This study is an investigation of (dis)alignment and (dis)affiliation in narrative conversations in English. The analytical focus is on the teller's approaches for eliciting an assessment from the recipient, and the recipient's questioning behaviors to request further information. Conversation analysis (CA) is employed to analyze and interpret data from fourteen naturally occurring, mundane conversations between American and Japanese participants. Three conversations were audio-taped only, and eleven were both audio- and video-taped. All recorded conversations were transcribed using CA conventions.
The analysis of the data revealed the teller's approaches for eliciting an assessment from the recipient, with repetitions being most frequently observed. Gazing, nodding, and using gestures, and multiple approaches including elaborating on the story, repeating a point, and emphasizing important words in a louder voice, were also observed. The analysis also revealed that minimal responses from the recipient such as “I see” did not necessarily indicate the recipient's understanding of the story. The recipient's assessments and comments functioned as a barometer of the degree of understanding.
Several types of recipient questioning behaviors were identified, including initiating repair, requesting background information, prompting further story, expressing disagreement, and assisting the teller to continue the story. These questions indicated the degree to which the recipient had understood the story, encouraged the teller to proceed with the story, satisfied the recipient's personal curiosity, showed the recipient's interest and involvement in the story, challenged the teller's interpretation of the story, and assisted the teller when in trouble. Whereas questions sometimes caused temporal derailment, they could also contribute to enhancing alignment and affiliation between the participants. Whether or not a particular question was an indication of (dis)alignment or (dis)affiliation depended on which aspect of the story the teller and the recipient focused on.
Although the smooth flow of narratives might be preferable, in naturally occurring mundane conversations, the recipient sometimes needs to intervene in the teller's talk. What seems important in communication is to attain shared understanding in the end, even if the intervention delays the development of the narrative.