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Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen

Coherent Voicing

On Prosody in Conversational Reported Speech

Coherence should be findable for everything that is a demonstrably relevant aspect of the talk for the parties, or there should be evidence of trouble or of its suppression." (Schegloff, 1990)

Goffman has pointed out that interlocutors in the course of any natural conversation are constantly changing the footing of their talk. In Goffman's usage, this term refers to the alignment which speakers take up to themselves and to others as evidenced by the way they handle the production and reception of utterances (1981:128). Changes in footing may involve different reception roles or different production roles or both (Goffman 1981:226ff; also Levinson 1988), and they are commonly understood to be signaled inter alia by prosodic cues and code-switching, which contextualize the particular footing or participant framework currently relevant (Gumperz 1982, Tannen, ed. 1993). Yet precisely how this contextualization is accomplished and what specific contribution prosody makes to the 'management' of footing has not yet been fully spelled out, at least not for all types of shift.

The present paper addresses one of the most frequent shifts of footing, namely that occasioned by the use of reported speech in conversation. What happens with reported speech is that the unity within a single speaker of the three production roles which Goffman identifies animator, author and principal dissolves, leaving the role of animator separate from, and independent of, those of author and/or principal. The 'reporting' speaker animates or voices a 'reported' figure without necessarily composing the words which this figure is made to utter or espousing the beliefs which the figure's words will be heard as attesting to. The question which the 'voicing' of figures raises for a prosodist is whether and to what extent the speaker's phonatory voice is instrumental in the process. Using a methodology developed by crossing prosodic analysis with conversation analysis (Couper-Kuhlen/Selting 1996), this paper attempts to pin down exactly which tasks the 'voicing' of reported speech confronts conversationalists with and how speakers' prosodic and paralinguistic voice resources contribute to the accomplishment of these tasks.

Coherence as a conversationalist's practice and an analyst's object

Schegloff has suggested that in conversation the issue of coherence can be subsumed under the general question "Why that now?" (1990:55). In other words, participants in interaction are constantly trying to make sense of talk as recipient-designed, situated action. When they are unable to infer plausible answers to the question "Why that now?", they have sets of methods which allow them to remedy the situation, one of these sets involving the initiation and execution of 'repair'. Remedial procedures help clarify the misunderstood or the misunderstandable, on occasion they make explicit the unexplicit (see also Schegloff 1996). But remedial procedures also provide analysts with an invaluable instrument of analysis. It is via conversationalists'pursuit of coherence that analysts can learn more about the object from an insider perspective.

Observations such as these on coherence in interaction suggest a way to approach the relation between prosody and reported speech. Coherence in reported speech sequences, it can be argued, will be manifestly lacking where participants in interaction find repair to be necessary. When 'troubles' in coherence can be plausibly reconstructed as involving some prosodic or paralinguistic factor, insight will be gained into the specific nature of prosody's contribution to reported speech. A subsequent comparison of repaired and repairable reported speech sequences with non-repaired and non-repairable ones will suggest some of the methods which participants employ for the prosodic animation of voices.

 Published as:
Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth (1999). Coherent voicing: On prosody in conversational reported speech. In: Wolfram Bublitz & Uta Lenk, eds., Coherence in Spoken and Written Discourse: How to create it and how to describe it. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 11-32.



InLiSt No.7
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Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies, University of Helsinki


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