Sunday, November 13, 2005


The Limits of Exchange Structure on Ocelot’s Text

The text that my group, Ocelot, has chosen is a conversation between three radio disc jockeys (DJs) from the radio station Class 95FM. The conversation took place during the shift of two DJs, Rod Monteiro and Jean Danker; the third DJ, Yasminne Cheng, had called in through the internal line[1] to look for Rod because he had apparently leaked out her comments about Micheal Bublé looking like a pug[2], and she wanted to reproach him for the damage to her image. Yasminne was not aware that the conversation was recorded and would be broadcasted over the air, until towards the end of the conversation.

We chose this text with the aim of understanding the nature of tenor relations amongst friends in a casual conversation within the radio discourse domain, using the Co-operative Principle, the Politeness Principle as well as the concept of ‘Face’ by Brown and Levinson. In this essay, I will expand on this aim using the framework bringing in Coulthard and Montgomery’s revised version of Exchange Structure, as adapted by Francis and Hunston; I will also attempt to complement the Exchange Structure analysis using certain aspects of the ‘Face’ concept. In doing so, I hope to show that, though an exchange-structure analysis can supplement the other three frameworks in uncovering the nature of tenor relations in such an informal conversation exchange, it still shows limitations in explaining the effect that the units of exchange might have on the individual participants.

The macro structural analysis of the text sheds light into the nature of tenor relations in the discourse. In our presentation, we argued that tenor relations, on the surface, are fluid and dynamic in this conversation. From the Exchange Structure, my analysis seems to converge with the analysis provided in the presentation, that the underlying power lies with the DJs on shift, and more importantly, with Rod.

Table 1: No of occurrences of the various moves for each participant

From the table, most of the Initiation structures are provided by Rod, while Yasminne provides slightly more Responses than Rod or Jean. From a macro perspective, Rod has relatively more control in terms of providing more topic initiation moves, while Yasminne has relatively less power in terms of providing more Responses. However, the exchange-structural analysis does not provide us with the intentions of the participants or the effect of their utterances or turns on the other participants in the discourse.

To better understand the effect of such moves on the discourse participants, I shall make use of the Face concept and face threatening acts (FTAs) to analyse the moves. As we have seen from the linguistic and non-linguistic manifestations in the discourse, we can infer that the style and register employed by the participants point towards a high degree of directness and informality. Furthermore, most of the strategies adopted by the participants in the discourse are on record and bald. Such strategies are chosen when the danger posed to the faces of participants is the least
[3]; this is an indication of the relative close social distance between the participants.

There are instances where strategies other than Strategy (1) are employed. In turn (14), Rod employs Strategy (4) so as to sound courteous and friendly to Yasminne and not risk being seen as rude; on the other hand, it could also be the fact that this is the typical way that Rod greets anyone who calls in to the station. As for (19), Yasminne employed Strategy (2) because she had to claim a common ground and agree with what Rod had said in (18), although she was still angry with Rod; if she had used Strategy (3), she would not be admitting that Rod had a valid point in what he had said in (18). In (25), Jean employed Strategy (3) on Rod; the fact that this Strategy is employed meant that the FTA was of considerable threat to Rod, and thus served to warn Rod of denying that he had been in the wrong in the first place. However, it might be said that Jean was using Strategy (2) instead of (3); in this case, the same utterance served to enable Jean to claim common ground with Rod by implicitly hinting to both Yasminne and Rod that they should not be elaborating on Rod’s Bollywood picture due to the amount of time that it will take. Lastly, in (30), Rod employed Strategy (0)
[4] which indicated that Rod had done the FTA with the added intention of being nasty towards Yasminne. Here, the tenor relation between Rod and Yasminne is being disrupted as Rod exerted his power to snatch the floor from Yasminne and end the conversation.

One criticism of the Sinclair-Coulthard model is that “each utterance or part of an utterance has one and only function” (Francis and Hunston 1992: 149); though the introduction of the R/I structure is an improvement over this criticism, it still places a restriction over where such a structure can occur, i.e. “between eliciting and informing at the rank of move” (ibid.). Wells et al (1981, in Susan and Hunston 1981: 150) suggested such occurrences at boundary of exchanges are also possible. An instance of such an exchange is in (14). In Rod’s first part of his turn, the greeting he gave was a predicted Response of acknowledgment, in the sense that the Initiation structure in turn (13) predicts a Response in (14). His second part of (14) however, serves as an eliciting move and marks an Initiation structure, since eliciting moves cannot occur as part of a Response structure
[5]. Thus in one turn, Rod foreclosed the end of an exchange and started a new exchange by enquiring on Yasminne’s purpose of calling. Another more complicated occurrence is Yasminne’s agitated reply to Rod’s elicitation found at turn (15). The utterance, on one level, functions as an eliciting move; the interrogative wh-question demands that Rod provide an answer to Yasminne as to why he disclosed such information on air. At the same time, it also serves as a response to Rod’s eliciting move in turn (14), by stating the reason for her call, albeit in a more indirect and marked way of a question instead of a statement. In addition, I propose that a string of utterances by the same speaker can realise both an acknowledging move as a Response, and another acknowledging move as a Follow-up; turn (17) is such an example. Looking at the first part of turn (17), Yasminne is rebuking Rod’s qualification, protesting that though she did make such a claim of Michael Bublé, it was unnecessary for Rod to disclose on national radio what she had said. In doing so, Yasminne provides a predicted Response to Rod’s R/I structure in (16). The second part of the utterance, though, is seen as part of non-predicted acknowledgement move that signalled Yasminne’s intention to terminate the exchange, having qualified that Rod had erred in his actions.

Hence, it is observed that the structural labelling of such acts can influence the overall account of tenor relations in the conversation, especially if such relations are to be are exemplified based on the number of Initiations or Responses that a participant makes.

A difficulty encountered when using the exchange-structure for such analysis is the assigning of structure and move labels for Jean’s non-linguistic cues. In turn (21), I labelled Jean’s drawing in of breath accompanied by the high tone as either a Protest or a React move; it can be argued that she was surprised by Yasminne’s proposition to “bite” Rod, and thus her reaction as such. However, to label her act as a React is to suggest that she aggress with such an action and such agreement cannot be inferred from the act itself. On the other hand, she could be protesting against such a violent gesture, but a Protest does not entail non-verbal actions according to the definitions given by the framework. Furthermore, her intention might be to signify a feeling of surprise, which is not accounted for in the nomenclature of acts or moves. Similarly, her laughter in (28) is ambiguous; although it can be classified as a React, the reason for her laughter is not made known explicitly.
[6] On the other hand, her laughter in (29) can be credited as a positive reaction to Rod’s comedic description of Michael Bublé. Thus, it can be seen that such non-linguistic cues, where the participant’s intentions are not known, present a challenge for the exchange-structure in terms of move and act classification.

As demonstrated, the Exchange Structure provides us with a macro analysis of our text and highlights the nature of tenor relations via the structure of information flow. However, if we are to investigate nature of interaction of discourse participants through their utterances, we may have to turn to other frameworks that emphasise a more holistic pragmatic view in the discourse. This was what motivated our group to utilise the the Co-operative Principle, the Politeness Principle as well as the concept of ‘Face’ by Brown and Levinson instead of the Exchange Structure.

[1] The internal line is unknown to ordinary listeners, and it is assumed that only staff members are aware of this line, and they use it to communicate with any DJ who is doing her/his shift.
[2] A breed of dog; it is assumed that Yasmine had privately told Rod about this comment of hers, with no wish of it being made public.
[3] Brown and Levinson (1987: 73-75)
[4] Rudanko (1993: 167) in EL4252 Honours Year, Session No. 9 Lecture Notes
[5] Francis and Hunston 1992: 141
[6] It is difficult to decipher whether she agreed with Yasminne calling Rod “you little shit”, or whether she was laughing at Yasminne when she realised that she had been recorded on tape without her knowledge.


Brown, P and S Levinson. Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1987.

Gillian Francis and Susan Hunston, ‘Analysing everyday conversation’, in Malcolm Coulthard, Advances in spoken discourse analysis. London: Routledge; 1992 (pp. 123–61)

Appendix A


(1) J: Enrique Iglesias, nobody can do it as breathy as he can I think that’s er HE:ro
here on the best mix of music # it’s Class Ninety-five: =

(2) R: = You have a girlfriend like Anna Kournikova?

(3) J: (1) Mm hmm

(4) R: yeah you got # you gotta be breathy
(5) J: ((laughs)) Eh you know what, somebody is
calling us on the internal line man

(6) R: Oh?

(7) J: Yeah

(8) R: Let’s pick it up # HELLO Class Ninety-five?

(9) Y: JEAN DANKER eh actually not Jean lah ROD MONTEIRO

(10) R: Hello?

(11) Y: Hello?
(12) R: ( ) Yeah!


(14) R: Hi Yaz what’s up?
J: ((laughs))

(15) Y: What pug all ah excuse me you went to say ((crescendo)) ON AIR

(16) R: Eh but but you did call him a pug come on you say yesterday he looked like a
pug come on =

(17) Y: = ya but you don’t have to say it on air: next time when ( ) me he’s gonna
ha:te me:

(18) R: But you’re ( )
J: ((laughs))

(19) Y: That is true but he’s still gonna be offended with the part I wanna kick your ass
ya =

(20) R: = but did he look does he look like a pug
(21) Y: ( ) okay # four bites for you later, Mr
Monteiro =

J: = ((drawing in breath)) =

(22) R: = But you said he looked like a pug I’m just er reGURgitating what you
J: ((laughs))

(23) Y: Some things you don’t need to regurgitate you don’t hear me regurgitating
about your Bollywood # picture?

(24) R: Uh oh that’s right ok =

(25) J: = That IS true: we could go on about that for a bit, Rod
R: but you know what?
Y: Oh yeah?

(26) R: You know what? he was good last night # he was good la- Michael Bublé
# was very good last night # er despite the pug-looking. Yup
(27) Y: Are you are you re- are you recording
me you little shit?

(28) R: In fact in fact but er in

J: ((laughs))

(29) R: # y’know, y’know what? Since you said he looked like the pug # a pug, last
night # looking him in his tuxedo # looking at Michael Bublé in his tuxedo #
and YOU comparing him to a pug # I thought I was watching Men in Black
Two =

J: = ((laughs))

(30) R: # Okay bye bye honey

(31) Y: Eh don’t put DOWN
J: ((laughs))

Transcription Conventions
# short pause of less than one second
: lengthening of sound
= latching of speech
overlap of speech
(( )) transcriber’s comments
Caps loudness/extra emphasis
- incomplete enunciation of words

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