Topic 36 – Dialogical texts. Structure and characteristics

Topic 36 – Dialogical texts. Structure and characteristics



1.1. Aims of the unit.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.


2.1. The notion of text linguistics: Discourse Analysis.

2.2. On defining text.

2.2.1. Textual features:texture and ties.

2.2.2. Textuality: the seven standards.

2.3. Intertextuality: text types.

2.3.1. Text types: main criteria.

2.3.2. Text types: dialogic .


3.1. On defining dialogic texts.

3.1.1. The dialogic nature of discourse.

3.1.2. The orality of dialogic texts.

3.1.3. Oral discourse and speech acts.

3.2. Dialogic texts: main elements.

3.2.1. Participants.

3.2.2. Purposes.

3.3. Dialogic texts: structure.

3.3.1. Openings.

3.3.2. Body.

3.3.3. Endings.

3.4. Dialogic texts: main features.

3.4.1. Linguistic devices. Cohesion. Coherence.

3.4.2. Extralinguistic devices.

3.4.3. Paralinguistic devices.





1.1. Aims of the unit.

The main aim of Unit 36 is to present the issue of dialogic texts (also called conversational) in terms of structure and main features. Our aim is to offer a broad account of what dialogic texts are and why they are used for in both linguistic and pragmatic terms, that is, how language and textual features are used to achieve the purpose of establishing a successful exch ange of information between two or more participants. So, we shall divide our study in five main chapters.

In Chapter 2 we shall offer a theoretical framework for the analysis of dialogic texts since the concepts of ‘text’ and ‘dialogue’ (or conversation) are closely related to other key notions which prove essential in the understanding of their analysis. So, in order to establish the relationship between both concepts, we shall review (1) the notion of text linguistics since the analysis of dialogic texts is discussed within the framework of Discourse Analysis. Accordingly, we shall provide (2) a definition of text and hence we shall examine (a) its main textual features (common to all text types) such as texture and ties and (b) the seven standards of te xtuality in order to get to the notion of intertextuality. Then, we shall approach (3) the notion of intertextuality as the linguistic source of text types regarding (a) the main criteria for classifying text types and hence (b) the term ‘dialogic’.

Chapter 3 will analyse the basic textual features in dialogic texts regarding the linguistic disciplines of syntax, pragmatics and namely semantics, together with a grammatical approach within the framework of two standars of textuality: cohesion and coherence. Then we shall start by offering (1) an analysis of linguistic features regarding (a) cohesion in terms of (i) grammatical, (ii) lexical and (iii) graphological devices; and (b) a brief analysis of coherence concerning Grice’s cooperative principles and the notions of turn-taking and adjacency pairs. In addition, we shall analyse the main (2) extralinguistic devices as well as (3) paralinguistic ones.

Chapter 4 will be devoted to present the main educational implications in language teaching regarding dialogic texts and Chapter 5 will offer a conclusion to broadly overview our present study. Finally, Chapter 6 will include all the bibliographical references used in this study.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.

An influential introduction to the analysis of texts is based on relevant works of Halliday and Hasan, Cohesion in English (1976); van Dijk, Text and Context (1984); and Beaugrande and Dressler, Introduction to Text Linguistics (1988). Classic works regarding the term ‘dialogic’ include Crystal and Davy, Investigating English Style (1969); Brooks and Warren, Modern Rethoric (1979), Traugott and Pratt, Linguistics for Students of Literature (1980); and Genette, Noveau discours du récit (1983).

The background for educational implications regarding dialogic texts is based on the theory of communicative competence and communicative approaches to language teaching are provided by Canale, From Communicative Competence to Communicative Language Pedagogy (1983); Hymes, On communicative competence (1972). In addition, the most complete record of current publications within the educational framework is provided by the guidelines in van Ek and Trim, Vantage (2001); B.O.E. (2002); and the Council of Europe, Modern Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. A Common European Framework of reference (1998).


In Chapter 2 we shall offer a theoretical framework for the analysis of dialogic texts since the concepts of ‘text’ and ‘dialogue’ (or conversation) are closely related to other key notions which prove essential in the understanding of their analysis. So, in order to establish the relationship between both concepts, we shall review (1) the notion of text linguistics since the analysis of dialogic texts is discussed within the framework of Discourse Analysis. Accordingly, we shall provide (2) a definition of text and hence we shall examine (a) its main textual features (common to all text types) such as texture and ties and (b) the seven standards of textuality in order to get to the notion of intertextuality. Then, we shall approach (3) the notion of intertextuality as the linguistic source of text types regarding (a) the main criteria for classifying text types and hence (b) the term ‘dialogic’.

2.1. The notion of text linguistics: Discourse Analysis.

The notion of text linguistics designates ‘any work in language science devoted to the text as the primary object of inquiry’ (Beaugrande & Dressler, 1988). In fact, many fields have approached the study of texts, and in particular, that of dialogic texts: linguistics (from grammar, morphology and phonology), anthropology (different speech acts in different cultures), psychology (speaker and hearer behaviour) and stylistics (correctness, clarity, elegance, appropriateness, style).

Yet, the oldest form of preoccupation with texts and the first foundation for the analysis of texts and its articulation is drawn from the notion of text linguistics which has its historical roots in rethoric , dating from Ancient Greece and Rome through the Middle Ages up to the present under the name of text linguistics or discourse. Traditional rethoricians were influenced by their major task of training public orators on the discovery of ideas (invention), the arrangement of ideas (dis position), the discovery of appropriate expressions for ideas (elocution), and memorization prior to delivery on the actual occasion of speaking.

In the Middle Ages, rethoric was based on grammar (on the study of formal language patterns in Greek and Latin) and logic (on the construction of arguments and proofs), hence its relevance within our study. Rethoric still shares several concerns with the kind of text linguistics we know today, for instance, the use of texts as vehicles of purposeful interaction (oral and written), the variety of texts which express a given configuration of ideas, the arranging of ideas and its disposition within the discourse and the judgement of texts which still depends on the effects upon the audience.

2.2. On defining text.

The definition of ‘text’ is quite relevant in our study since it will lead us straighforwardly to the notion of ‘dialogic’ when reviewing the notion of intertextuality within text types. Following Halliday & Hasan (1976), “the word ‘text’ is used in linguistics to refer to any passage, spoken or written, of whatever length, that does form a unified whole”. As a general rule, we know whether an utterance or sequence of utterances constitute a text or not though it may be “spoken or written, prose or verse, dialogue or monologue, and also anything from a single proverb to a whole play, from a momentary cry for help to an all-day discussion on a committee”.

In addition, a text is best regarded as a semantic unit and not a unit of form. Hence, we may establish its relation to the term ‘dialogic’ since we deal with an oral or written discourse which involves an exchange of information on the part of a speaker and a listener, although it may involve more than two participants and it is usually related to spoken interactions.

2.2.1. Textual features: texture and ties.

Textual features such as texture and ties give a text the status of ‘being a text’. First of all, the concept of texture is defined as the textual resource that functions as a unity with respect to its environment and secondly, ties are defined as the resources that English has for creating texture so as to contribute to its total unity by means of cohesive relations (reference, substitution, ellipsis, conjunction, and lexical cohesion). The concept of a tie makes it possible to analyse a text in terms of its cohesive properties and give a systematic account of its patterns of texture, as it is the case of dialogic texts (Halliday & Hasan, 1976).

2.2.2. Textuality: the seven standards.

Perhaps the notion of textuality is the most relevant in our study since we reach the notion of dialogic text through one of its seven standards: intertextuality . Actually, written and oral texts conform to rules that most successful writers/speakers unconsciously follow and native readers/listeners unconsciously expect to find. It is relevant, then, to address the term textuality in written and oral texts as it is involved in rules governing written and oral discourse (hence its relationship to dialogic texts).

In the approach to text linguistics by de Beaugrande & Dressler (1988), a text, oral or printed, is established as a communicative occurrence, which has to meet seven standards of textuality : cohesion, coherence, intentionality and acceptability, informativity, situationality and finally, intertextuality. If any of these standards are not satisfied, the text is considered not to have fulfilled its function and not to be communicative.

We shall briefly review the first six standards of textuality in relation to dialogic texts so as to analyse the seventh one in more depth in next section:

(1) Cohesion is, as well as coherence, a text-centred notion which is related to the function of syntax and the components of the surface text. It also deals with cohesive ties as mentioned above (anaphora, cataphora, ellipsis, etc) and signalling relations (tense and aspect, modality, updating, junction, conjunction, disjunction and subordination) which prove essential in dialogic texts to maintain a conversation.

(2) Coherence is needed for this conversation to make sense by means of organization since it is concerned with a set of relations subsumed under subordination, coordination and global patterns responsible for making a text be “senseless’ or non-sensical” (frames, plans).

(3) Intentionality subsumes the intentions of text producers, that is, their attitude. In the most immediate sense of the term, the producer ‘intends’ the language configuration under production to a cohesive and coherent text instrumental in fulfilling the receiver’s intentions. This standard deals with the pragmatic perspective of discourse, that is, Grice’s conversational maxims of co-operation (1975): quantity, quality, relation and manner on saying ‘be informative, be truthful, be relevant and be brief’. Here we meet the purpose of dialogic texts, that is, to explain a topic briefly and clearly.

(4) Acceptability, on the other hand, concerns the receiver attitude. Here a set of occurrences should constitute a cohesive and coherent text having some use or relevance for the receiver in an appropriate context of communication.

(5) Informativity concerns the extent to which the occurrences of the text are expected vs. unexpected or known vs. unknown or uncertain by means of content words (verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs). Hence specific lexical devices in dialogic texts (deictic pronouns, affirmative and negative adverbs in answers, interrogative and exclamative sentences, ellipsis, etc).

(6) Situationality concerns the factors which make a text “relevant to a current or recoverable situation of occurrence” (Beaugrande & Dressler, 1988). The effects of a situational setting are very rare when there is no mediation and therefore, the extent to which one feeds one’s own beliefs and goals into one’s model of the current commu nicative situation (i.e. the setting).

(7) And finally, intertextuality which will be reviewed in connection to text types and, will be the basis for the notion of dialogic texts.

2.3. Intertextuality: text types.

Intertextuality concerns the factors which make the use of one text dependent upon knowledge of one or more previously encountered texts, that is, the ways in which the production and reception of a given text depends upon the participants knowledge of other texts. The usual mediation is achieved by means of the development and use of text types , being classes of texts expected to have certain traits for certain purposes: narrative, descriptive, argumentative, expository and, for our purposes, dialectic (also called directive and conversational).

For 2,400 years there have been two traditions of classifying texts. The first one, deriving from Aristotle’s Rethoric, where the term rethoric refers to the uses of language. More specific, it refers to modes of discourse realized through text types, thus narration, description, , exposition, argumentation and dialogic. Within the second tradition, rethoric refers to communicative function as rethorical strategies in functional lines: argumentative: to promote the acceptance of certain beliefs; descriptive: to enrich knowledge spaces; narrative: to arrange actions and events; expository texts: to explain a topic to an audience in a clear, detailed and organised way; and, for our purposes, dialogic texts as a means to establish an oral or written exchange of information between two or more participants.

In this section we shall approach the concept of text typology from two main perspectives: (1) the main criteria for text typology by means of which we review basic principles for all types of texts regarding textual devices, order and sequence elements and common text structures; and (2) a text type classification whereby we shall locate dialogic texts.

2.3.1. Text types: main criteria.

There are three main criteria when establishing a typology for texts: main textual principles, text structure (order and sequence) and main textual features common for all types of texts.

(1) Regarding textual principles, we deal with specific conditions of production, contradictory cultural discourses, and intercultural processes. For such reasons, texts may have a wide range of interpretative possibilities. The main basic principles are considered to be literary elements and devices to evaluate how the form and use of elements and devices which contribute to the work’s message and impact. For instance, oral discourse share the same cooperative principles (Grice’s four maxims) as other types of texts (i.e. be truthful, be relevant, be brief, be informative).

(2) Text structure. Here the notions of order and sequence come into force when approaching the form of a text. For instance, in dialogic texts we find the overall structure of introduction, development and conclusion; in narrative texts logical, chronological, or psypchological sequence of events; in descriptive texts, from general to specific, upward and downward direction, personality vs. physical appearance.

(3) Main textual features . By studying the textual features and lexical elements of text types, one can learn to regularly recognize a text. For instance, dialogic texts are characterized by the presence of idiomatic expressions ( greetings, farewells, apologies); linguistic, extralinguistic and paralinguistic elements (i.e. interrogative sentences, gestures and laugh, respectively) that are not found in other types of texts because they do not enjoy an open structure as dialogic texts do.

2.3.2. Text types: dialogic.

We may classify texts in two ways. Firstly, according to purpose , and secondly, according to type or mode. According to purpose, in terms of communicative functions, the discourse is intended to inform, explain, express an attitude, persuade and create a debate. According to type or mode, the classification distinguishes among descriptive, narrative, argumentative, expository and conversational modes.

Hence, in this study we are dealing with conversational or dialogic texts which, on the one hand, are intended to establish an exchange of information in terms of communicative functions and, on the other hand, according to the category or text types it is included within the type of dialogic, that is, the fact of offering a structured oral interaction between two or more participants. Now let us examine dialogic texts more in depth regarding their textual structure and main features.


Chapter 3 will offer then an insightful analysis of dialogic texts in terms of (1) definition where we shall establish the relationship between discourse, speech acts and dialogic texts by examining (a) the dialogic nature of discourse, (b) the orality of dialogic texts and (c) oral discourse and speech acts; (2) main textual elements with respect to (a) participants and (b) the participants’ purposes; (3) textual structure in terms of order and sequence regarding (a) openings, (b) body and (c) endings in an exchange; and (4) main textual devices within dialogic text types. So we shall start by offering (1) an analysis of linguistic features regarding (a) cohesion in terms of (i) grammatical, (ii) lexical and (iii) graphologic al devices; and (b) a brief analysis of coherence concerning Grice’s cooperative principles and the notions of turn-taking and adjacency pairs. In addition, we shall analyse the main (2) extralinguistic devices as well as (3) paralinguistic ones.

3.1. On defining dialogic texts.

A dialogic text is usually defined as a type of discourse concerned with a text, oral or written, which is established as a communicative occurrence, which has to meet seven standards of textuality: cohesion, coherence, intentionality and acceptability, informativity, situationality and finally, intertextuality. If any of these standards are not satisfied, the text is considered not to have fulfilled its function and not to be communicative. So, the purpose of dialogic texts is to establish an oral or written interaction between one or more participants so as to exchange information in a successful way1.

Main contributions on describing communication purposes are given by the anthropologist Malinowsky who claimed in the early twentieth century for two main purposes, thus a pragmatic purpose related to the practical use of language both oral and written, and also, a ritual purpose associated to ceremonies and ancient chants. More recently, another definition comes from Halliday (1973) who defines language as an instrument of social interaction with a clear communicative purpose . Moreover, Brown and Yule (1973) established a useful distinction between two basic 1 It must be borne in mind that in current society, dialogues are always present at all levels, that is, in the domains of literature (fiction) and in everyday life (non-fiction). Therefore, it is relevant to remember that dialogic texts are not

clearly -cut types and they may interrelate with other types such as argumentation, narration or description when explaining ideas, giving a conference, a political speech, a debate, a sermon, a lecture or just maintaining a conversation at public places (a shop, a bank, cinema, school, etc).

language functions, thus transactional and interactional, whose communication purpose was mainly to maintain social relationships through speech acts.

3.1.1. The dialogic nature of discourse.

In the historical development of human societies, the propensity for establishing communication played a critical role since it had an ideational function, that is, it provided participants a means of representing objects, ideas and events among each other as a way to improve the relationship between them. In fact, the notion of maintaining a dialogue (oral or written) is drawn from the Latin term ‘conversari’ (which means ‘to cohabit’ or ‘live together’) and which states the main function of dialogic texts: to establish social relationships between human beings.

Traditionally, linguistic research has emphasized the role of written discourse as a means for mediating intellectual activity since it gives a permanent representation to meaning. Written texts can be read and re-read, silently or aloud, and they can also be critically interrogated and revised. Yet, whether in the oral or the written mode, discourse is essentially social in nature and, because it is constituted of a series of contributions that are sequentially inserted into the ongoing flow of activity, it is also inherently dialogic.

With this premise in mind, it is relevant to remember at this point that research in cultural anthropology has shown quite clearly that the origins of communication are to be found in the very early stages of life when there was a need for animals and humans to communicate so as to carry out basic activities of everyday life, such as hunting, eating, or breeding among others. However, even the most primitive cultures had a constant need to express their feelings and ideas by other means than gutural sounds and body movements as animals did and a constant preoccupation on how to turn thoughts into words.

3.1.2. The orality of dialogic texts.

So, in order to get a firm grasp on the relationship between oral and written texts and the outstanding orality of dialogic texts, we must briefly examine our historical knowledge of both. According to Goytisolo (2001), the first evidence of writing is from 3500 B.C., the date of the Sumerian inscriptions in Mesopotamia and early Egyptian inscriptions whereas the appearance of language can be traced back some forty or fifty thousand years. The period which encompasses primary orality, then, is consequently ten times the length of the era of writing although we may observe an overwhelming influence of the written on the oral component as an attempt to preserve and memorise for the future the narratives of the past, by means of literature productions, printing and modern audiovisual and computing media.

Yet, the orality of discourse pervades social life since it is still the principal vehicle for the transmission of cultural knowledge, and the primary means by which we gain access to the contents of others’ minds. Lately, it has been involved in most of the phenomena that lie at the core of social psychology, thus attitude change, social perception, personal identit y, social interaction, and stereotyping among others. Moreover, for social psychologists, language typically is the medium by which subjects’ responses are elicited, and in which they respond. For instance, in social psychological research, more often than not, oral language plays a role in both stimulus and response (Krauss & Chiu 1993).

Just as language use is present in social life, the elements of social life constitute an intrinsic part or the way language is used. Linguists regard language as an abs tract structure that exists independently of specific instances of usage. However, any communicative exchange is situated in a social context that constrains the linguistic forms participants use. How these participants define the social situation, their perceptions of what others know, think and believe, and the claims they make about their own and others’ identities will affect the form and content or their acts of speaking.

3.1.3. Oral discourse and speech acts.

At another level of analysis, these acts of speaking can be regarded as actions intended to accomplish a specific purposes by verbal means. Looked at this way, according to Austin (1962) and Searle (1969), utterances can be thought of as speech acts that can be identified in terms of their intended purposes, thus assertions, questions, requests among others. However, we must bear in mind that the grammatical form does not determine the speech act an utterance represents. For instance, an utterance like “You shouted at him?” may constitute quite different speech acts, for instance, a question in form but a statement in meaning.

Considerations on this sort require a distinction be drawn between the semantic or literal meaning of an utterance and its intended meaning. Acts of speaking are imbedded in a discourse made up of a coherently related sequence of such acts. Thus, conversation and narratives are two types of discourse, and each has a formal structure that constrains participants’ acts of speaking.

Nowadays, the interest on language in use has increased the number of linguistic studies on oral discourse. It is a fact that oral speech is much more innovative than the written type since we may appreciate dialectal and affective features on the former one. We believe that a clearer understanding of the social nature of the situations in which language is used will deepen our general understanding of the principles and mechanisms that underlie language use, and in particular, oral discourse or dialogic texts.Yet, our present study shall namely focus on the oral type and the following sections will draw upon this issue.

3.2. Dialogic texts: main elements.

Linguists often say that language and communication are not the same thing, and certainly this is true. People and many species that do not use language seem able to communicate adequately for their purposes, with and without language. If language were nothing more than a tool for communication, it would warrant social psychologists’ interest (Krauss & Chiu 1993). However, there are common features to the notions of language and communication which must be applied to the analysis of dialogic texts such as the main elements of a dialogic text in terms of (1) participants and (2) the participants’ main purposes to establish an exchange.

3.2.1. Participants.

With respect to both codes of discourse (oral and written) it is worth noting that one of their differences relies on the notion of participants and different skills, thus productive and receptive, to be carried out in a one -way process or two-way process. Hence, regarding written communication, we refer to writer and reader, when they are involved in the productive skill of writing and the receptive skill of reading. Similarly, we refer to speaker and listener, when they are involved in the productive skill of speaking and the receptive skill of listening.

Regarding participants, according to Johnson (1981), oral communication is depicted as an activity involving two (or more) people in which the participants are both hearers and speakers having to react to what they hear and making their contributions at high speed. In the interaction process, he adds, each participant has to be able to interpret what is said to him and reply to what has just been said reflecting their own intentions. We are talking, then, about an interactive situation directly related and dependent on the communicative function and the speech situation involving speaker and hearer. As seen before, the way participants interact in a communicative event has much to do with social psychology as social life constitute an intrinsic part of the way language is used (to make questions, to state, to command, etc).

Then, regarding elements in the communication process of dialogic texts, we will follow the Russian linguist Roman Jakobson and his productive model on language theory which explains how all acts of communication, be they written or oral, are based on six constituent elements (1960): the addresser, addresse, message, context, code and channel2 .

3.2.2. Purposes.

As previously mentioned, the acts of speaking can be regarded as actions intended to accomplish a specific purpose by verbal means (assertion, question, exclamation). We must bear in mind that the starting point for these purposes are encouraged by elements working at the level of (a) formality (formal vs. informal language) and (b) theme or topic, which determines the participant role in the exchange (i.e. father vs. son, lawyer vs. witness, customer vs. assistant, etc).

The different types of speech acts were established by the British philosopher J.L. Austin (1962) and John Searle (1969) as an attempt to show “how to do things with words” in terms of meaning, language use, and extralinguistic functions. The theory of speech acts aims to do justice to the fact that even though words (and therefore, phrases and sentences) encode information, people do more things with words than convey information, and that when people do convey information, they often convey more than their words encode. Although the focus of speech act theory has been on 2 The addresser/encoder (sp eaker) sends a message (oral utterance) to the addressee/ decoder (listener). Messages are embedded in or refer to contexts which the addressee must be able to grasp and perhaps even verbalize. The addresser and addressee need to partially share a code (language as verbal, and symbols as non -verbal devices) between them, that is, the

rules governing the relationship between the message and its context; and the message is sent through a physical channel (air) and contact (a psychological connection) is estab lished between Addresser and Addressee so that they may enter and stay in communication.

utterances, especially those made in conversational and other face-to-face situations, the phrase ‘speech act’ should be taken as a generic term for any sort of language use, oral or otherwise.

Searle (1969) summarized Austin’s speech acts into five main categories: representatives, directives, commissives, expressives, and declarations. Hence, their main purposes are respectively:

(1) firstly, representatives (also assertives), whose main aim isto refer to some state of affairs by means of assertions, claims and descriptions, that is, to tell people how things are by stating;

(2) secondly, directives, whose intention is to get the addressee to carry out some action by means of commands, requests, dares or entreaties;

(3) thirdly, commissives, which are speech acts that commit the speaker to some future course of action by means of promises, threats and vows;

(4) fourthly, expressives, which are speech acts that indicate the speaker’s psychological state or mental attitude by means of greeting, congratulating, thanking or apologising in order to express the speaker’s feelings and attitudes by thinking, forgiving, or blaming;

(5) and finally, declaratives, which are speech acts that themselves bring about a state of affairs by means of marrying, naming, blessing or arresting. For instance, they bring about changes through our utterances by means of bringing about correspondence between the propositional content and reality, through baptizing, naming, appointing or sacking.

3.3. Dialogic texts: structure.

The structure of dialogic texts is defined as a sequence of ordered verbal interactions where the minimum structure is based on a binary exchange of addresser and addressee on a specific topic. However, it is worth noting that this type of discourse organization is quite flexible and open, so both structure and content are spontaneous and not previously planned as other types of texts (except for specific cases as a love declaration, testimony of witnesses at court, etc).

Oral interaction is made up by the participants’ encounters, in which several linguistic or non- linguistic exchanges are performed with respect to a certain theme or topic. Hence participants usually start a conversation, develop it and finally, bring it to an end. Traditionally, the logical development of a dialogic text is presented into three different phases: opening, body and ending. In this section, we shall briefly review the content of these phases since this is the issue for the next chapter: textual devices of dialogic texts.

3.3.1. Openings.

Openings are considered as the starting point of a conversation since they state the main topic of the encounter between two or more participants, for instance, saying hello or asking a question (i.e. Hi, John! I have to talk to you/H i, John! Can you help me?/ Hi, John! Have you heard the last news?). We may distinguish three main types of expressions that can be used as openers: expressions directed to the other participant (i.e. Had a nice weekend?), self-oriented expressions (i.e. Before I go, I’ll tell you something) and neutral remarks (i.e. on the weather, about animal facts, jobs).

Therefore, since dialogic texts have an open structure, they offer a lot of new information which must be classified according to the participants’ purpose: greetings, questions and exclamations among others.

1. Greetings. This is the most characteristic way of opening a conversation since participants address each other with salutations which may vary on the degree of formality and length of the opening. For instance, ‘How do you do?’ (formal, long form) vs. ‘Hello/Hi!’ (informal, short form); ‘How are you?’, ‘How is it going?’, and so on. In addition, greetings may be accompanied of extralinguistic features such as kisses, shaking hands, holding each other, etc.

2. Questions. They are closely related to greetings since they are part of them (i.e. How are you?/How do you do?/How is it going?).

3. Exclamations. An exclamation may arise a conversation depending on the setting. For instance, saying ‘What an awful day!’ in a lift may help people start a dialogue on the weather.

3.3.2. Body.

On the other hand, the body structure deals with the development of the conversation between one or more participants. This is a continuous process which consists of a series of turn-taking mechanisms carried out by the speakers on various aspects of their immediate environment. This sequence of turn -taking exchanges serve to frame the topic, and to see if the receiver is interested or not.

Hence the specific terminology and formulae regarding the length of the body and its formality vs. informality (i.e. idiomatic turn-taking dialogues: ‘Hi, Mary! How are you? –Fine, thanks, and you?

–I’m very well, thank you). Note that the first moves serve to establish the social roles that participants are going to play during the conversational encounter. These moves are known as adjacency pairs and refer to the binary utterances which are successively produced by the speakers in a fixed order, where the answer to the former question is a predictable one (i.e. How are you? + I’m fine thanks; How do you do? + How do you do?).

Although the linguistic signals are primary in getting and passing turns, often, the first contact is usually nonlinguistic and is made before a single word is said (i.e. a smile, shaking hands, tapping on the shoulder). Also, we may find participants increase their volume, bodily tension and a deep intake of breath among others.

3.3.3. Endings.

The ending of a conversation is drawn from the feeling of both participants to have successfully fulfilled their initial purpose although sometimes we find an unsuccessful ending. We are dealing here with negotiation strategies, which are developed in four phases on the part of the participants: the ending offer (i.e. Well, it’s been nice to talk to you. I must go), the ending acceptance (i.e. Me, too. Hope to see you again), farewell (i.e. Then, see you! We’ll keep in contact) and the ending of the conversation (i.e. Goodbye!).

3.4. Dialogic texts: main features.

We shall approach the analysis of the main features of dialogic texts from linguistic, extralinguistic (or non- linguistic) and paralinguistic devices. Dialogic texts are formed by linguistic rules, that is, an abstract set of principles that specify the relations be tween a sequence of sounds and a sequence of meanings. In this first level of analysis, we find that languages are made up of four systems, the phonological, the morphological, the syntactic , and the semantic which, taken together, constitute its grammar. Then these linguistic principles are constrained by cooperative principles ruled by usage patterns which may be supported by extralinguistic and paralinguistic devices.

So, let us analyse the basic textual features in dialogic texts regarding the linguistic disciplines of syntax, pragmatics and namely semantics, together with a grammatical approach within the framework of two standars of textuality: cohesion and coherence. Then we shall start by offering (1) an analysis of linguistic features regarding (a) cohesion in terms of (i) grammatical, (ii) lexical and (iii) graphological devices; and (b) a brief analysis of coherence concerning Grice’s cooperative principles and the notions of turn-taking and adjacency pairs. In addition, we shall analyse the main (2) extralinguistic devices as well as (3) paralinguistic ones.

3.4.1. Linguistic devices.

Thus, when revising dialogic texts, we may find common features to all text types and specific features for dialogic texts (short turn-takings, false starts, register changes between formal and informal, irony or jokes) which will be reviewed under the linguistic parameters of cohesion and coherence. For present purposes, we will think about dialogic texts as a set of complex, organized systems that operate in concert with linguistic devices when any particular act of speaking is under revision for social behaviour. Cohesion.

Semantically speaking, the term ‘cohesion’ concerns the ways in which the components of the surface text (the actual words we hear or see) are mutually connected within a sequence of utterances (Beaugrande & Dressler, 1988), that is, intra-text linking devices are connected to extra- textual reference. The notion of ‘cohesion’ is expressed through the stratal organization of language which can be explained as a multiple coding system comprising three levels of coding common for all text types: the semantic one (meanings), the lexicogrammatical (morphological forms, grammar and vocabulary) and the phonological and orthographic one (expressions: sounding and writing).

Cohesion has been a most popular target for research, and it is well known its relation to the second of the textuality standards, coherence. Since cohesive markers are important for the understanding of dialogic texts, all speakers make extensive use of them, for example in order to enhance coherence, but also for reasons of economy (e.g. a sequence of greetings). Since cohesion is expressed partly through the grammar and partly through the vocabulary, we find two main types of cohesive devices considered as general categories of cohesion: grammatical cohesion (substitution, ellipsis, conjunction, reference) and lexical cohesion (reiteration, collocation) by means of grammatical categories such as adjectives, nouns, process verbs, and so on.

1. Grammatical cohesion.

Thus the concept of cohesion accounts for the essential semantic relations in a dialogic text: substitution, ellipsis, conjunction and reference. Note that these items make reference to the terms ‘anaphora and cata phora, connectors and deixis’, quite frequent in dialogic texts. It is relevant to mention first that anaphora, cataphora and deixis will be examined under the heading of reference , and connectors under the heading of conjunction.

The cohesive device of ‘substitution’ is very similar to that of ‘ellipsis’. These two cohesive relations are thought of as processes within the text: substitution as ‘the replacement of one item by another’ so as not to repeat similar vocabulary (i.e. Would you like a coffee? – No, thanks. I’ve just had one). This cohesive device can also function under morphological shape with synonyms (i.e. a drink, a hot drink, a beverage); and ellipsis as the omission of an item (i.e. Would you like a coffee? Yes, I would).

The reference type of grammatical cohesion is another well researched area within dialogic texts. It is defined by Halliday & Hasan (1976) as ‘the case where the information to be retrieved is the referential meaning, the identity of the particular thing or class of things that is being referred to; and the cohesion lies in the continuity of reference, whereby the same thing enters into the discourse a second time’. As we stated before, paragraph ideas are linked and interrelated although they are in different paragraphs, so theme and rheme (anaphora and cataphora) are always present in dialogic texts (i.e. Have you seen my new mobile? –I think so. Is it the one you were using yesterday?).

Conjunction is a relevant relationship with respect to dialogic texts since connectors establish the necessary links between ideas and thoughts within the text (coordination: and, but, although, however, in addition). They indicate how the subsequent sentence or clause should be linked to the preceding or the following sentence or parts of sentence.

Connectors play an essential role in dialogic texts since they reflect cohesion within the discourse and show a logical development of the discussion by establishing different relationships between the presented ideas: summative (i.e. In addit ion, moreover), restrictive (i.e. specially, in particular), causal (i.e. because, because of, due to), explanatory (i.e. I see; yes, I know), previous reference (anaphora: As I said before) and conclusive (i.e. To end up this conversation…).

Other grammatical devices involve the use of specific syntactic structures, such as (1) interrogative and exclamative sentence structures; (2) finite clauses in past and present tense as a way of switching reference (i.e. Was he sleeping? – Yes, he always does); (3) subordination (subordinate clauses, relative clauses); (4) coordination (copulative, adversative) and finally, (5) specific formulae (greetings, farewells).

2. Lexical cohesion.

From a lexical approach, we cannot determine specific or technical vocabulary within dialogic texts since they are spontaneous interactions and have open structures (except specific cases). Hence this type of texts is namely characterized by the use of (1) affirmative and negative adverbs in answers (i.e. Yes/No); (2) a wide range of deictic pronouns (i.e. you, this, here); and (3) connectors, which establish a semantic link between paragraphs (i.e. Moreover, although, in addition, but, eventually, etc).

3. Graphological devices.

With respect to graphological devices, we are mainly dealing with the most outstanding visual device in dialogic texts since they establish the limits between the units of information uttered by every speaker: indexes and hyphens (to mark the participants speech), orthography (participants names in capital letters), punctuation (interrogative and exclamative marks) since most of them deal with form and structure of this type of texts.

Note that in oral interactions we face another type of cohesive features since written devices are substituted by general conventions of pauses and stress to mark each participant intervention. We may establish a classification of specific features in oral dialogic texts:

False starts, which are unnecessary repetitions of words at the beginning of the sentence whose result is an ungrammatical sequence of words (i.e. ‘At four o’clock?’, ‘Er’, ‘I…’, ‘It’s…’, ‘And then…’, ‘We’ve got to…’, etc). They are typical signals of active listening on the part of the listener which express a number of emotional items including agreement, disagreement, acceptance, etc. (i.e. ‘Er’, ‘I…’, ‘It’s…’, ‘Hmm’, ‘Uhum’, ‘Aha’, ‘Ah’, ‘Uh’, ‘No!’, ‘No way!’, ‘Really?’, etc).

Syntactic anomalies . We speakers often fail to keep control of the syntax of what we are saying and produce anomalous constructions. This specific constructions are orally accepted but regarded as awkward and unacceptable in a written composition since they are grammatically incorrect (i.e. We’ve bitten him up vs. We’ve bit ‘m up).

Prosody expressions to complete sentences when we do not know what to say and enable us to dispense with words that would be necessary for clarity in a written version of the same text (i.e. Well, …/Actually, …/then…).

Pauses which are used to introduce significant information units, as the end of what may be a prosodic paragraph. These pauses are marked by giving a special long curve of intonation nucleus (usually falling intonation). A pause may be also introduced immediately before a lexical item which the speaker may feel be especially important, or unfamiliar, which he/she wishes to be heard clearly (i.e. a specific word: ‘He said I was…quite informal’). Often, pauses are signs of hesitation. Coherence.

Coherence is a purely semantic property of discourse, while cohesion is mainly concerned with morpho-syntactic devices in discourse. A coherent text is a semantically connected, integrated whole, expressing relations of closeness, time or location between its concepts and sentences. A condition on this continuity of sense is that the connected concepts are also related in the real world and that the speakers identify these relations.

In a coherent text, there are direct and indirect semantic referential links between lexical items in and between sentences, which the reader must interpret. A text must be coherent enough for the interlocutor to be able to interpret. It seems probable that this coherence can be achieved either through cohesion, for instance, markers and clues in the speakers’ text, or through the employment of the user-centred textuality standards of intentionality, acceptability, informativity, situationality and intertextuality.

These markers are defined as all the devices which are needed in writing in order to produce a text in which the sentences are coherently organised so as to fulfil the writer’s communicative purpose (to establish a conversational interaction in a successful way). Hence we may establish two main coherent devices in oral interaction: the interlocutors’ cooperative principles under the form of four conversational maxims, and the notions of turn-taking and adjacency pairs in conversational analysis.

1. Grice’s cooperative principles.

The English language philosopher H. Paul Grice (1969) was not the first to recognize that non- literal meanings posed a problem for theories of language use, but he was among the first to explain the processes that allow speakers to convey, and addressees to identify, communicative intentions that are expressed non-literally, as for him, meaning is seen as a kind of intending, and the hearer’s or reader’s recognition that the speaker or writer means something by x is part of the meaning of x .

His insight that the communicative use of language rests on a set of implicit understandings among language users has had an important influence in both linguistics and social psychology. In a set of influential papers, Grice (1957, 1969, 1975) argued that conversation is an intrinsically cooperative endeavor . To communicate participants will implicitly adhere to a set of conventions, collectively termed the Cooperative Principle or Conversational Maxims, by making their messages conform to four general rules or maxims where speakers shape their utterances to be understood by hearers. Thus, the maxims are quality, quantity, relation and manner: first, quality envisages messages to be truthful; quantity , by means of which messages should be as informative as is required, but not more informative; relation , for messages to be relevant; and manner, where messages should be clear, brie f and orderly.

2. Conversational Analysis and Turn-Taking.

A main feature of conversations is that they tend to follow the convention of turn taking. Simply, this is where one person waits for the other to finish his/her utterance before contributing their own. This is as much a utilitarian convention as mere manners- a conversation, given the aforementioned definition, would logically cease to take place if the agents involved insisted on speaking even when it was plain that the other was trying to contrib ute.

It is, additionally, comforting to know that the other person respects your opinions enough not to continually interrupt you. The best example of this occurs in the Houses of Parliament – a supposed debating chamber which is often anything but, due to the failure of the members to observe the turn-taking code. Note, however, that a person rarely explicitly states that they have finished their utterance and are now awaiting yours. Intriguing exceptions to this are in two-way radios, where many social and psychological cues are lacking, and thus it is more difficult for speakers to follow turn- taking.

The potential for one to reply can be missed, deliberately or not, so that the first person may contribute once more. Failure to realise this can result in an awkward pause or a cacophany of competing voices in a large crowd.

3. Conversational Analysis and Adjacency Pairs.

Another fundamental feature of conversation is the idea of adjacency pairs . Posited by Goffman (1976), an example would be found in a question -answer session. Both conversing parties are aware that a response is required to a question; moreover, a particular response to a given question. I might invite a friend into my house and ask: “Would you like a biscuit?” To which the adjacency pair response is expected to be either “Yes” or “No”. My friend may be allergic to chocolate, however, and place an insertion sequence into the response: “Do you have any ginger snaps?” the reply to which would cause him to modify his answer accordingly.

In the above consideration of turn-taking, such observations may be used in our social interactions when the second agent did not take their opportunity to respond to the first, and the implication is that they have nothing to say about the topic. But perhaps the transition relevance place was one in which the second agent was in fact selected, but failed to respond, or responded in an inappropriate manner.

This infinity of responses is what makes language so entertaining, and in the above cases the speakers might make inferences about the reasons for incorrect responses. These may be not to have responded because he did not understand the question, or not to agree with the interlocutor. As Goffman notes, a silence often reveals an unwillingness to answer. Dispreferred responses tend to be preceded by a pause, and feature a declination component which is the non-acceptance of the first part of the adjacency pair. Not responding at all to the above question is one such – and has been dubbed an attributable silence, thus, a silence which in fact communicates certain information about the non-speaker.

It has been noted that various physical cues, such as gestures or expressions, are in play during orthodox face-to-face exchanges, and these are obviously lacking in a telephone conversation. Since humans are so adept at speaking over the phone, it is easy to conclude that the cues are not as important as once imagined – we manage without them so well, after all. However, this argument does not take into account the cues one picks up from the voice – it is quite easy to detect if somebody is confident, or nervous on the phone, from the words they use, the pauses, the tone and pronunciations of the words. In short, we may be able to substitute these auditory cues for more conventional physical cues, and then empathise with the other person. This way, we could be visualising, or at least imagining with a fair degree of accuracy, how the person is feeling, and gaining cues that way.

3.4.2. Extralinguistic devices.

As people speak, people often gesture, nod their heads, change their postures and facial expressions, and redirect the focus of their gaze. Although these behaviors are not linguistic by a strict definition of that term, their close coordination with the speech they accompany suggests that they are relevant to an account of language use, and also, can occur apart from the context of speech, spontaneous or voluntarily.

Conversational speech is often accompanied by gesture , and the relation of these hand movements to the speech are usually regarded as communicative devices whose function is to amplify or underscore information conveyed in the accompanying speech. According to one of the icons of American linguists, Edward Sapir, people respond to gesture with extreme alertness, in accordance with an elaborate and secret code that is written nowhere, known to none, and understood by all (Sapir , 1921).

Gestures are then, to be classified in different types, such as emblems or symbolic gestures as essentially hand signs with well established meanings (thumbs -up and V for victory, pointing, denial, and refusing). In contrast, we may find simple and repetitive rhythmic hand movements coordinated with sentence prosody, called batons, as using head and shoulders. Also, unpla nned gestures that accompany spontaneour speech, called gesticulations, representational gestures, or lexical movements, related to semantic content of speech in order to describe things like size, strength or speed.

Concerning facial expression , it deals with an automatic response to an internal state although they can be controlled voluntarily to a considerable extent, and are used in social situations to convey a variety of kinds of information (smiling and happiness). Changes in addressees’ facial expressions allows the addressee to express understanding concern, agreement, or confirmation where expressions such as smiles and head nods as considered as back-channels.

In relation to gaze direction, a variety of kinds of significance has been attributed to both the amount of time participants spend looking at each other, and to the points in the speech stream at which those glances occur, such as staring, watching, peering or looking among others. As proximity, body-orientation or touching, gazing may express the communicators’ social distance, by means of looking up to or looking down to.

3.4.3. Paralinguistic devices.

The primary medium by which language is expressed, speech, also contains a good deal of information that can be considered nonverbal. These non-verbal communicative uses of the vocal tract are possible by means of paralanguage, such as whistling or musical effects. Thus, a speaker’s voice transmits individuating information concerning his or her age, gender, region of origin, social class, and so on. In addition to this relatively static information, transient changes in vocal quality provide information about changes in the speaker’s internal state, such as hesitation or interjections. Changes in a speaker’s affective states usually are accompanied by changes in the acoustic properties of his or her voice (Krauss and Chiu 1993), and listeners seem capable of interpreting these changes, even when the quality of the speech is badly degraded, or the language is one the listener does not understand.

When we refer to non-verbal or paralinguistic communication, visual and tactile modes are also concerned. They may be used for a variety of linguistic purposes such as the use of sign languages. For instance, the receiver may get the message by sound (as in speech and birdsong), by sight (as in written language, reading, morse or traffic signs) or by touch (as in the Braille alphabet of the blind or secret codes).


Discourse is undoubtely the most salient aspect of educational activity. In classrooms of all kinds, some form of discourse, either spoken or written, is going on for most of the time. Yet, discourse is not an end in itself, but a means of achieving the goals of the larger activities that constitute the object of education. Furthermore, it is not the only means since non-verbal actions of various kinds, such as experimenting, observing, drawing and so on, are also important ways of making meaning. Together with talking, writing and reading, participants master these elements to achieve and develop the goals of the activity in which they are engaged. Therefore, all these mediational means are dialogic.

Currently, action research groups attempt to bring about change in classroom learning and teaching through a focus on discourse and activity under two premises. First, because they believe learning is an integral aspect of any form of activity and second, because education at all levels must be conceived in terms of dialogue. The basis for these assumptions is to be found in an attempt, through the use of various modes of discourse, to develop understanding of students’ shared but diverse social and physical environment.

Particularly important are the contributions, in this latter respect, of ideas stemming from the work of Dewey (1938) in the United States and Vygotsky (1978, 1987) in Russia, that is currently referred to as social constructivism. Both believed that human beings learn in the course of participating in purposeful joint activity as, with assistance from teachers, they master the material and intellectual tools to achieve the desired outcomes. So, learning is seen as “an integral and inseparable aspect of social practice” (Lave and Wenger, 1991).

Therefore, learning involves a process of transformation of participation itself which has far reaching implications on the role of the teacher in the teaching- learning relationship. This means that for teachers, there must be a continuing transformation of their practice that is shaped by the developing understanding of students. With this transformation of practice, the major focus of the present research has been on classroom activities that provide frequent opportunities for students, for them to be transformative through collaborative participation in productive activities by means of discourse competence, an essential tool for collaborative activity.

But how do dialogic texts tie in with the new curriculum? As we stated above, one of the pleasures of teaching the written language is that it is so easy to provide good models of almost any kind of writing. Following van Ek & Trim (2001), ‘the learners can perform, within the limits of the resources available to them, those writing (and oral) tasks which adult citizens in general may wish, or be called upon, to carry out in their private capacity or as members of the general public’ when dealing with explanations drawn from their personal opinion.

Moreover, nowadays new technologies may provide a new direction to language teaching as they set more appropriate context for students to experience the target culture. Present-day approaches deal with a communicative competence model in which first, there is an emphasis on significance over form, and secondly, motivation and involvement are enhanced by means of new technologies. Dialogic texts prove frequent and relevant within the students environment (i.e. talking to classmates, family or teachers, chatting on the Internet, conversation at shops, restaurants, offices, etc).

The success partly lies in the way the language becomes real to the users, feeling themselves really in the language. Some of this motivational force is brought about by intervening in authentic communicative events. Otherwise, we have to recreate as much as possible the whole cultural environment in the classroom. This is to be achieved within the framework of the European Council (1998) and, in particular, the Spanish Educational System which establishes a common reference framework for the teaching of foreign languages where stude nts are intended to carry out several communication tasks with specific communicative goals within specific contexts and registers (i.e. school, home, friends, office, tutorial meeting, at the doctor’s). Thus, foreign language activities are provided within the framework of social interaction, personal, professional and educational fields.

Writing and oral skills are mentioned as one of the aims of our current educational system (B.O.E. 2002) and in particular, for students of E.S.O. and Bachillerato about how to maintain a conversation either oral (talking) or written (chatting on the Internet). Actually, Bachillerato students are asked to perform oral and written dialogic texts by simulating dialogues in the street (asking for directions), in shops (buying items), in restaurants (ordering meals), at home (asking for advice) and so on. They are asked to use dialogic textual features (lexical choice between formal and informal syntactic structures; phonological devices such as false starts, turn-taking, intonation, rhythm; or paralinguistic devices such as gestures and interjections).

It is stated that students will make use of this competence in a natural and systematic way in order to achieve the effectiveness of communication through the different communication skills, thus, productive (oral and written communication), receptive (oral and written comprehension within verbal and non-verbal codes), and interactional role of a foreign language as a multilingual and multicultural identity.

Analytic interpretation of texts in all genres should become part of every literary student’s basic competence (B.O.E., 2002). There are hidden influences at work beneath the textual surface: these may be sociocultural, inter and intratextual, or ecological. The literary student has to discover these, and wherever necessary apply them in further examination. The main aims that our currently educational system focuses on are mostly sociocultural, to facilitate the study of cultural themes, as our students must be aware of the ir current social reality within the European framework.


In this study dialogic texts have been approached in terms of main types, main textual features and structure. We may observe that dealing with dialogic style is not just a linguistic matter to be developed in the classroom setting; on the contrary, defending our personal point of view about a

current issue enables us to carry out everyday performances which prove essential in our current

society, for instance, when talking to other people (parents, friends, teachers).

In present society, establishing interactional exchanges is emphasized by the increasing necessity of learning a foreign language. As we are now members of the European Community, we need to communicate with other countries at oral and written levels. Written patterns are given an important role when language learners face the monumental task of acquiring not only new vocabulary, syntactic patterns, and phonology, but also discourse competence, sociolinguistic competence, strategic competence, and interactional competence.

To sum up, we may say that language is where culture impinges on form and where second language speakers find their confidence threatened through the diversity of registers, genres and text types, in particular, dialogic texts that make up the first language speaker’s day to day interaction. Language represents the deepest manifestation of a culture, and people’s values systems, including those taken over from the group of which they are part, play a substantial role in the way they use not only their first language but also subsequently acquired ones.


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