Article summary of Constituting relationships in talk: a taxonomy of speech events in social and personal relationships by Goldsmith et. al. - Chapter


What is this article about?

The writers of this article developed a descriptive taxonomy based on four studies and they explored how this taxonomy can be used to explore the functions of daily conversations or speech events.

A speech event is the basic unit of sociality in communication. The current study of communication looks at individuals’ strategies. Although we have learned a lot from previous studies, these studies have not looked at how individual activities relate to joint activities. If you hold a conversation, the other person is important too. The researchers have looked at the individual and the goal-directed function of communication. The researchers use four bodies of research for this study: diary studies, situation studies, ethnographic studies and research on cognitive memory structures.

The writers of this article have developed a descriptive taxonomy in four studies and they have explore how the taxonomy can be used to explore the functions of daily talk events.

Many researchers have used diary-recordings to get information about people’s interactions in daily life. The researchers were interested in how often acquaintances and friends joke around, talk about problems or about nonsense. Studies on social situations focus on the ‘who’, the ‘where’ and the ‘what’ of a conversation.

What were the experiments?

Experiment 1

Researchers wanted to examine a range of speech events in social and personal relationships, to find out how participants described features in their own words and what happenings were salient during different types of events. The researchers collected open-ended diary entries regarding the interactions of the participants. They had to provide as much information as they could, and answer questions about the relationship between the participants, the setting of the conversation, the purpose and outcomes of the interaction, the mood of the conversation, the channel in which the conversation occurred and they had to provide background knowledge.

Experiment 2

The second study wanted to test whether participants from different ages, racial backgrounds and genders would engage in similar types of speech events and whether similar labels would be used in all those groups. Participants were provided a questionnaire that included labels and descriptions of a speech event. The participants then had to indicate the extent to which they would use this term to describe this type of speech event. They also had to indicate to which extent their family members and friends used these terms and the extent to which they were familiar with the terms. Some participants were also asked to write down synonyms, so other labels that have the same meaning for different types of speech events.

Experiment 3

The third study wanted to identify the dimensional structures in the speech event domain. There seem to be twelve dimensions that people use to differentiate among types of talk: important-trivial, serious-fun, informal-formal, deep-superficial, hostile-supportive, awkward-smooth, straightforward-indirect, excited-low key, goal oriented-lacking a goal, difficult-easy, involved-quick and upbeat-negative. The researchers also created a 29-category event taxonomy from the results of the previous study. Participants also received a pile of cards with all the 29 categories on them. They had to create as many piles as they found was necessary to capture their perception on which speech events they felt were similar. After that, they had to fill in a questionnaire about some of the 29 categories. They also had to indicate how familiar they were with these categories.

What are the results?

Looking at all the data from the three studies, researchers can support the claim that a 29-category taxonomy is a reasonable catalogue of the events experienced in social and personal relationships. This was true for all demographic backgrounds. The terms were familiar to the participants. Three dimensions (formal-goal-oriented, important/deep/involved and positive valence) provide a basis for differentiating between types of talks.

The fourth study looked at the frequency of speech events in everyday life and their occurrence in different relationship forms. Participants kept a diary for two weeks and had to write down all the conversations they had with friends, family members, and other persons. They had to write down when the conversation took place, the gender of the participants, the relationship they had with the participant and which of the 29 speech events the event resembled the most. The data showed that gossiping was the most frequently enacted speech event. Researchers think that people do this, so they can maintain relationships. Goal-directed talk (making plans) were also of high frequency. This shows that not only socially based dimensions of relationships are important, but also task-oriented dimensions.

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