Stylistic Analysis

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“Applying” conversation analysis in applied linguistics: Evaluating dialogue in English as a second language textbooks1 JEAN WONG

Abstract This article examines telephone dialogues in English as a second language (ESL) textbooks against the backdrop of what is reported about real telephone interaction in conversation analysis research. An analysis of eight textbooks reveals that the fit between what conversation analysts say about natural telephone conversation and the examples found in textbooks is unsatisfactory. Elements such as summon–answer, identification, greeting, and how-are-you sequences, often found in naturally occurring telephone exchanges, are absent, incomplete, or problematic in the textbook dialogues. The article argues that as the focus in language pedagogy increasingly turns toward the development of teaching materials informed by studies in discourse analysis, it may be important for materials writers and language teachers to pay attention to interconnections between language (or talk), sequence structure, and social action. The juxtaposition of natural telephone conversation with textbook “conversation” displays the tension between linguistic competence and linguistic performance, between understanding language as process and language as product. 1. Introduction This article reports on a study which compares the structure of telephone conversations in English as a second language (ESL) textbooks with that found in conversation analysis (CA) research. The study highlights some of the ways in which textbook conversations fail to match findings from empirical studies. The mismatch between textbooks and naturally occurring language has implications for teachers and the writers of teaching material, especially since dialogues of the sort analyzed frequently appear in textbooks marketed as offering authentic, natural language, or language which is true to life. Overall, the themes raised in this study find resonance with scholars who address issues in discourse and language education (McCarthy 1991; Hatch 1992; McCarthy and Carter 1994). McCarthy (1991) advocates using discourse analIRAL 40 (2002), 37–60 0019042X/2002/040-037 c Walter de Gruyter

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ysis as a means of enriching our understanding of classroom teaching materials. In a similar vein, Candlin in McCarthy and Carter (1994) calls for discourse analytic studies of an interdisciplinary nature in the advancement of language teacher education. While its focus remains in the description of language, grammar, lexis, phonology, and discourse, an understanding of the curriculum landscape now requires insights from cognitive psychology and sociology, from studies in ideology and media studies, from conversational analysis, and ethnography and from cultural history. It widens the scope of language learner education but also, perhaps more uncomfortable, of language teacher education. (McCarthy and Carter 1994: ix)

Responding to Candlin’s call for research of an interdisciplinary nature, in this project I evaluate the openings of ESL textbook telephone dialogues against the backdrop of conversation analytic insights about the sequence structure of telephone conversation beginnings. I examine a corpus of textbook dialogues in order to see whether the sequences described in conversation analysis as canonical of real American English telephone conversation openings are found in textbook “conversations”. After all, if one of the goals of language education is to teach our students to be communicatively competent (Hymes 1967), perhaps we ought to consider whether our textbook dialogues model for language learners the sorts of discourse patterns and sequence structures that recur in ordinary telephone interaction. I now provide some background on the notion of sequence structure, which is followed by an overview of the core sequences found in ordinary telephone talk. The discussion offers a cursory look at what we take for granted and assume...
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