ISSN 1754-5366

Agreement and Disagreement: A Cross-Cultural Comparison


This study compares the handling of agreement and disagreement by speakers from two different cultural groups: London’s British West African community and its mainstream British white community. Using data from elicited conversations, we consider naturally-occurring agreements and disagreements at three different linguistic levels. Firstly, based on Pomerantz’s (1984) observations of turn-taking behaviour during (dis)agreement, we compare procedural tendencies in the delivery of the actions. Secondly, following speech act research (cf. Blum Kulka, House & Kasper, 1989), we identify and compare illocutionary features of (dis)agreement. Lastly, we consider speakers’ approaches to (dis)agreement at discourse level, that is, in a broader conversational context. Taken together, the findings suggest coherent patterns of difference between the two groups and offer insights into their overall interactive behaviour. Following Tannen (1984) and Spencer-Oatey (2000a, 2000b), we suggest that, comparatively speaking, the conversational style of the British West Africans tends towards displays of ‘involvement’ whilst the British White style favours a more ‘considerate’ approach to rapport between speakers. This study relates the handling of (dis)agreement, to rapport concerns and conversational style and, furthermore, makes a case for considering conversational action using more than one level of analysis. 

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