Co-organizing storytelling in Chinese conversation : suspension and returning in telling sequences


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Xin PENG


Awarding Institution
  • Wei ZHANG (Supervisor)
Award date15 Jul 2015


This thesis studies the organization of storytelling in Chinese conversation, with a focus on co-participants' practices in 'suspending' and 'returning' to storytelling sequences. The two aims of the study are: (1) to examine non-minimal responses from unknowing story recipient during storytelling which may 'sidetrack' the course of current telling; (2) to examine storyteller's practices in getting back to the halted story and the interactional functions of managing a returning to the halted story. The current study follows the analytical framework of conversation analysis. The analysis is based on 17 conversations between Mandarin Chinese speakers totaling about 450 minutes. Over 140 storytelling sequences are identified among which about 100 cases involve brief or longer side sequences after which the telling is resumed. The findings reveal that a number of responsive actions from story recipient may sidetrack an ongoing story with at least a two- or three-turn side sequence. Such recipient actions may briefly halt the progression of the telling, e.g. a question requires the teller to attend to the issue being pursued by the recipient in the next turn; a collaborative completion or predicting what might happen next in the story often makes the teller's confirmation/rejection relevant in the next turn; a display of stance or understanding may either minimally lead to teller's acknowledgement or an exchange of views. Moreover, the momentary diversion may become more elaborated if local contingencies arise during the side sequence or if the initial turn of the side sequence is itself designed as prelude to upcoming actions. It is found that the recurrent strategies used for story return include repetition of some element of the story near the point of interruption or direct continuation tying back to where the storyline was interrupted. Repetition is a more explicit cohesive device to tie back to the interrupted story as it locates the place to which the telling is returning. In the case of direct continuation, returning is often prefaced by ranhou 'and then' serving as a 'tying-back' device. In addition, returnings may also be proposed by storyteller who, while still in the side sequence, uses fanzheng 'anyway'-prefaced utterances to manage closure of the side sequence. When the side sequence becomes lengthy and complex, returning to prior telling may require more explicit indicator such as resuming search. Sometimes storyteller may have to compete for tellership to get back to interrupted story. Further analysis shows that the interactional import of returning to halted story goes beyond merely pursuing the completeness of the story. As storytelling often implements certain actions in interaction, its suspension also suspends the course of action it is designed to implement. So returning to halted storytelling is a means through which the storyteller carries on the course of action which was put on hold with the halted story. By documenting how recipient-initiated side sequence leads to story suspension, how storyteller returns to halted telling, and what possible interactional import that motivates story returning, this study fills the gap in our knowledge of how participants co-organize storytelling in Chinese conversation. The findings from this study also make it possible to compare how storytelling is organized in Chinese conversation with that in other languages and cultures.

    Research areas

  • Chinese language, Discourse analysis, Narrative, Conversation analysis, Spoken Chinese