On back-channel behavior in Japanese and English casual conversation

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In this paper, turn-internal listener back-channel strategies observed in Japanese casual conversation are studied in contrast with those in American English. After examining videotaped data consisting of three-minute segments of conversation performed by each of the 12 dyadic pairs, we propose that Japanese back-channel responses occur far more frequently than in comparable American situations and that discourse context for backchannel behavior in the two speech communities differs significantly. It is proposed that in Japanese, grammatical completion, sentence-final particles, and vertical head movement provide the contextual cues, while in English, grammatical completion provides the single most significant context, with other context being only marginally relevant. We conclude that while the functions of back channel are similar, the devices, the frequencies, and the discourse context of back-channel strategies differ, and cultural and social implications of such differences in interactional style are explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1079-1108
Number of pages30
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1986

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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