John Gumperz- Discourse Strategies

Gumperz, John J. (1982). Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

“Strategies” was a great word to add to the book title, since that’s basically what it’s about. Gumperz is trying to give sociolinguists tools for interpreting communicative situations. He develops a sociolinguistic approach to the analysis of verbal communication that aims to account for participants’ situated interpretation of communicative intent.

This book is generally about the speech in bilingual situations and the value associated with choices in bilingual situations, all circling around the idea of ethnicity (which makes sense given the research areas he worked in).

Three themes persist throughout the book: 1) interpretation of utterances is best done at the level of conversation. (2) linguistics rules and social norms are symbolic resources that speaker deploy, 3) signaling is implicit and indexical.

Looking at grammar alone won’t help us understand the *function* of them.

Discourse strategies tend to uses cues in order to understand, orient, and negotiate frames (2).

“This book seeks to develop interpretive sociolinguistic approaches to the analysis of real time processes in face to face encounters.” p. vii.

“Detailed observation of verbal strategies revealed that an individual’s choice of speech style has symbolic value and interpretive consequences that cannot be explained simply by correlating the incidence of linguistic variants with independently determined social and contextual categories.” p. vii.
This is a direct challenge to the Saussarian way of viewing things/structural linguistics .
Sociolinguistic variables are themselves constitutive of social reality and can be treated as part of a more general class of indexical signs which guide and channel the interpretation of intent.” p. vii.
“A general theory of discourse strategies must therefore begin by specifying the linguistic and socio-cultural knowledge that needs to be shared if conversational involvement is to be maintained, and then go on to deal with what it is about the nature of conversational inference that makes for cultural, subcultural and situational specificity of interpretation.” p. 2-3.
“Language differences play an important, positive role in signalling information as well as in creating and maintaining the subtle boundaries of power, status, role and occupational specialization that make up the fabric of our social life.” pp. 6-7.
“By careful examination of the signalling mechanisms that conversationalists react to, one can isolate cues and symbolic conventions through which distance is maintained or frames of interpretation are created.” p. 7.
“Only data which had been removed from situated contexts and transposed into abstract categories through further intensive elicitation sifting and hypothesis testing could serve as the basis for generalizations about language functioning.” p. 12.
29- “There is a need for a sociolinguistic theory which accounts for the communicative functions of linguistic variability and for its relation to speakers’ goals without reference to untestable functionalist assumptions about conformity or nonconformance to closed systems of norms.”
Ethnic categories and linguistic variations are symbolic entities which speakers use to accomplish communicative goals (p. 29). These symbols are indexical of historical and present relationships between people. Each group has its own language that contrasts to other groups (creating the in-group out-group dichotomy). Code-switching then indexes belonging between the two groups.
“That code switching serves to convey semantically significant information in verbal interaction has not been systematically explored. The purpose of the present chapter is to focus on these communicative aspects of code switching; to show how speakers and listeners utilize subconsciously internalized social and grammatical knowledge in interpreting bilingual conversations.” pp. 63-64.
“It is this overly marked separation between in- and out-group standards which perhaps best characterizes the bilingual experience.” p. 65.
“What distinguishes bilinguals from their monolingual neighbors is the juxtaposition of cultural forms: the awareness that their own mode of behavior is only one of several possible modes, that style of communication affects the interpretation of what a speaker intends to communicate and that there are others with different communicative conventions and standards of evaluation that must not only be taken into account but that can also be imitated or mimicked for special communicative effect.” p. 65.
Interpretations are thus negotiated, repaired, and altered through interactive processes (159-160).
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