In Section 14.3.2, we discussed the highly
contextual nature of the spoken word, including the
use of deictic reference and indexicals, and the (officially)
ungrammatical and fragmentary use of sentences. Try
listening to social chat over cups of tea - collect
examples of different forms of contextual utterance.
There are often objects of shared attention
during social chat, perhaps a notice board, or magazines
on a coffee table. These will be one obvious source
of context. When students record statements such as
'I like that', they should also record whether the
indexical refers to a previous utterance or to something
external. They should try to observe exactly how external
references are made: for example, whether people point
to a notice, refer implicitly to the article someone
else is reading or use the direction of their own
In a small group, students should listen
particularly carefully for the use of the pronoun
'you'. Does it refer to the whole group (excluding
the speaker), or to a particular person. If the latter,
then how is it made explicit - eye gaze, body position?
Other pronouns like 'we' or 'she' can be equally contextual.
Students should also look out for implicit
context, for example 'a longer tail would improve
the aerodynamics', spoken when the listener is looking
at a picture of a kite. Although the sentence has
no pronoun there is an implicit subject 'of the kite
you're looking at'. This form of contextual statement
can become arbitrarily obscure, for example as one
person meets another: 'it's in your pigeon hole' -
referring to an overdue report. As students become
more adept they can listen more carefully, looking
for the shift in conversational focus, and breakdowns
where the context is not successfully negotiated.
Go into an office or other place where
several people are working together. Try to note down
in as much detail as possible what they are doing
and when. Do this with different foci: focus on the
direct interpersonal communications, focus on the
shared objects such as a calendar or document, or
focus on one worker at a time. Whilst collecting data
and when ordering your notes, look for breakdowns
and misunderstandings, and for implicit communication
through objects. Look also at a particular task over
a period of time, and note the number of interruptions
as a worker performs the task, or the way a single
task is contributed to by several workers.
This exercise is similar to Exercise
15.5. However, whereas the task analysis in 15.5 is
quite structured, this exercise is not intended to
produce the same form of precise task sequences, etc.
The intention is to expose students to the vast range
of social situations within a typical work environment.
Recording techniques such as those described in Chapter
9 might well be used.
In particular, this exercise is a good
chance to introduce the use of video or audio recording
equipment if it is available. Students will soon learn
how difficult it is to position a microphone so that
it picks up more than one worker and so that recordings
are not dominated by the sound of a typist. Similarly,
they can gain first-hand experience of the problems
of static camera positioning. If you are lucky, you
may have access to multiple cameras and split-screen
Although such equipment can be useful,
its lack is not a disaster. Many ethnographic studies
use only a pencil and paper, with perhaps some audio
recording. However, developing appropriate shorthand
then becomes essential (see Suchman  for examples
of appropriate notation).
Some forms of communication in the office
can be quite subtle, perhaps 'overhearing' of conversations,
or noticing when something is being written on a wall
calendar. Developing an observant eye for such subtleties
is largely a matter of practice.
What is speech act theory? Describe positive
and negative issues that have arisen when it has been
embodied in a specific system.
answer available for tutors only
Compare turn-taking, round-robin and
free-for-all as floor control mechanisms. When might
each be effective?
answer available for tutors only