- When listeners talk: Response tokens and listener stance by Rod Gardner
Thanks to the pioneering work of Erving Goffman, Harold Garfinkel, Harvey Sacks, Emanuel A. Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson, conversation analysis has received more and more attention from researchers and scholars investigating language in the broad sense, and it has in turn developed rapidly into a popular discipline. In the book under review, Rod Gardner adopts a conversation-analytic approach to an analysis of response tokens in ordinary conversation. Response tokens in everyday interactions are things we utter every day, things we receive every day, and things we hear every day, but also things we seldom give a thought to. This book proves that response tokens play an important role in our linguistic communication with other people.
This book has seven chapters, with detailed and helpful notes to each chapter and a bibliography. Ch. 1 (1–11), preceded by transcription notations (xi–xxi), presents an overview of the subject matter in question, focusing on the ethnomethodological conversation analytic approach to response tokens. Ch. 2 (13–64) reviews response tokens, surveying eight English response tokens and their typical uses. These response tokens are: continuers (Mm hm, Uh huh), acknowledgement tokens (Yeah, Mm), the newsmaker group (‘change-of-state’ token Oh, the ‘idea connector’ Right), and the ‘change-of-activity’ tokens (Okay, Alright). In Ch. 3 (65–97), G deals with the nonresponse tokens, delving into five types of Mm as follows: the lapse terminator, the degustatory token, the ‘hesitation marker’, the repair initiator, and the answering Mm.
The next three chapters give a microanalysis of the most frequent type of Mm. In Ch. 4, ‘From continuer to acknowledgement token: Mm as a token between Mm hm and Yeah’ (98–131), G compares Mm with Mmhm and Yeah, characterizing the typical uses of these three response tokens and showing among other things that ‘the intonational shape of these tokens differs systematically with the way they are used and responded to by parties in conversation’ (129). G concludes that Mm is a flexible response token that can be identified in various settings of talk-ininteraction. Chs. 5 and 6 investigate in greater detail specific uses and characteristics of Mm. In Ch. 5, ‘The weakness of Mm: Topic disalignment and zero projection’ (133–85), G shows the weak, disaligning nature of the token by touching upon the same-speaker [End Page 801] continuation with topical disalignment, the free-standing Mms and the Mms followed by further brief recipiency talk. Ch. 6 (187–250) begins with a review of intonation in everyday conversation, focusing on the identification and function of intonation units. It then discusses at great length how the three intonational contours, viz. the falling contour, the fall-rising contour, and the rise-falling contour, affect Mm as a response token. G finds among others that ‘About 70% of all Mms have the falling contour’ (250). Finally, in Ch. 7 (251–55), G sums up the major arguments of previous chapters and points to future research in which response tokens might be further explored.
Reading this monograph, I cannot help but marvel at the author’s insights into something that is so seemingly trivial but that is so omnipresent in everyday interactions. When listeners talk, I believe, is one of the most comprehensive accounts of response tokens to date. It should be borne in mind, however, that, when they respond in interaction, listeners do not always have to resort to verbal means as discussed in this book. Some of them, according to my observation, respond by employing nonverbal means like nodding and eye contact.