Putting Prior Talk Into Context: Reported Speech and the Reporting Context

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Central Michigan University]On: 05 November 2014, At: 10:47Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

    Research on Language andSocial InteractionPublication details, including instructions for authorsand subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/hrls20

    Putting Prior Talk Into Context:Reported Speech and theReporting ContextRichard ButtnyPublished online: 14 Jun 2010.

    To cite this article: Richard Buttny (1998) Putting Prior Talk Into Context: ReportedSpeech and the Reporting Context, Research on Language and Social Interaction, 31:1,45-58, DOI: 10.1207/s15327973rlsi3101_3

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15327973rlsi3101_3

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  • Research on Language and Social h~teractinn, 31(1), 45-58 Copyright O 1998, Lawrence Er1bat.m Associates, Inc.

    Putting Prior Talk Into Context: Reported Speech and the Reporting Context

    Richard Buttmy Department of Speech Communication

    Syracuse University

    Within the disciplines interested in language and social interaction, there are multiple approaclhes to the notion of context (Goodwin & Duranti, 1992). Although there is no unanimity on how to treat context, there is wide agreement that rve need to attend to it. It is by now axiomatic: If context is ignored, then we cannot adequately interpret the text. In this article, I offer some general ruminations on context before turning to the specific problem of reported speech and context.

    THE IDEA OF CONTEXT

    Perhaps the very vocabulary we use to raise these issues, "text" and '"context," misleads us. The literary emphasis of the notion of "text," as opposed to "talk," or "conversation," or "talk-in-interaction" has been pointed out (Schegloff, 199'7). A related criticism could be made of the term context. Taken literally, context surrounds the text; it is that in which the text takes place. Thought of as surrounding the text, context conjures up spatial imagery+ontext as a container, context as the sociophysical

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    Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Richard Buttny, Department of Speech Communication, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244. E-mail: rbuktny@syr.edu

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  • 46 Richard Ruttny 7-

    setting, the specialized institution, the foreign culture. If text encompasses the words spoken during an exchange, then context involves the remaining aspects of the socid interactian. If text is the microlevel of social inter- action, context includes macrolevel dimensions in which to situate the text, such as histoi-ical background, the participants' power or economic position. Operationally, the text is that which can be written up in a transcript whereas the context is the background information supplied parenthetically at the beginning-the cast of characters, the social or physical setting, the participants' relationship, and so on.

    Few, if any, theorists subscribe to the view of context as container, though in research practice it is not uncolnmonly treated in this way. A more reflective view takes context as cxisting both independently of the text and as jrelcreated in and through the text. On this dual-aspect conception, context is both external and internal to the talk. both exogenotkii and endogenous to communicative interaction (Heritage, 1984); context Is simultaneously brought dong and brought about through the talk (Auer. 1992).

    A sensible way to begin is to get to know as much as you can about the context. This seemingly innocuous claim raises the problem of how do we know that this background knowledge about the context is relevant for the participants here and now (Schegloff, 1991). Given the indefinitely vast amount of contextual information, as analysts we need some way to show that our background knowledge of the context is relevant for the participants. 'To tell that contextual featlrres are relevant we need to see that participants orient to them in some way. If participants are orienting to the context, then context may be available in the text.

    An approach to showing how participants orient to context comes from cmversation analysis, particularly studies focusing on institutional or specialized settings. for example, the courtroom, medical settings, broadcast news interviews, and the like (Drew & Heritage. 1992a; Drew & Sorjonen, f 991). The analytical goal is ti3 show how participants' social interaction reflects md constitutes their situated context. In such contexts partic'ipants enact and display institutional identities as seen in their talk. Judge-counsel, physician-patient, interviewer-interviewee exhibit char- acteristic ways of speaking that display these identities. These charac- teristic ways of speaking may include specialized forms of turn-taking, word choice, drawing inferences. and the like. The anaIyst searches the texts for the identifjeng details that mark &at talk as a particular context. So, contexts get talked into being through participants' particular ways of speaking and orienting to each other.

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  • Putting Prior Talk Into Context 47

    We need to take context as that which can be empirically investigated rather than as some factor that a priori is assumed to be at work. The proposition that gender or race is always relevant as a context to a conversation is the kind of claim being cautioned against. Although these features may indeed be relevant, we need to show in what ways they are rdevant through persons' orientations, that is, their t.allr, noticeable si- lence, or other nonverbal dilsplays. In a recent study on "talking race" (Buttny, 1997) I found, not surprisingly, that race was relevant in discur- sive con,structions about race but did not make a difference in describing the conversational practice of reporting speech.

    In some of my prior work I have concentrated OII the context of couple therapy (Buttny, 19980; Buttny & Cohen, 1991; B~uttny & Jensen, 1995; Buttny, 1996). Part of this project has been to specify characteristic ways that participants orient to and display the interactic~n as therapy. In orienting to the interaction a,s therapy, participants are partaking in varied speech acts, positionings, and footings that constitute the therapeutic context. However, these conversational practices, although characteristic of therapy, are not unique to therapy-they can be found in other contexts a~s well. As Heritage (1984) pointed out, the third turn of a question-an- swer-evaluation sequence k, seen in a variety of institutional settings as 21 slot for the institutional representative to evaluate the client's prior answer. Also, everyday talk (:an take on a therapy-like chxacter. Ordinary c:onversation can exhibit w ~ y s of speaking also found in therapy, such as cautiousness, qualifying stakements, expressing uncertainty, citing pub- licly available facts, or discussing possibilities (Perakyla & Silverman, 1991; Bergmann, 1992; Drew & Heritage, 1992b; Gaik, 1992). Granted, therapeutic discourse is not so unique or distinctive that it cannot be found in other contexts. Nonethe1e:ss the general claim still holds-these ways of speaking are characteristic of the practice of therapy. If we were to view a videowe or read the transcript without knowing what it was, I submit that we would be able to readily identify the context by the participants' discourse. It is through certain ways of speaking and conversational practices that persons display and orient to their situated identities and local knowledge of context.

    An endogenous sense of context seems to make a stronger case than an exogenous context (cf. Mandelbau