November 11th, 2006

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Recommended link; linguistics book review; telephone helplines....

I couldn't manage without the book reviews at Linguist List [http://linguistlist.org ], especially now that even the slimmest of linguistics books tend to be priced at one hundred dollars and up. I've recommended the reviews before, I know -- I'm recommending them again. Because the reviews go out to linguists all over the world, and those linguists use many different theoretical models and many different languages, the reviewers do their best to avoid using jargon and undefined terms -- a hard task for linguists. I think they do amazingly well at it.

This morning there's a review by Shiv R. Upadhyay [at http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-3279.html ] of a book titled Calling for Help: Language and social interaction in telephone helplines (John Benjamins 2005), edited by Carolyn Baker, Michael Emmison, and Alan Firth. The book is described by Upadhyay as using "the approach of conversation analysis to analyze helpline talk..."

Samples:

"Chapter Two, 'Calibrating for competence in calls to technical support,' is the first of the three chapters in the technical assistance section... Through the analysis of actual caller-call-taker (CT) conversational data, the authors claim that the CT orients him/herself to and accommodates for the technical competence demonstrated by the caller and that both of them show their 'social-interactional' competence to understand and adjust to what each says about the problem to the other and about their understanding of the problem."

"In Chapter Four, 'The metaphoric use of space in expert-lay interaction about computing systems,' Wilbert Kraan claims that computer users produce talk in which their computer-related actions are accounted for in terms of space images or metaphors. He examines three metaphoric conceptual models, namely the agent-trajectory model, the direct interface model, and the personification model, and claims the agent-trajectory model to be the best in terms of accounting for various discursive devices that speakers employ in order to structure and regulate talk and achieve interactional goals."
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Eldering; obnoxiousness and cantankerousness and mistaken "entitlements"...

I had done a post on how Ozarkers handle negative critical remarks made by elders [at http://ozarque.livejournal.com/2005/01/09/ ], and carrieb describes, and it has been heartbreaking every time. It hurts to watch an elder you love making enemies of everyone within range of his or her voice, especially at a time when that person's need for other people's care and attention is growing every day more desperate.

Suppose a small child comes to you crying, doing that "NObody LIKES me! NObody wants to PLAY with me!" warble, and you say, "That's because you say such mean things to everybody; if you'd be nice to them, they'd be glad to play with you." The child may or may not learn from that; the child may or may not change his or her ways. But you can be sure that the child isn't going to respond to you with "I'm just a little KID! I have a RIGHT to say mean things to everybody!"

I don't know what makes elders (elders who are mentally whole and not in pain) misbehave verbally. It baffles me; it seems to me that they ought to know better. I have told my own children and grandchildren that I am counting on them to let me know at the very first sign that I'm starting to say things to people viciously and cruelly, and I expect them to call me on it every single time it happens. I don't want any coddling in this matter -- that's like coddling your tadlings by not taking them to the doctor for necessary vaccinations. I want to be made aware of my ghastly verbal behavior at the very beginning, before I fall into the habit of talking in that fashion, while it's still reasonably easy for me to turn the situation around. It's sometimes necessary for an elder to say something that carries a negative message and genuinely needs to be said, especially when nobody else in the family or group dares say it; it's never necessary for that negative message to be said viciously and cruelly. Or even just obnoxiously.

There are three possible interpretations of "I'm old, so I should be able to get my digs in." One is "I'm old, and therefore I am entitled to be listened to with courtesy and respect no matter how obnoxious and offensive I am." That's a dog that won't ordinarily hunt. Another is, "I'm old, and I don't have very much time left in this world, and all my life I've wanted to say these things and haven't said them. If I don't hurry up and say them, I'll have lost my chance." And there's "I'm old, and nobody wants to spend time with me, but I've found out that if I say really awful things I'll get some attention from people." I have no way of knowing which one of those applies in the case of carrieb's grandmother; from her own words, it's clear that carrieb is doing everything she can to give her grandmother loving attention.

I do know that one of the things we all need to do as preparation for becoming elders ourselves is to begin paying extremely close attention to the words that come out of our mouths [and, in these days of e-communication, our fingertips] and to the body language -- especially tone of voice and intonation -- that we're using with those words. That's a skill that's very hard to acquire in your seventies and eighties.