A linguistic study of interview and conversation

  • Subhi S.P. Zora

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The present thesis focuses on the overall structure of the language of two types of Speech Exchange Systems (SES) : Interview (INT) and Conversation (CON). The linguistic structure of INT and CON are quantitatively investigated on three different but interrelated levels of analysis : Lexis, Syntax and Information Structure. The corpus of data 1n vest1gated for the project consists of eight sessions of pairs of conversants in carefully planned interviews followed by unplanned, surreptitiously recorded conversational encounters of the same pairs of speakers. The data comprise a total of approximately 15.200 words of INT talk and of about 19.200 words in CON.
Taking account of the debatable assumption that the language of SES might be complex on certain linguistic levels (e.g. syntax) (Halliday 1979) and might be simple on others (e.g. lexis) in comparison to written discourse, the thesis sets out to investigate this complexity using a statistical approach to the computation of the structures recurrent in the language of INT and CON. The findings indicate clearly the presence of linguistic complexity in both types. They also show the language of INT to be slightly more syntactically and lexically complex than that of CON. Lexical density seems to be relatively high in both types of spoken discourse. The language of INT seems to be more complex than that of CON on the level of information structure too. This is manifested in the greater use of Inferable and other linguistically complex entities of discourse. Halliday's suggestion that the language of SES is syntactically complex is confirmed but not the one that the more casual the conversation is the more syntactically complex it becomes.
The results of the analysis point to the general conclusion that the linguistic complexity of types of SES is not only in the high recurrence of syntactic structures, but also in the combination of these features with each other and with other linguistic and extralinguistic features.
The linguistic analysis of the language of SES can be useful in understanding and pinpointing the intricacies of spoken discourse in general and will help discourse analysts and applied linguists in exploiting it both for theoretical and pedagogical purposes.
Date of AwardJan 1990
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorCatherine Johns-Lewis (Supervisor)


  • interview
  • conversation
  • lexical density
  • syntactic complexity
  • information structure

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