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Retroactive Operations: On 'increments' in Mandarin Chinese conversations

  • Author(s): Lim, Ni Eng
  • Advisor(s): Goodwin, Charles
  • Tao, Hongyin
  • et al.

Conversation Analysis (CA) has established repair (Schegloff, Jefferson & Sacks 1977; Schegloff 1979; Kitzinger 2013) as a conversational mechanism for managing contingencies of talk-in-interaction. In this dissertation, I look at a particular sort of `repair' termed TCU-continuations (or otherwise known increments in other literature) in Mandarin Chinese (henceforth "Chinese"), broadly defined as speakers producing further talk after a possibly complete utterance, which is fashioned not as a new turn-constructional unit (TCU) in itself, but as a retrospectively oriented continuation of the preceding TCU.

Though Schegloff (1996, 2000, 2001) specifies TCU-continuations (a.k.a. increments) to be "grammatically fitted, or symbiotic with, that prior TCU", it is found that both syntactically continuous and discontinuous TCU-continuations can abundantly appear in Chinese conversations. Hence, TCU-continuations, in its broadest and core sense of the term, is a language-dependent retroactive operation. This empirical study details the typology of Chinese TCU-continuations following the classificatory categories set out by Couper-Kuhlen and Ono (2007).

In terms of what TCU-continuations may be doing, it is found that Chinese TCU-continuations are primarily engaged in downgrading/qualifying or upgrading/intensifying particular stances conveyed in its host-TCU. Other major functions include clarifying/disambiguating, reformatting/reformulating the sequential action and securing/pursuing recipient's uptake. A key finding is that these interactional functions may be pursued using different types of TCU-continuations, suggesting that speakers utilize the most germane type of TCU-continuation at situated moment of unfolding talk to achieve the required interactional function.

Finally, what we now know about TCU-continuations based on American English could well be revisited given how "incrementing" is done, and what they can do, in Chinese conversations. This dissertation concludes with some discussion on the how TCU-continuations as a form of `transition-space repair' impacts on its shape and delivery at transition-relevance place; the relationship between TCU-continuations and a general preference for progressivity; as well as the theoretical implications on Emergent Grammar and Interactional Linguistics given the practice of TCU-continuations in conversation.

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