Notes on
Community Psycholinguistics

Dr. Leon James
University of Hawaii
(c) 1971


#1. Socialized individuals are persons managed through language.

#2. This is another way of referring to the "use of language."

#3. Interpersonal management is an essential feature of society and one way it is accomplished is through the use of language. Note that instructional programs, no matter how technically sophisticated, cannot "replace the teacher" inasmuch as programs provide practice runs only: real interactions always have the unpredictableness rule built in, this being the opposite of the prefabricated interaction routines provided for in programs (see also: practice dialogues in language teaching vs. natural talk). "Genuine" use of language (i.e. real vs. artificial or "pretend") thus requires the presence of live individuals who manage each other. Hence, also, only the presence of a "teacher" or other instructionally oriented older person can fulfill the necessary conditions or interpersonal management function of language in socialization.

#4. The way in which language serves this function of social management is the subject matter of educational psycholinguistics. Note, however, that language is only one of the vehicles serving socialization; it is the intersection between one of the functions of language with one of the vehicles for socialization that constitutes the subject matter of educational psycholinguistics. Its approach, then, is through the explication of the underlying structure of this interaction. This may be represented in the following Veum diagram:

"Educational Psycholinguistics" relates to the function of language use as a socialization vehicle.

#5. Investigating the underlying structure of language use involves the construction of a theory of performance. For instance, the following subdivisions present a theory of language use:
The Underlying Structure of Language Use: Three Aspects

I. Modes
1. Conversational interchanges
2. Connected discourse
a. instructions
b. commercials
3. Poetry
4. Literature (fiction, expository)
II. Surface Structure: Textual Analysis
1. Analysis of transcripts
2. Rhetorical effectiveness
3. Literary criticism
III. Modalities of Function
1. Topicalizing
a. logical structure
b. semantic structure
c. conceptual hierarchies
2. Interpersonal Management
3. Self-expression

#6. Educational psycholinguistics is a systematic application of the pedagogic implications of a prescriptive or normative perspective on language use. This may be represented by the following diagram:
OBSERVABLE PERFORMANCE (e.g. conversational moves) TRANSACTIONAL CODE (by inference) SETTING FEATURES (identifying oriented PRESCRPTIVE NORMS OF USE (pedagogic implications: Educat. Psycholing.)

Note that the normative features are functionally derived from observable performance: thus, what's being practiced in the community is what's being taught to young and new members. This is what's often being referred to as "sanctioned community practices." Deviations are dealt with through positive and negative contingencies administered by corrective practices: e.g. group exclusion and selection norms in force.

#7. The notion of "transactional rules" translates into psychological terms as "central beliefs about the rights and character of persons" (Goffman, 19 , p.139). These are acquired through the practices of the community in reinforcement contingencies (what happens when A does X to B, etc.). Beliefs about the rights of others have behavior implicativeness. A systematic description of these particular belief systems constitutes a catalogue of prescriptive norms in interactions; we might call such catalogues "the transactional code book."

#8. The content and framework of belief systems based on community practices, as listed in a transactional catalogue of cultural behaviors and situations, ipso facto constitutes a listing of socialization programs in a community. Such a listing relates to the orienting to features of participants in an interactional setting: it identifies "what counts as what" and "what's to be noticed" in particular settings. Thus, empirically derived lists of appropriate or possible cultural behaviors and implications represent a theory of social settings. Such a theory is analogous to the descriptive taxonomies of natural science in biology, ethology, and ethnography.

#9. The definition of language use in functional terms related to social settlng taxonomies allows an empirical and experimental approach to the study of language and culture. For instance, one can envisage an experimental paradigm for the investigation of conversational interchanges along the following rationale:

1. analysis of recorded exchanges (transcripts, tapes, measures)

2. analysis of social settings (empirically derived taxonomies of orienting to features of particular settings)

3. contrastive analysis of elements of (1.) varied along dimensions of elements of (2.); (analysis of co-variance)

Thus, by contrasting sets of data collected by varying social settings (first, intuitively; later, by a cumulative rationale or a "higher" taxonomy; etc.), we can home in on the oriented to features of social settings. Here, the conversational data in effect constitutes a blow-by-blow description of the interchange: it is the documented evidence for the participants' continuous relocation of position vis-a-vis a topic, i.e. their topicalization work. Topics is thus the link between orientation focus (= "consciousness", awareness, what's reportable, etc.) and setting feature or context: topic is, he link between the individual and the setting. Hence, a conversational interchange is, by definition, an objectively observable adaptation or adjustment of participants to the presence of orienting to features.

10. The term register may be used to refer to the normative use of modes of interactions. Normative relates to the "when?, how?, and for what?" of particular events. Modes relate to the transactional function of particular events (e.g. the specific ritual requirement of a move; or, the particular involvement of a participant). Thus, the term register covers what can also be referred to as "the particular context" within which some event has taken place. The description of particular contexts is thus rendered by an identification of the register type it is an instance of: e.g.

#11. The description of register involves the following ordinary notions about interchanges:

(a.) EVENT

to be understood as an oriented to unit in an interchange; marked by a beginning and ending; identified and reportable: i.e. having a definitional status or dictionary entry status in the transactional code book (= empirically derived catalog of cultural behaviors and situations); having a recognizable unit (e.g. a gesture, an utterance, silence,...and their significance: a reference, a denial, an allusion, an avoidance,...).


to be defined in terms of sets (-- a history of) of episodes; episodes are setting features that are "marked off" from the daily round sequence of activity.


to be defined in terms of "rounds of moves" within interchanges; rounds of moves are sets of moves that are "marked off" from the overall sequence of moves in an interchange; these rounds mark the interactional features between participants; these features are organized into types on the basis of mutually recognized norms or reference systems-of standards.

(d.) MOVE;

this is the basic interactional unit in an interchange; it is the work or initiative attributed to a specific participant; it is executed as a performance having the status of a situated event.


related to what might be called "the talkers' contract" or "background understandings" or " shared expectations", etc.; standing claims (whether topicalized or presumed, and shared or claimed to be shared, etc.) provide the argument rationale for rounds of moves: they determine or valuate the transactional significance of situated moves; they indicate meaning, intent, positioning, alignment, viz. "face work." Particular examples of standing conversational claims may be referred to as follows:
A. "I am a talker"
1. I am in control
2. What I say has a discernable point
3. I expect respect from you
4. I am ready to respect you
B. "I am Leon J."

Involved in A3 and A4 are: (i) I know the ritual idiom; (ii) I expect you to adhere to it; [A] is the talking contract while [B] is the person's face contract; the "ritual idiom" puts the person into certain obligations, the most basic being that if the other makes a move he will feel obligated to make a countermove, and vice-versa.

#12. An interchange between participants in a specified locale or setting may be referred to as a transaction or a transactional exchange. A transaction has a minimal structure of two moves occurring in a sequence: A transactional exchange is an exchange of moves such that the first move (or "initiating" move) occasions ( or "sets the stage for") a second move such that the second is a resolution to the first. "Resolution" refers to the natural (definitional) aspect of exchanges as phenomena involving a dynamics of reciprocal balance, or dialectics. Thus, all transactional phenomena always involve a dialectic of paired events. First moves always orient the participants to a new feature of the interactional setting; second moves always re-confirm this new feature, often which "it" is no longer new: it can now be pointed to as a part of the setting. Hence, second moves are known as legitimizing or reply moves.

Many recurrent situations and events familiar to the daily round of participants normatively prescribe (i.e. reinforcement contingencies are being practiced) particular specific first moves, as well as particular specific second moves (e.g. ritual idiom in public transactions; transactional idioms; conventionalized symbols and procedures; etc.); (e.g. where we say "because", "thank you", "yes but", etc.); ("Where" refers to location in transeript or record of event: e.g. "When you refused to answer me about that before we even got into this whole thing." etc.).

#13. Episodally marked interchanges of moves, i.e. a situated transaction, proceeds performatively within several identifiable dimensions or channels of modality. Thus, typically, face-to-face talk proceeds in several modalities of contact between participants. These signaling channels include both analog and digital modes. For instance, visually perceivable gestures, expressions, posturing and distances, provide contact between participants in an analog mode: what's being seen is what's being claimed; on the other hand, topicalizing moves provide contact in a digital mode: what's being not-mentioned may have as much value as what's being mentioned; or what's being mentioned after X was mentioned counts differently then after Y was mentioned; etc.

In naturally occuring face-to-face interchanges the presence of the participant may provide a sufficient condition for counting as a second move; further conditions can be specified; e.g. eye-to-eye contact, minimal distance, nods, withholding from moving around or sounding off, etc., depending on community practices (viz. normatively appropriate behavior in specified settings vary according to empirically derivable catalogues of cultural behaviors, recognized situations, reported belief systems, etc.). Thus, in conversational transcripts we typically find turns at talk during which participants execute a round of exchange during one person's turn: it appears as if one person performs a series of first moves before another person supplies a reply move, often to only the last sub-move in the preceding sequence or turn (e.g. describing something that takes several sentences or "thought units", with the reply being a comment on the last thought unit (e.g. A: Can I speak to Gary? This is John. B: Oh, John, how goes it? etc.). But closer scrutiny of what's involved would prefer a description that shows B's second move to A's first move to have occurred by virtue of his not-mentioning anything when he could have; alternately, one can say that second moves may be "presumed by absence to the contrary"; later in the exchange, participants may return to a first move whose second move has that presumed status.

#14. Face oriented moves have specifiable characteristics as discussed by Goffman (19 , pp. 156-163): Priming Moves, where participant makes a first move whereby he is seen as requesting a remedy; Ratificatory Moves provide a remedy where its absence would be seen as a slighting of the other's face in normative exchanges (greetings, legitimizers, appreciation, commisezating, etc.); Pre-emptive Moves provide a remedy for a possible self-offense by the other (e.g. "That's a fine job!"). According to

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