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Don’t interrupt me while I’m speaking: Interruption in Everyday and Institutional Settings in Chinese

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2022
Number of pages279
Awarding Institution
Award date1/12/2022
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Interruption is a common phenomenon in conversation. Previous research of interruption has focused on three main aspects: the identification of interruption in relation to overlaps or overlapping speech, the categorisation of cooperative and disruptive interruptions, and the relationship between interruption and certain social factors, for instance, power asymmetry and gender differences. However, little attention has been paid to the degree of intrusiveness. Likewise, not much has been done to explore interactional factors that may intersect with interruptions. With these important research gaps in mind, I aim to explore the relationship between intrusiveness and interactional dimensions of interruptions in the Chinese context in this study. Two sets of conversational data were collected: telephone conversations and TV talk show conversations. The conversation analytic method was used to examine the fine-grained details of speakers’ conversational interaction (Haugh, 2012). Statistical methods were used to test the relationship between factors related to interruptions.

Results from a linear regression model indicate that, in both settings, speakers tend to heed and boost the current information flow (e.g., supplementing further details) when expressing affiliative stances. More specifically, in the institutional conversation, speakers orient their interruption utterances towards the their assigned institutional role and task (Goffman, 1981; Heritage & Greatbatch, 1991). In the telephone conversation, there are frequent early interruptions, affiliative interruptions, and unexpected cases where interrupters align their opinions with the other whilst disrupting the current information flow. Based on what emerged from these analyses, I argue that the Chinese speakers in the two corpora feature a high involvement (Tannen, 2005) conversational style, which means they prioritise relationship over the task in discussion. In other words, speakers tend to distinctively emphasise their enthusiasm and engagement with the other speaker, but pay less attention to the one-speaker-at-a-time turn-taking rule (Sacks, Schegloff, & Jefferson, 1974). The finding of relationship-focus of Chinese talk-in-interaction supports the argument that Chinese society largely adheres to the polychronic time orientation (Hall, 1984).

This study contributes to CA methodology by combining rigorous quantification methods with close examination of sequential organisation of interruptions. It is innovative in measuring intrusiveness by incorporating two aspects of interruptions: the interrupter’s stance-taking and the interrupter’s sequential alignment with the information flow of the prior utterance. In so doing, this study contributes to the understanding of interruption by demonstrating that intrusiveness is a gradient concept on a measurable continuum rather than a binary concept that is either cooperative or intrusive. This study contributes to the investigation into Chinese talk-in-interaction, particularly speakers’ conversational style, by proposing a novel perspective: interruption.

Keywords: Interruption, intrusiveness, affiliation, information flow, interruption marker, interruption timing, Chinese talk-in-interaction