Whatever happened to 'Topic'? (2011)

Author(s): Seedhouse P

    Abstract: The interactional phenomenon ‘topic’ featured prominently in Sacks’s early work, but in recent times has become increasingly peripheral to CA work. The study suggests some possible reasons for this. The article reports findings of two funded CA studies of the IELTS Speaking Test (IST), a University entrance test of English. Topic is foregrounded in this institutional setting and becomes a means of driving the institutional business. Examiners ask a series of topic-related questions written on cards to the candidates. This results in the interesting institutional fingerprint of the topic-based QA adjacency pair. So in the IST, topic is scripted and entwined with the organisations of turn-taking and sequence to further the institutional goal of standardisation of the interaction. Sacks (1992, p. 541) argues, in relation to ordinary conversation, that topical organisation is an “accessory” to turn-taking and sequence. By contrast, topic is, in the IST, employed in multiple ways on multiple levels as an organising principle for the interaction; topic is both a vehicle and a focus of the interaction. It is suggested that research into institutional talk should consider more closely how topic becomes adapted to the institutional goal.

      • Journal: Journal of Pragmatics
      • Publication type: Article
      • Bibliographic status: Unpublished