The importance of closing out an adjacency pair is illustrated in Macbeth when Macbeth holds himself accountable for his inability to respond to a prayer by one of his sleeping servants:
Macbeth: One cried, "God bless us!" and "Amen" the other,
As they had seen me with these hangman's hands.
Listening their fear, I could not say "Amen,"
When they did say, "God bless us!"
Lady Macbeth: Consider it not so deeply.
Macbeth: And "Amen"
Stuck in my throat. But wherefore could not I pronounce "Amen"?
I had most need of blessing
William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 2 Scene 2
Macbeth knows that the ritual closing for “Amen” is “Amen” and acknowledges that the fact that it stuck in his throat makes him accountable for it.
As well as being adjacency pairs both of the exchanges in the Victoria Station extract involve preferred responses by the Driver. A typical example of a preferred response is a question format which is set up for agreement. Although the Driver’s responses are quite different (A is affirmative and B is negative), they are both preferred. This is because a preferred response is a response which is in agreement with the previous speaker. A preferred response is the default response in interaction because it follows what is considered normal social behaviour and promotes one of the main functions of speech, that of maintaining social solidarity: “The preferred response is the one which follows the established norms, is socially affiliative, and promotes reciprocity of perspectives” (Seedhouse p.24). So the two above examples are both preferred responses because the second speaker (the driver) is in agreement with the first (the controller). By agreeing with the controller, the drive shows affiliation with him.
A dispreferred response is quite the opposite. When we disagree with or refuse something or somebody, we are carrying out a disaffiliative action, which goes against social norms and indicates that the speakers do not have the same perspective. A dispreferred response will therefore be marked differently from a preferred one. An important characteristic of a preferred response is that it is usually brief and unhesitating - agreement does not tend to require explanation and none tends to be given. A dispreferred response, on the other hand, is non affiliative and is therefore noticeable and needs to be justified. For this reason a dispreferred response tends to require a more extended, i.e. marked, explanation which justifies it. Stories often arise as an explanation justifying a dispreferred response, as the following example shows:
Robbie: They attacked you?
Lulu: Not me. The Seven-Eleven. Walking past and I think: I’d like a bar of
chocolate. So I go in but I can’t decide which one. There’s so much choice.
Too much. Which I think they do deliberately. I’m only partly aware – and
really why should I be any more aware? – that an argument is forming at the
counter (story continues)
Shopping and f****** by Mark Ravenhill
In this case Lulu responds negatively to Robbie’s question about a possible attack (they attacked you?). Lulu’s “Not me” is a dispreferred response and, in accordance with conversational rules of preference, requires an explanation to justify it. Lulu’s story thus begins as an explanation justifying a negative response to Robbie’s previous assumption.
The main reason why it is important to identify preferential and dispreferential structure in storytelling episodes is because they shed light on the degree of affiliation between speakers. The following example is taken from a storytelling episode in Betrayal:
Emma: .. It’s just an empty home
Jerry: It’s not a home.
I know … I know what you wanted … but it could never … actually be a
home. You have a home. I have a home. With curtains, etcetera. And children.
Two children in two homes. There are no children here, so it’s not the same
kind of home.
Harold Pinter, Betrayal,
In this extract Jerry makes a dispreferred response (it’s not a home) to Emma’s assessment of what the flat represents to them. After a pause he continues to justify his response with an explanation of why it is a different kind of home (I know …). The fact that there is a pause before this extended turn and that Jerry’s turn is hesitant (shown by the dotted lines in the text) is typical of the disfluency of dispreferment. In this case the delay gives Jerry time to minimise the degree of disaffiliation which his earlier dispreferred response had caused. In extending the dispreferred turn in a hesitant way he is also affiliating himself more closely to Emma. In a play like Betrayal which deals with a triangle of complex interpersonal relationships over a number of years, the question of the way affiliation between characters is revealed in interaction is of primary importance.
4.4 Overlap, interruption and repair
Overlapping talk is unusual in naturally occurring talk. Levinson (p.296) reports that “less than 5% of the speech stream is delivered in overlap”. Generally turn-taking takes place on the basis of one speaker at a time. However, there are occasions when talk can be “designedly simultaneous” (Schegloff 2000, p.48). This kind of simultaneous talk often takes place when a speaker is in agreement with a previous speaker.
However, in literary discourse the overlap time is never overtly marked in terms of seconds as it would be in a normal Jeffersonian transcript. Instead the author may use brackets or a stage direction such as simultaneously to signify overlap. In this case the overlap can be safely regarded as a marked overlap and therefore a sign of disaffiliation. In interactional terms, disaffiliation is an indicator of trouble. “Troublespots” are areas in which speakers judge that talk is being impeded in some way and the way in which these troublespots are dealt with by the speakers is termed “repair”.
A very straightforward example of repair in storytelling is shown below as Edmund attempts to tell Gloucester how Edgar had tried to persuade him to murder him:
Gloucester: Where is the villain, Edmund?
Gloucester: Pursue him, ho! Go after. [Exeunt some Servants]
- By no means what?
Edmund: Persuade me to the murder of your lordship;
William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 2, Scene 1
Gloucester interrupts Edmund’s narrative to tell his servants to go after Edgar but immediately repairs the interruption by repeating Edmund’s words verbatim (“by no means”). This signals that he had been listening to the story and would like him to continue from where he left off. Once the repair is complete, speaker and listener are realigned and Edmund can resume the story where he had left off.
The following extract shows more complex examples of interruption and repair carried out during a storytelling episode in Death of a Salesman:
7 Linda: Remember I wrote you that he smashed up the car again? In February?
8 Biff: Well?
9 Linda: The insurance inspector came. He said they have evidence. That all these
accidents in the past year – weren’t – weren’t accidents.
10 Happy: How can they tell that? That’s a lie.
11 Linda: It seems there’s a woman …
She takes a deep breath as Biff, sharply but contained: What woman?
12 Linda: simultaneously: … and this woman …
13 Linda: What?
14 Biff: Nothing. Go ahead.
15 Linda: What did you say?
16 Biff: Nothing. I just said what woman?
17 Happy: What about her?
18 Linda: Well, it just seems she was walking down the road …story continues
Arthrr Miller, Death of a Salesman, Act 1
In this truncated episode there are two repair sequences. Linda starts her story by identifying a familiar starting point “Remember I wrote you …” but her attempts to produce the story are immediately put on hold by Biff in turn 8, who questions the tellability of this memory (well?). In answering the objection Linda continues her story but becomes hesitant. She pauses after the word year, adds weren’tand then repeats weren’t again. This is a form of “self-repair”. After the self-repair Happy self-selects in turn 10 (“that’s a lie”), questioning the truthfulness of Linda’s narrative and hence its justification as an explanation for attempted suicide. Linda continues her story at turn 11 (it seems there’s a woman), takes a deep breath, makes to continue (and this woman) but is interrupted again by Biff, this time in overlap (what woman?). Linda stops the story (What?) in an attempt to repair the trouble. Biff replies to Linda’s invitation to repair non-committally (“Nothing”) and asks Linda to go ahead with the story but Linda repeats her question (“what did you say?”). Biff’s reply (Nothing. I just said what woman) answers the question but is not sufficient to return Linda to the story trajectory. Happy continues the repair with an adroit conversational manoeuvre which takes up Biff’s explanation (I just said about the woman) using the pronoun her to move the topic focus of the story to common ground between Biff and Linda - the woman. Linda accepts this cue and continues her account using the marker well to indicate that repair has been carried out and the story is being resumed.
Once a troublespot has been identified, the analyst can trace the source of the trouble. For example, in the above extracts Gloucester has heard the story and deliberately interrupted it whereas the simultaneous overlap between Biff and Linda means that Linda has not heard what Biff has said. In storytelling, as in other forms of conversation, this kind of mishearing is not the only cause of trouble between speakers. A speaker may make a slip of the tongue or choose the wrong word or a listener may misunderstand a stretch of talk. Having identified the cause of the trouble the analyst can then assess to who or what it is attributable, whether or not it has been repaired and what its implications are for the interaction on stage. For example, Gloucester’s interruption and repair add a certain conversational realism and convey his sense of urgency, whereas the longer repair sequence between Linda and Biff convey Biff’s suspicion about the story’s contents and Linda’s sensitivity to Biff’s suspicion.
Interruption and repair can therefore be symptoms of trouble in conversation and analysis of their underlying causes and consequences can be helpful in the overall evaluation of relationships in a play. Completion or failure of repair can both be an indicator of the degree of affiliation between characters at a particular moment.