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An Article Review

Eggins, S. (1999). Researching everyday talk. In L. Unsworth (Ed.), Researching

Language in Schools and Communities: Functional Linguistics Perspectives (pp. 130-
151). London: Cassell Academic.

Earlier studies on everyday talk by Conversation Analysts, Sacks et. al (1974),

is seen as relatively mechanical when answering to questions on talk. Talk was

approached from an ethnomethodological perspective - the ways in which people

make sense of their world, display this understanding to others, and produce the

mutually shared social order in which they live (Wikipedia, 2008). But, functional

linguistics has laid a different approach to everyday talk. Here, talking is posited as a

semantic activity, i.e. a process of making meaning (Eggins, 1999). Therefore,

everyday talk is perceived as characterising our social lives. In this article, the author

describes the ways and means to research and analyse everyday talk. Two different

conversational examples are presented – an information dialogue between a caller and

an operator, and, a casual conversation between three close friends. From a critical

functional linguistic perspective, these two examples are explored to identify the

mood choices, speech function choices and exchange structure. The author also lists

down in detail the relevant research questions that could be explored.

For the information dialogue, which is more on achieving material goals,

typical characteristics are found in the analysed text: hesitations, incompletions,

ordinary vocabulary items and idiomatic expressions, short and elliptical grammatical

structures, more accessible and easier to process, functionally distinct, status distinct,

brevity, generic structure, and stability to the Field, Mode and Tenor. Through the

mood analysis subsequently, it shows that the Operator works hard in attaining the

Caller’s needs by producing more interrogatives of all types. In terms of speech

function choices, the Caller is considered as reasonably polite when she chooses

modulated declarative form. Exchange analysis then shows that the Operator initiates

all the exchanges except the ‘command’ exchange. On the other hand, the casual

conversation projects mere talk without any definite pragmatic function. Through the

analysed text, some features are defined: more informal and colloquial, multilogue,

more open interpersonal choices, longer in talking length, more dynamic and open-

ended structure, and shift in topic. The mood analysis has then discovered that,

although the three interactants are equals, they slightly differ in sociocultural

conditioning (male vs female), for example, a woman produces more interrogatives

and talks more about others than about herself. From exchange analysis, the guest is

seen to initiate more exchanges by producing mainly full declarative clauses. Unlike

the information dialogue, the casual conversation expresses personal attitude,

expresses involvement (swearing, slang and name-calling) and as well as humour.

In later sections of this article, the author explains how spoken data could be

collected and how these data could be transcribed. Data is preferable to be collected in

a naturally occurred event. Having access to audio or video recordings, data can be

collected through natural occurrences or by conducting experiments. When

transcribing spoken data, researchers are advised to frequently listen to the talk to

avoid mis-analysis and ambiguities. Deciding on what to transcribe and how much

detail is also another vital issue. The author has listed down five key aspects to

consider when transcribing an informal spoken interaction: the relationship between

the orthographic and phonological representation of speech, prosodic features,

interactional phenomena, spontaneity phenomena and paralinguistic information

(Eggins, 1999). Of how much detail is necessary, researchers have to decide whether

to construct a delicate transcription or otherwise. In case of delicacy, transcription

must be complemented by a key. Finally, the author concludes that, the talk we

engage in actually embodies the society, even though we deem chatting as nothing

important. Therefore, she suggests us to raise our awareness on the reciprocal use of

language to achieve the assertion.

This article may appear like a brief account on how to research everyday talk.

But, it can be considered as a comprehensive practical guide for those approaching

this kind of research for the first time and intending to adopt the functional linguistics

perspectives. Researchers who are not in functional linguistics might find this as an

alternative approach, as how Eggins states in this article, “For functional linguists, the

approach to everyday talk is slightly different. ….. functional linguists can offer

critical explanations of how we both enact and confirm the social world”. An

interesting contribution of functional linguistics is that, through the mood system, the

author has systematically and thoroughly analysed the mood choices, speech function

choices, and exchange structure. As a result, audience can explicitly picture how

interactants carry out different social roles in different contexts. Going back to what

Eggins mentions in the casual conversation analysis about ‘general trends in mixed-

sex interaction’ where she identifies the sociocultural conditioning of men is different

of that of women. From our point of view, there is another aspect of gender that has

not been mentioned in this article. Broadly speaking, in the present information

culture, classification of gender should not be limited to inherent sexes only, but, also

laying consideration to transsexuals as their existence is aplenty. From our

observation, their interaction style and lexical choices are practically different from

the inherent sexes. Therefore, we feel that their inclusion is necessary and they are as

well users of language and thus have effect on the construction of society.

In conclusion, we can say that the sections in this research report are well

structured with comprehensible use of language. All data are systematically presented

and analyses are executed in detail. Furthermore, Eggins has demonstrated that

functional linguistics answers the questions to everyday talk in a different approach.

Thus, this article should be a reliable base and reference to those intend to engage in

everyday talk research.


Eggins, S. (1999). Researching everyday talk. In L. Unsworth (Ed.), Researching

Language in Schools and Communities: Functional Linguistics Perspectives (pp.
130-151). London: Cassell Academic.

Ethnomethodology. (2008, August 27). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Retrieved 03:07, August 27, 2008, from