6.3.2 Adjacency Pairs

Hill and Irvine, when discussing dialogic approaches to discourse analysis, note that ‘many aspects of linguistic form may usefully be seen as having interactional processes profoundly embedded in them’ (1993:1). Here adjacency pairs are claimed as one such. Schegloff and Sacks (1973) state that an adjacency pair has these features:

1. two utterance length
2. adjacent positioning of the component utterances
3. different speakers producing each utterance
4. relative ordering of parts i.e. first pair parts precede second pair parts
5. discriminative relations i.e. the pair type of which a first pair part is a member is relevant to the selection among second pair parts

(pp.295-6)

A simple rule of adjacency pair operation is that when a speaker produces the first part of some pair he must stop speaking and the next speaker produces a second part of the same pair (p.296). Such pairs can be: question-answer, summons-answer, greeting-greeting etc. (In the discussion to follow it is the question-answer adjacency pair that will receive most attention.) This may seem straightforward enough but both Levinson (1983) and Heritage (1984a) see certain problems with such a bald formulation and add their own qualifications. Both recognise that such pairs are not always uttered in immediately adjacent positions. Here we use an example from Goffman to illustrate this.

Q1. A: Have you got the time?
Q2. B: Standard or daylight saving?
Q3. A: What are you running on?
A3. B: Standard.
A2: A: Standard, then.
A1. B: It’s five o’clock.

(1981:7)

Here we note not only that the answer to question one (Q1) is not given immediately (it actually comes in the sixth utterance of this exchange) but also that even though the intervening ‘insertion sequences’ (Schegloff 1972) Q2 to A2 also conform to the adjacency pair rule and thus all questions are eventually answered, Russian doll fashion, one inside the other, only pair Q3-A3 is literally adjacent. Heritage makes a further point that such a feature as adjacency pairs is not based on statistical calculation (‘it may be the case that 99% of greetings are promptly returned or 95% of questions immediately answered’ (1984a:246)) but that it is a normative framework for action which is accountably implemented (p.247 original emphasis). That is, its absence is problematic and requires some explanation. (Dascal speaks more forcefully of ‘conversational demand’ (1992:45)). We can use another example from Goffman to show how participants can orientate to this normative framework in highly efficient ways.

A: Have you got coffee to go?
B: Milk and sugar?
A: Just milk.

This exchange, which takes the form of Q-Q-A rather than, say, Q-A-R (response), can be expanded to

 

A1:

 

Have you got coffee to go?

[B1:]

B2:

[Yes.]

Milk and sugar?

 

A2:

 

Just milk.

thus showing that B’s response is both a second pair part to ‘Have you got coffee to go?’ and a first pair part to ‘Just milk’ (1981:7-8).

Question routines such as these, which raise certain expectations concerning responses, and which can have additional material inserted between the corresponding pairs, clearly provide space for humorous play, as we shall see in the following example. It comes from the film ‘The Holy Grail’, and in this scene King Arthur and his knights, in their quest to find the Grail, have reached The Bridge Of Death, which crosses The Gorge Of Peril. The bridge is guarded by a bridgekeeper (B) and the knights take it in turns to attempt to cross the bridge. First to go is the adventurous Sir Lancelot (L).

B: [Holding up outstretched palm] Stop! Who would cross the Bridge Of Death must answer these questions three, ere the other side he see.
L: Ask me the questions, bridgekeeper, I am not afraid.
B: What is your name?
L: My name is Sir Lancelot of Camelot.
B: What is your quest?
L: To seek the Holy Grail.
B: What is your favourite colour?
L: Blue.
B: Right. Off you go. [Signals him across bridge.]

The cowardly Sir Robin (R), seeing the ease of this task, eagerly steps forward.

B: Who approaches the Bridge Of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.
R: Ask me the questions, bridgekeeeper, I am not afraid
B: What is your name?
R: Sir Robin of Camelot.
B: What is your quest?
R: To seek the Holy Grail.
B: What (1.0) [quickly] is the capital of Assyria?
R: [Perplexed] (2.5) I don’t know that! [He is hurled screaming into the Gorge of Peril by unseen forces]

Next Sir Galahad (G) approaches the bridge.

B: [Holding up outstretched palm] Stop! What is your name?
R: Sir Galahad of Camelot.
B: What is your quest.
G: I seek the Grail.
B: What is your favourite colour?
G: Blue. (1.0) No… [He is hurled screaming into the Gorge of Peril by unseen forces]
Now it is King Arthur (A) who comes forward.

B: Stop! What is your name?
A: It is Arthur, King of the Britons.
B: What is your quest?
A: To seek the Holy Grail.
B: What (0.5) [quickly] is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
A: What do you mean? An African or European swallow?
B: [Confused] I, I don’t know that. [He also is hurled screaming into the Gorge Of
Eternal Peril by unseen forces
]

(Chapman et al 1974)

Before analysing these exchanges we need to make some comments on the nature of questions themselves. When discussing illocutionary acts Searle distinguishes between two types of questions, (a) real questions, and (b) exam questions. ‘In real questions S [speaker] wants to know (find out) the answer; in exam questions, S wants to know if H [hearer] knows’ (1969:66). Such questions can be distinguished not only by their semantic content (a. ‘What’s the time?’ asked of someone in the street; b. ‘What’s the capital of France?’ asked of a child in the classroom) but also by, and this is what is relevant to the present discussion, the patterns of the sequences in which they occur, with the response playing a significant role in determining what type of question has been asked. Discussing ‘real’ questions, Heritage comments that conversationalists can use various ‘third turn’ resources to show that an answer to a question has provided them with new information. ‘“Oh” is one such resource, “really”, “did you”’ “God”, “wow”, etc. are other, related resources’ (1984a:287). For example,

S: .hh When do you get out. Christmas week or the week before Christmas
(0.3)

G: Uh:m two or three days before Ch

ristmas

S:

Oh:,

(p.285)

The pattern is Question-Answer-Response (Q-A-R), with the response (‘Oh’) being what Heritage elsewhere calls a ‘change of state’ token (1984b) or ‘news receipt’ (1985), the change of state here being the acquisition of new knowledge. With ‘exam’ questions, however, which commonly take place in an educational setting, the teacher’s response of acceptance or rejection ‘proposes independent knowledge of the answer’ (Heritage 1984a:288). Such a classroom sequence comes from Levinson.

Teacher: Why do you eat all that food? Can you tell me why you eat all that food? Yes.
Child: To keep strong.
T: To keep you strong. Yes. To keep you strong. Why do you want to be strong? Why would you want to be strong?
C: Sir – muscles.
T: To make muscles. Yes. Well what would you want to do with your muscles?

(1979:386)

Levinson says such questions are a useful resource in the classroom because 1. they enjoin participation, 2. they test for knowledge, and 3. they allow students to express any problems they might have with the subject (p.383). As for the pattern, it is, as with ‘real’ questions, Q-A-R, with the response, in this case, being confirmation of the already known answer.

These, though, are not the only question pattern sequences. Levinson, when discussing activity types and language, gives this extract from a criminal trial.

 

A:

…you have had sexual intercourse on a previous occasion, haven’t you?

 

B:

Yes.

 

A:

On many previous occasions?

 

B:

Not many.

 

A:

Several?

 

B:

Yes.

 

A:

With several men?

 

B:

No.

 

A:

Just one?

X

B:

Two.

 

A:

Two. And you are seventeen and a half?

 

B:

Yes.

(1979:380-1)

Because the questioner here is not asking for information that he does not have (it is a counsel’s job to have such information and the tag ‘haven’t you?’ in the first question strongly indicates this is so) nor is he testing the witness to see if she knows the answers (it is clear that people know such things about themselves), these questions are neither ‘real’ questions nor ‘exam’ questions. Levinson says that their function is ‘to extract from the witness answers that build up to form a “natural” argument for the jury’ (p.381), and Heritage notes that this is shown by, inter alia, ‘the questioner’s avoidance of any form of third turn receipt item in favour of a move to the next question’(1984a:289). Thus, the sequence here is a repeated Q-A pattern, not a Q-A-R pattern as in the other two types of question sequence discussed above. (Perhaps the counsel’s response of ‘Two’ at X can be seen as an exam-like response. Even if this is so, it can also be seen as a repetition for the judge’s and jury’s ears in order to further strengthen a crucial point of the argument he is building – ‘This is a woman of loose morals’ – and it is immediately followed with another question to start up the Q-A pattern once more to add yet more weight to the argument.) We can call these questions ‘cross-examination’ questions.

If we look at the range of questions and responses in the exchanges from Monty Python we see that they provide a richly varied source of material for analysis. It is to be expected that the keeper of the Bridge of Death, which crosses the Gorge of Peril, would want to submit anyone wishing to cross the bridge to some kind of test. Indeed, his opening line is a direct challenge: ‘If you want to cross the bridge you must answer these three questions.’ Given this, it would be expected that his questions would be ‘exam’ questions with a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ answer, and giving the wrong answer would result in failure to cross the bridge. Yet the three asked of Lancelot seem to be ‘real’ questions, at least in terms of their semantic content, (‘What is your name/quest/favourite colour?’), and by simply providing the apparently ignorant bridgekeeper with such simple information Lancelot succeeds in passing across the bridge. That is, he ‘passes the exam’ simply by talking about himself. Yet this strange amalgam of real and exam (the questions are ‘real’ and the context is ‘exam’) does not have the sequence pattern of Q-A-R, which would be expected of both. The sequence is the repeated Q-A pattern of cross-examination found in trials. This leads the observer to ask: what is the argument being built, and for whom is it being built? The answers come in the following exchange, which is with Sir Robin.

Two points emerge from this exchange. The first is the sudden shift from two real questions to a third that is clearly an exam question: ‘What is the capital of Assyria?’ (We could almost be back in a geography class.) Robin, expecting another straightforward real question about himself, is taken aback and fails to answer. At this point we see that failing to give the right answer not only results in failing to cross the bridge, but also in a violent death at the hands of unseen forces. And it is for these forces, it would seem, that the argument is being built by the cross-examination sequential pattern which dominates the exchanges. Thus, these forces are both judge and jury in these ‘trials’. But they are more than this; they are also executioner, hurling Robin to his death, and, moreover, this action can be seen as a response, a rejection of his answer, thereby completing the Q-A-R pattern of exam questions. If this is the case, then Lancelot being allowed to cross the bridge earlier can also be viewed as a response, an acceptance of his answers. This means, then, that the immediate cross-examination pattern taking place between the keeper and the knights takes place within a larger ‘exam’ pattern involving the unseen forces.

The next exchange, between Galahad and the keeper, reveals an interesting attitude on the part of the questioned participant, Galahad. The keeper, having tricked Robin with a sudden exam question, here returns to the real questions he first asked of Lancelot. Galahad has seen Lancelot successfully cross the bridge by giving three acceptable answers to the three real questions. He has also seen Robin fail to cross the bridge and be hurled to his death by failing to answer a third question which was an exam question. It would seem that in answering his own three questions Galahad scrambles what he has seen take place in the preceding two exchanges and treats the third question he is asked (‘What is your favourite colour?’) not as a real question, as was asked of Lancelot, but as another sudden ‘trick’ exam question, as was asked of Robin (‘What is the capital of Assyria?’). Having seen Lancelot succeed with the answer ‘Blue’, which for Lancelot was the true answer to a real question, Galahad now sees this as the right answer to what he sees as an exam question and so he also answers ‘Blue’, only to immediately realise his mistake (‘Blue. (1.0) No…’) Once again failure results in a violent death, his main failure here not being in not knowing the answer but in not recognising the type of question asked. (This, of course, might well have been the intended result of the keeper using the power his position gives him to change back to three real questions. If this is so, then it was a ‘trick’ real question.)

Once again, in the final exchange, the keeper’s questions change tack as he reverts back to a sudden exam question, this one of unusual difficulty: ‘What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?’ (This also reincorporates a joke about swallows from earlier scenes.) Unperturbed by the question, Arthur asks one of his own to clarify the situation. (This recalls Levinson’s third point above concerning the usefulness of questions in the classroom: they allow students to express any problems they might have with the topic.) Arthur’s insertion sequence here is not unlike that in the above example from Goffman where ‘Milk and sugar?’ has the dual role of being a second pair part of the previous turn and a first pair part of the next turn. Here Arthur’s ‘What do you mean? African or European swallow?’ can be seen to perform a similar function and might be glossed as follows.

 

B1:

What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

[A1:]

A2:

[I know the answer but I would like you to be more specific.] What do you mean? An African or European swallow?

 

B2:

I, I don’t know that.

Note that in this gloss Arthur’s question ‘An African or European swallow?’ is seen as a ‘real’ question and the keeper’s answer can be seen as appropriate.
Of more significance, though, is the powerful effect that this simple insertion sequence has on the relationship of the interlocutors. Suddenly it is King Arthur who has the power of questioner and it is the bridgekeeper who has the role of the questioned. When the latter fails to answer, the blind justice of the unseen forces hurl him into the gorge. Thus, the above gloss could be amended as follows.

 

B1:

What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

[A1:]

A2:

[This is an incomplete question to which I cannot give an answer which is as specific as I would like. Do you, a man whose questions can decide if another man lives or dies, really know what you’re talking about? Let us see.] What do you mean? An African or European swallow?

 

B2:

I, I don’t know that. [He is hurled into the gorge]

Note that in this gloss Arthur’s question is seen as an ‘exam’ question and the keeper’s answer can once again be seen as appropriate. What determines it as an exam question, however, is the response of the unseen forces – hurling the keeper into the gorge for failing to give the ‘right’ answer.
Before moving on to further discuss insertion sequences, a brief summary of the foregoing is in order. While there are different types of questions which are distinguishable not simply by their semantic content but also structurally, one way of exploiting them for humorous ends is to blur such organisational distinctions, as was done in the extracts from Monty Python. It was seen how in an ‘exam’ context such non-exam questions as ‘What is your favourite colour?’ were asked. Further, the sequential patterns of such exchanges unexpectedly took the form of yet another question type, that of cross-examination, but, on closer examination, this pattern was seen to be contained within a larger, ‘exam’ pattern involving the unseen forces, the real seat of power in these exchanges. This deliberate obfuscation led to one of the examined, Robin, failing to predict a change in question type, and another, Galahad, confusing the type of question asked, both failures having fatal consequences. The final exchange saw how the use of a simple insertion sequence unpredictably transformed the participants’ roles, resulting in the death of the bridgekeeper. An overview of the various relationships between participants, parts, types and patterns is given here.

questions in the bridgekeeper scene

Fig. 7. Questions in the bridgekeeper scene.


Insertion sequences in everyday talk might be seen as disruptive of the coherence of a conversation (witness Arthur’s insertion sequence just discussed), but this is not necessarily the case. Levinson gives an example where there is a considerable delay between the initial question and, in this case, the non-answer. (Note that = = indicates adjoining utterances with no gap between them)


 

B:

…I ordered some paint from you uh a couple of weeks ago some vermilion

 

A:

Yuh

 

B:

And I wanted to order some more the name’s Boyd

A:

Yes // how many tubes would you like sir

 

B:

An-

 

B:

U:hm (.) What’s the price now eh with V.A.T. do you know eh

 

A:

Er I’ll just work that out for you =

 

B:

= Thanks

 

 

(10.0)

 

A:

Three pounds nineteen a tube sir

 

B:

Three nineteen is it =

 

A:

= Yeah

 

B:

E::h (1.0) yes u:hm ((dental click) (in parenthetical tone)) e:h jus-justa think, that’s what three nineteen. That’s for the large tube isn’t it

 

A:

Well yeah it’s the thirty-seven c.c.s

>

B:

Er, hh I’ll tell you what I’ll just eh eh ring you back I have to work out how many I’ll need. Sorry I did- wasn’t sure of the price you see

(1983:305, slightly amended)

Here we see that the question asked at has an intervening eight turns before it is finally dealt with at >. Also note that it is not answered with a number (the question was ‘How many tubes?’) but with an account as to why B can’t give a direct answer (’I have to work out how many I’ll need’). Levinson says that such a delay does not interfere with the coherence because of ‘conditional relevance’. This is a notion taken from Schegloff (who in turn attributes it to Sacks) which entails that in an adjacency pair situation ‘given the first, the second is expectable; upon its occurrence it can be seen as a second item to the first.’ (1972:364). Thus, despite all the turns between the question and the account for not answering the question, the participants do not lose track of the topic and find their exchanges to have relevance. And once again it underlines the importance of the interaction; meaning is here established and maintained jointly, with the hearer’s role being as significant as the speaker’s. And also once again it is clear to see that any such gap that can occur between items provides an opportunity for comedic exploitation, as we will now see.

Because of the potential delay between items this is a feature that can be worked in and out of a narrative over a lengthy period. In this example, which comes from Fawlty Towers, we see how such an extended sequence allows for what would ordinarily be a simple non-humorous exchange to be repeated and become a focus for humour. In this episode a confidence trickster is posing as a peer, Lord Melbury, and Fawlty has been taken in. True to character, Fawlty displays a grovelling attitude to this supposed aristocrat and this has led him in an earlier scene to move a family, the Wareings, from their window table, so that Lord Melbury could have a table with a view. The scene we look at here occurs towards the end of the episode and involves Fawlty (F), Mr. Wareing (W), Lord Melbury (M), and Fawlty’s wife, Sybille (S). Fawlty is standing behind the bar when the Wareing family enters. The scene has been edited.

F:

Ah, good evening, Mr. Wareing.

W:

[Coldly] A gin and orange, a lemon squash, and a Scotch and water.

F:

Certainly. [Turns to get glasses]

 

(2.0)

W:

Oh, is there any part of the room that we should stay away from?

F:

What? [Understands reference] Oh – ha-ha-ha.

W:

[Sourly] We’ll be over there, then. [Moves towards a table near the window]

 

[Edit]

 

[Enter Lord Melbury]

M:

Evening, Fawlty.

F:

Ah, good evening, Lord Melbury.

W:

[To Fawlty, indicating the whole room with a sweep of his arm] Anywhere?

F:

Yes, anywhere, anywhere. [To Lord Melbury] Lord Melbury, may I offer you an aperitif as our guest?

M:

Oh, that’s very kind of you. Dry sherry, if you please.

F:

[Admiringly] What else? Ahh…!

Fawlty then moves from behind the bar to present Melbury with his drink. They then have a conversation about Fawlty’s coin collection. In the background Wareing can be seen looking at Fawlty expectantly. Melbury eventually leaves and Sybille Fawlty draws Fawlty’s attention to Wareing.

 

S:

Basil.

 

F:

Yes, I’m just talking to Lord Melbury, dear.

>

W:

A gin and orange, a lemon squash, and a Scotch and water.

<

F:

I do apologise. I was just talk

ing to

 

M:

[Re-enters]

Fawlty, er, I was, erm, I was thinking…

They converse further about the coin collection. Melbury once more begins to leave in the direction of reception. Again Sybille Fawlty draws her husband’s attention to Wareing.

 

S:

Basil!

 

F:

[Grinding his teeth] I’m talking to Lord Melbury!

>

W:

[Insistent] A gin and orange, a lemon squash, and a Scotch and water. [Slams hand on table]

<

F:

[Begrudgingly] All right, all right. [Goes behind bar]

     

At this point the bell in reception rings and Fawlty, believing it to be Lord Melbury, leaves the bar and goes to reception. Here a train of events ensues involving the police, who arrest Melbury as a confidence trickster. Fawlty, upset, disappointed, and completely distracted by these events, is now hanging a picture in reception. Sybille enters from the bar closely followed by Mr. Wareing.

 

S:

Basil.

>

W:

[Shouting] A gin and orange, a lemon squash, and a Scotch and water!

 

[As the titles roll Fawlty charges at him, grabs him, drags him into the bar where he pushes him into his chair before giving him the glasses and bottles and tells him to serve himself.]

 

(Cleese and Booth 1998)

Here we have the adjacency pair of request-acceptance in which a request for a drink seems to be immediately attended to (Fawlty turns to get the glasses) but which is delayed by other action. The request is made a total of four times at the following intervals in broadcast time:

First request: 0 minutes 0 seconds
Second request: 1m 30s
Third request: 2m 05s
Final request: 7m 33s.

The seven and a half minutes between the initial request and its corresponding response amounts to 25% of the thirty minutes broadcast time of this episode, a significant period, and clearly such structural delays provide a useful narrative device. It might be argued that this example doesn’t correspond precisely with the example given concerning the request for paint. Apart from the fact that this involves a request-acceptance pair and not a question-answer pair, there is also the fact that here the utterances between the initial request and its response are (a) not exchanges between the original interlocutors, Fawlty and Wareing, and (b) not conditionally relevant to the topic, the purchase of drinks. This is in part accurate, as Fawlty discusses a different topic with a different interlocutor (we are not privy to Wareing’s utterances, but we do see him in the background looking expectantly at Fawlty i.e. maintaining topic). But the exchanges at > and < are between the original participants and they are conditionally relevant (Fawlty’s apology and then his reluctant compliance both attest to this), so despite Fawlty’s distractions with Melbury, there is a relevant and continuous interaction taking place between Fawlty and Wareing, in parallel, as it were, with their more immediate concerns.

This device allows humour to be provided in at least two ways, both tied in with a point made earlier in the discussion of the incongruous nature of comic characters (1.3), namely, that they invariably behave in a manner that sets them at odds with the world. Here it is primarily Fawlty’s naked snobbery and rudeness – significant elements in his make-up – which generate the comic incongruities. Firstly, there is the cumulative humour in the move from Fawlty’s initial polite and obliging response to the drinks request (Certainly. [Turns to get glasses] ), through an increasing scale of dereliction and impoliteness ( [Begrudingly] All right, all right.), to the final action in which he actually assaults the customer and orders him to serve himself. Secondly, in the spaces between the first three requests, Fawlty’s ignoring of Wareing is in complete contrast to his fawning to ‘Lord’ Melbury, a glaring comedic juxtaposition. Typically, his grovelling class obeisance is eventually rendered meaningless by the exposure of Melbury as a charlatan.

However, it should not be thought that it is only in the exaggerated world of comedy that we find extended sequences of such length. It has been established earlier (6.1) that background knowledge and shared methods of interpretation play a crucial role in the assignment of meaning between interlocutors. Clearly, in the personal histories between two people who have known one another over a period of time there is much common ground and this can assist in easy communication. It can also facilitate exchanges which are both subtle and remote, as this example from Barbados shows. Fisher (1976) discusses the Barbadian practice of ‘dropping remarks’, which he defines as

An organised and typically clever routine used by Barbadians to goad an opponent during an intermediate stage of dispute. In a prevalent form the speaker makes a comment ostensibly for one hearer, though the intention is to demean an overhearer who recognises the speaker’s intention to insult.
(p.227)

He offers the following diagram by way of illustration.

remark dropping

Fig . 8. Schematic diagram of remark dropping, triangular situation (p.232)

As an example of this practice he relates how a woman wore a very bright shade of lipstick to a party where she heard another woman remark to a man whose lips were in a normal state: ‘Oh, I thought your mouth was burst’. Fisher comments, ‘The remark is imperfectly contained within the dialogue of the speaker and the sham receiver. As she [the target] explained to me “She mean it to me, but she say it to him”’ (p.231, original emphasis). It is apparent that the dispute between the remark dropper and the overhearer has a history and will, presumably, continue in the future, thus continuing a sequence the individual components of which are remote from one another in space and time. Naturally, the talk that occurs between such turns (which will only be with other people, given the state of affairs between the two involved in the dispute) cannot be considered to be insertion sequences, as the days’, weeks’, or months’ talk would not be guided by the conditional relevance of the dispute. Such relevance would seem only (or mainly) to be activated by the participants’ mutual physical presence. We can attempt to grasp this rather intangible state of affairs by considering it in terms of an adjacency pair sequence, or a string of such sequences, extended over time and having different places of utterance. Elaborating previous diagrams of pragmatic interpretation to accommodate these new factors gives us the following representation (Figure 9) of the above ‘I thought your mouth was burst’ utterance.

In the diagram we see we see that the turn of the extended sequence between the speaker and the overhearer is contained within the turn of the immediate sequence between the speaker and the sham overhearer. Within the immediate sequence there are not only two possible speaker meanings, direct and indirect, there are also two possible hearer meanings, the sham hearer and the overhearer. It is the indirect speaker meaning and the overhearer meaning which constitute the turn of the extended sequence between those two interlocutors. It is entirely possible that the sham hearer too will share the overhearer meaning, depending on his/her knowledge of the history of the relationship between the speaker and the overhearer. Being a member of the same culture and thus knowing about the practice of dropping remarks, the sham hearer will at least be aware that the utterance, not being relevant to the immediate sequence the sham is involved in, is almost certainly for someone else’s ears. Also important to note here is that this is not simply a matter of formal structures having extensive capabilities but the fact that what sustains this adjacency pair sequence through time and space is the social relationship between the interlocutors. That is, it is the extralinguistic, nonformal features of the situation which breathe life into the formal structures.

Dropping remarks may be a common cultural practice in Barbados but this is not to say that it is unique to that island. Goffman sees it as a not uncommon practice in American culture and refers to it with the common phrase ‘innuendo’. He notes further that the speaker ‘overlays his remarks with a patent but deniable meaning’ (1981:134, emphasis added). Fisher similarly reports an informant telling him that were someone to challenge a remark he had dropped he would reply, ‘“Who told you I was referrin’ to you? You must be hearin’ things”’ (p.234). In such games of pragmatic ping-pong there is clearly a divergence between utterance meaning and speaker’s meaning, or, in Austinian terms, between illocutionary force and perlocutionary effect, where the speaker, if challenged, can always deny any speaker’s meaning attributed to him/her or claim that the perlocutionary effect does not match the illocutionary force. Thomas discusses similar phenomena in terms of ambivalence, plurivalence, and multivalence, where single utterances deliberately have more than one illocutionary force (1986, Sections 4.4, 4.5). It is not uncommon in public life to see, for example, politicians use such interstices to indirectly goad one another. They can defame an opponent through the overlay channel yet when challenged deny any such intent by pointing to the direct channel. It is worth looking at such an example from public life because there the overlay channel is usually the mass media, a channel that takes the dropped remark not

text=sentence meaning:

‘I’ = first person subject pronoun

 

‘thought’ = past tense of verb ‘to think’

 

‘your’ = possessive adjective second person

 

‘mouth’ = opening in head of animals
for food

 

‘was’ = past tense of verb ‘to be’

 

‘burst’ = past participle of verb ‘to burst’

 

sentence meaning in context
=utterance meaning

‘I’ = the speaker now at this party
‘thought’ = am of the opinion/believe

‘your mouth’ = the mouth of my
present speaking partner

‘was burst’ = is damaged in some way

speaker's meaning

hearer's meaning

direct meaning

=utterance meaning

indirect meaning overhearer's meaning

='The overhearer's lips look terrible.'

TURN OF EXTENDED SEQUENCE

sham hearer's meaning

???

 

TURN OF IMMEDIATE SEQUENCE

Fig. 9. Extended sequence of dropping remarks

just to the target overhearer but to millions of other overhearers, who are also free to speculate on the speaker’s intent. This example comes not from politics but from professional football.

In the 1995-6 season Newcastle United took a significant lead over their nearest rivals, Manchester United. The season runs from August to May and as the end neared Newcastle’s lead slipped point by point and by April Manchester had overtaken them at the top. The Manchester manager, Alex Ferguson, is a very experienced campaigner noted for, among other things, the ‘mind games’ he plays with competing managers. The Newcastle manager, Kevin Keegan, was, in contrast, a novice in management at that time. After a hard-fought home win by Manchester over Leeds, Ferguson, knowing that Leeds were due to play at home to Newcastle only twelve days later, commented that he couldn’t understand Leeds, they only seemed to play well against Manchester United: ‘“…it’s pathetic the way [Leeds] have been playing. If they played every week like they did tonight it would be a different story”’ (Hughes 1996). The overlay channel message/indirect speaker meaning (if there was one; all such innuendo is deniable, recall) could here be interpreted in at least two ways. One, to Leeds, ‘Give Newcastle a hard game’, and two, to Keegan, ‘You have it easier than us’.

The mild-mannered Keegan remained silent until after the Leeds game (which his team won) when he famously exploded in a post-match TV interview. His voice cracking with emotion, he gave a reply explicitly naming Alex Ferguson, even though there had not been any direct comment to Keegan from the Manchester United manager. Keegan said, somewhat contradictorily, ‘It’s not part of the psychological battle, when you do that with footballers like he said about Leeds. I’ve kept really quiet, but he went down in my estimation when he said that. It really has got to me. The battle is still on and Manchester United have not won it yet’ (Ball 1996, emphasis added). Ferguson did not comment further, having achieved any ulterior objective he may have had, without the risk of direct exposure.

It is to be expected that such an indirect method of address would be used by writers of comedy and we close this section with an example of comedic remark dropping. It comes from the situation comedy series ‘Frasier’. Frasier is a celebrity psychiatrist with his own phone-in radio show. Roz is his producer. In this episode she has got a commission for a special programme of her own on ‘Space’. She takes on Frasier to narrate her show but when he tries to dominate they fall out and Frasier leaves that production. Here Frasier (F) is conducting his usual telephone counselling radio show. He is in the studio in front of the microphone and Roz (R) is sitting in the control booth to his left. They can see one another through the glass window. (Figures in brackets are pauses in seconds. Colon : indicates lengthened vowel.)

1. F: I’ve gone on here a bit, Fred, so let me try to boil this down for you. (1.5) if you
2. want to be a good leader (0.5) you’ve got to be able to admit when you’re wrong.
3. (2.0) No-one ever stood so tall (0.5) as when he (1.0) [Sideways glance at Roz] or
4. she:: [Cut to Roz acknowledging reference] stooped to say ‘I’m sorry’.
5. Fred: What’s that got to do with my fear of intimacy? [Cut to Roz who looks at
6. Frasier expectantly]
7. F: [Looking embarrassed] Which brings to mind another phrase. (1.0) There is
8. none so blind as he (1.0) [Sideways glance at Roz] or she who will not see. (1.5)
9. We’ll be right back after the news. [Switches off main microphone]
10. R: Subtle, Frasier. But just so you know (0.5) I do not owe you an apology. You
11. were trying to take over my show and that’s why I fired you.
12. F: You didn’t fire me. I quit.

(Johnson & Marcil 2001)

Here we see the indirect continuation of the dispute through Frasier dropping remarks. In the direct channel he is talking on the phone to (primarily) Fred (line 1) and (secondarily) many thousands of listeners about Fred’s fear of intimacy. Yet his remarks are addressed to Roz through the overlay channel: talking about leadership (2), the need to apologise (2, 4) and giving the pronoun ‘she’ great emphasis with the use of dramatic pause (3) and stress (4). This confuses Fred, who is not party to the dispute, and he seeks repair (5). However, Frasier persists in dropping remarks to Roz (8) before cutting Fred off without properly addressing his problem. Roz is clearly aware throughout that she is being addressed (4) and confirms in her remarks in 10-11 that she has understood this and even, like Keegan, makes a direct reply to the topic of their dispute. Frasier, however, is too vain and pompous to remain silent (as Ferguson did) or to deny that the remarks were for her (as in Fisher’s example), and cannot resist taking up the dispute in the direct channel (12). The humour arises not only from being aware of the meaning behind Frasier’s indirect references (unlike Fred, we are party to Roz’s role as overhearer) but chiefly in the way these confirm the main traits of Frasier’s comic character – arrogance, superiority, childishness, hopelessly incongruous traits for someone whose social role is that of a public counsellor.

To briefly summarise the foregoing, then, it can be seen that ‘adjacency’ is not always the same as ‘contiguity’. Relevance, that most important of conversational maxims, would seem to be the crucial determining factor. It was seen how relevance can help answer the fundamental CA question concerning sequences – ‘why that now?’ – in immediate terms, in sequences within greater sequences, in parallel sequences, and also in encounters remote in time and place.

A Pragmatic Approach to Humour> 6.3.1 Speech Acts

6.2 Talk In Interaction>

6.3 Some Features Of Talk>

6.3.1 Turn Taking>

6.3.2 Adjacency Pairs

6.3.3 Preference>

Contents>