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«1 QUESTION-ANSWER SEQUENCES IN SECOND LANGUAGE DYADIC TUTORIALS Hassan Belhiah, PhD Assistant Professor Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane email: ...»

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Hassan Belhiah, PhD

Assistant Professor

Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane

email: h.belhiah@aui.ma


This study analyses question-answer sequences in second language dyadic tutorials. It is inspired

by L1 research (e.g., Clayman, Elliott, Heritage and McDonald, 2006; Clayman & Heritage, 2002;

& Raymond, 2003) that sought to demonstrate how the investigation of questions, including their grammar, as interactional products has a bearing on our understanding of the connection between grammar and social organization. The analysis pays close attention to how utterances are framed and oriented to by participants as questions. In so doing, it takes into account the combinatorial effects of spoken and kinesic practices in the activity of question formation.

Introduction In recent years, a sizeable body of research has been undertaken on the nature of questions used by or addressed to second language learners. These studies have dealt with a variety of issues, including native language interference (Lightbown & d'Anglejan, 1985; Picard, 2002), the emergence of wh-questions in second language acquisition (Park, 2000; Yuan, 2007), and the degree to which second language learners’ questions reflect aspects of interlanguage or native-like competence (Vander Brook, Schlue, & Campbell, 1980; Williams, 1990). These studies and others focused their energies primarily on the cognitive aspects of acquisition with a view to pinning down the mechanisms or machinery underlying the process of question formation.

While these studies have managed to shed some light on the internal factors governing the acquisition of question formation, they are not without limitations. For one thing, the orientation embraced in these studies does not incorporate the non-structural aspects of language use, such as repair and bodily comportment. As Markee has recently pointed out, focusing on the joint deployment of spoken and kinesic practices can provide valuable insights about how second language interaction operates in real-time, mundane conversation (Markee, 2005). Second, success—that is displaying native-like competence—can be misguided if it hinges on an exclusive analysis of the formal aspects of language to the detriment of interactional practices such as turn-taking and sequence organization, since as Wagner claims, “there is no general rule about how NS and NNS converse” (1996, p. 230).

This study thus situates itself in the relatively recent line of scholarship which investigates the way second language learners and their interlocutors come to an understanding of the microinteractional organization of their talk. Some of the issues with which this line of scholarship has been concerned are negotiated comprehended input (Markee, 1995; 2000), repair management (Hosoda, 2000; 2006; Jung, 1999; Wong, 2000a), the construction of non-native identity (Wong, 2000b; Wong & Olsher, 2000), task accomplishment (Mondada & Pekarek Doehler, 2004; Mori, 2002), the construction of interculturality (Mori, 2003), participant orientations in foreign conversation-for-learning (Kasper, 2004), the accomplishment of intersubjectivity (Mori & Hayashi, 2006), and answer delaying in question-answer sequences (Gardner, 2004).

Therefore, unlike the formal approaches to the study of second language dyads, which assume that there are some syntactic mechanisms (e.g., wh-movement) that need to be observed when one constructs a question, the approach adopted in this study pays close attention to how an utterance is framed and oriented to by participants as a question. Indeed, some of the studies that have analyzed the structure of questions in L1 from an interactional perspective demonstrate that the act of questioning can be achieved by a myriad of forms other than questions, such as declaratively formatted utterances and B-events questions (Labov & Fanshel, 1977), and andprefacing (Heritage and Sorjonen, 1994). Other studies (e.g., Clayman, Elliott, Heritage and McDonald, 2006; Clayman & Heritage, 2002; Heritage, 2001; Heritage, 2002a; Heritage, 2002b;

Heritage & Roth. 1995; & Raymond, 2003) have also demonstrated how the investigation of questions, including their grammar, as interactional products can be a catalyst to our understanding of the connection between grammar and social organization. Following suit, the analysis of participants’ actions takes precedence over the analyst’s subjective interpretation of what an utterance accomplishes. The approach adopted here is radically emic in nature since all instances of questioning are treated as “local and sequential accomplishments that … [are] grounded in empirically observable conversational conduct” (Markee & Kasper, 2004, p. 495).

Let me start off by conducting a single-case analysis of an episode that shows how the combinatorial effects of spoken and kinesic practices result in treating a student’s utterance as a question, although syntactically it has the deceptive appearance of a declarative statement. The practice of providing a detailed account of a single-case is not uncommon among CA researchers. Since language use is an orderly behavior, it is expected that each and every episode that illustrates a certain practice conform to the general rules under which that practice operates.

Therefore, it is no surprise that some CA scholars can provide a fully-fledged account of a certain interactional phenomenon based on a description of a single case analysis or a handful

exemplars. As Schegloff (1993) eloquently puts it, we should bear in mind that:

One is also a number, the single case is also a quantity, and statistical significance is but one form of significance. Indeed, it is significance in only the technical sense that a “finding” in a sample may be taken as indicating the likely presence of an element of order in the larger universe being studied… And no number of other episodes that developed differently will undo the fact that in these cases it went the way it did, with that exhibited understanding. (p. 101) 1 Single-case Analysis The majority of what transpires in the ESL tutorial data in this study can be understood by examining what is called an adjacency pair, a term that describes two utterances that are normatively positioned one after the other in such a way that if one is uttered, the other will be expected to follow (Schegloff, 2007). The first pair part (FPP) of the adjacency pair which is the locus of my analysis here is initiated by the student, a native speaker of Korean. In it the student See also Schegloff (1987, 1988) is inquiring about the correct pronunciation of the initial sound in the word zero. The phoneme /z/, which is described phonetically as a voiced alveolar fricative, is absent from the phonetic inventory of Korean. As a result, the student is verbalizing his concern about the difficulty of pronouncing words beginning with the z sound in words like “zero,” especially that he cannot use the communicative strategy of avoidance (Schachter, 1974), since the word “zero” is of high frequency in mathematics, a subject that he tutors. He is therefore expressing his interest in learning how to pronounce it correctly and accurately. The adjacency pair under scrutiny occurs

in the middle of the following spate of talk (lines 12 through 15):

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What is interactionally remarkable about the sequence extending from lines 12 to 15 is that the student’s turn (lines 12 to 13) is treated as the FPP of a question-answer (QA) sequence although the tutor does not seem to have understood it as such immediately after it has been completed.

To be more specific, at the end of the student’s turn (line 13), there is a (.8) second pause before the tutor registers her assessment of the student’s pronunciation (line 14). This pause is not accompanied by any body language, such as “a thinking face,” (Goodwin & Goodwin, 1986) to communicate that the tutor has immediately perceived of the student’s turn as a question and that she is engaged in the action of pondering about how to answer the student’s question.

One possible reason for the tutor’s delayed orientation to the student’s turn as a question is that although his turn is syntactically hearable as complete, it is not in conformity with the interrogative syntax of wh-questions in English (i.e., insertion of a wh-pronoun and/or subjectverb-inversion). This then gives it the façade of a declarative statement rather than an interrogative sentence, and thereby the illocutionary force of a declaration rather than a query. As a matter of fact, the student’s utterance seems to be hearable as a “preface” or a “pre-expansion” to a question (Schegloff, 1980; Schegloff, 2007). And had the student initiated more talk during the pause (e.g., do we say zero or zi:ro?) it would have been an obvious preamble to the subsequent question. Accordingly, it seems that the opening slot in line 14 is treated by the tutor as a candidate for the insertion of the student’s question.

Despite the absence of these transition relevance place (TRP) cues (Ford, Fox, & Thompson, 1996), the tutor does ultimately treat and understand the student’s turn as a question.

This understanding has been occasioned by a combination of the student’s gaze and body comportment, along with the participants’ shared orientation to the business of tutoring as being fundamentally remedial in that the student’s turns will be attended to as requests for assistance with his linguistic needs. Beginning with gaze and body orientation, in line 12 as the student starts launching his turn, he withdraws his gaze and subsequently performs a series of actions with his body as he moves toward the end of his turn. To be more specific, he leans forward, gazes down at the paper, tilts it slightly outward in the direction of his tutor, and points to the word “zero” with this pen. By performing this amalgamation of body movements, the student seems to extend an invitation to the tutor to join him in attending to the item on the sheet, which is about the pronunciation of zero.

The question that then begs an answer is the following: what evidence exists to demonstrate that the student has been successful in coordinating talk, gaze, and body comportment to secure the tutor’s orientation to this task, thereby presenting his turn as a referential question that is awaiting an answer 2 ? There are at least three pieces of evidence, two of which are germane to the deployment of gaze by the student.

First, in line 12 the student prefaces his turn with the connective and. Heritage and Sorjonen (1994) explain that and-prefacing is a characteristic of question design “that invokes a sense of the questions it prefaces as routine, as a part of a line or agenda of questions, and as a component of a course of action that is being implemented in and through them” (p. 22). The student’s deployment of and-prefacing could thus be a precursor that what will follow is (another) question. It can also project that such question design has a routine character in that it will sustain orientation to the tutoring activity as being composed primarily of questions/answer sequences.

Second, on line 12 (see also Figure 1.1a) there is a notable convergence of the participants’ gaze in the direction of the sheet 3. Once the student has withdrawn his gaze from the tutor, and shifted it to the sheet held in his hand, the tutor follows suit. Change in gaze

orientation has occurred almost in tandem, with the student being the one initiating this shift:

About (1.3) seconds before asking his question, the student switches his gaze to the sheet, and even before he utters the conjunction “and,” the tutor exhibits alignment with this activity by directing her gaze to the student’s sheet, which is, so to speak, the locus of the current activity.

Referential questions are queries that seek to obtain new information from the hearer. They are also known as “real questions” (Searle, 1969) and “information-seeking” questions (Mehan, 1979). They are usually contrasted with display questions, whose answer is known to the teacher. For insights into the way some of these questions are used in ESL interactions, see Koshik 2002a and 2002b.

In the data presented in this paper, the student is the person sitting to the right.

Third, as Figure 1.1b clearly illustrates, toward the end of the student’s turn in line 13, precisely on the preposition “of”, the student starts shifting his gaze back to the direction of his tutor. Note that, as Figure 1.2c shows, his right hand is also returned to its initial position prior to starting the new turn, which results in him holding the sheet of paper with both hands instead of just one. This may be an indication that his turn has indeed come to completion and so has his orientation to the sheet. Indeed, the tutor aligns herself with this orientation by gazing back at the student on the word “zero,” therefore exhibiting not only her attendance to the student’s gaze work, but also her availability to supply an answer to his question. It is interesting to note here that the tutor briefly (0.8 second) gazes down at the student’s sheet of paper before providing her feedback in line 15.

So far, I have argued that what may not be initially hearable as a complete turn constructional unit (TCU) in the form of a question is indeed treated as such thanks to the participants’ attendance to each other’s gaze and orientation to the student’s sheet of paper as a primary site for launching questions. Nothing has been said, though, about the sequential Figure 1.1. The participants’ gaze and body orientation during the production of the student’s turn in lines 12 and 13

–  –  –

environment surrounding this adjacency pair and how it motivates them to produce and respond to each other’s actions as part of a recognizable and projectable course of action.

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