization, such as the UNHCR, that person will have a higher social status, in the context of the interview, according to the rules of talk. Therefore, that person, and not your client, will be the one to set and change the topic. That person may give your client the opportunity to change the topic, but your client should probably ask first. Breaking these rules can have different outcomes: they may negatively affect the results of the interview or they may not.

  12. More About the Rules of Talk:Turn Taking The social and situational context of the interview will also determine who speaks first, how long they may speak, and whether or not they have the right to interrupt a speaker. Generally, a person of higher social status will speak first, for as long as they need, and should not be interrupted. One thing that you should know as an interpreter is how to recognize discourse markers that indicate when a speaker is finished with his or her turn. A speaker may signal the end of a turn by asking one person to respond, either by asking a question, making a request ,or issuing an invitation. Or, a speaker may stop talking and leave a period of silence. This is culturally specific. If the speaker is a native-speaker of English, then any period of silence may be interpreted as giving up a speaking turn.

  13. More About the Rules of Talk:Backchannel Cues When one person is speaking to another, the listener has to let the speaker know that they are listening and want the speaker to continue. This is done differently in different languages, but most languages use come kind of speech device to signal the speaker to continue. These devices are know as backchannel cues. In English, the listener often says uh hu, ya, right, sure or simple nods the head once in a while. If you don’t believe these are necessary for conversation in English, try an experiment. Next time you are speaking to a native speaker of English, don’t do anything when it’s their turn to talk and see what happens.

  14. Understanding Talk:Recognizing Discourse Markers As an interpreter, it is important to be able to recognize when the speaker is changing topics, making an important point, and linking one idea to another in some logical way. Some English discourse markers used to indicate a change in topic are: the repetition of a main theme; using words such as OK, alright, now, moving along. Words that signal the logical relationship between one statement and another are called conjunctions. We may want to think of them as logical connectors. I could give you a visa (but, though, however) it will be for just one month You would need to get the proper forms (then, after that, next) you’ll have to bring them back to this office Knowing what all of these are helps you to more quickly understand a speakers meaning.

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