Language, body, and material space: Use of embodied resources in linguistically asymmetrical interactions

Thematic Section: Multilingual interaction – questions of participation and belonging
intercultural encounters; language ideologies; learning ‘in the wild’; linguistic asymmetries; multimodal conversation analysis

Ivana Leinonen, University of Oulu
Liisa-Maria Lehto, University of Oulu
In multilingual settings where participants have different competences in languages spoken, expressing communicative intentions can be more challenging than it might be in interactions between speakers of the same L1. This study explores how participants with different linguistic backgrounds use various embodied resources to, on one hand, maintain the progressivity of the interaction and, on the other hand, to restore intersubjectivity when communicative difficulties occur. The study draws on the methodological framework of conversation analysis, which allows for a detailed examination of participant conduct with respect not only to language, but also to the wide range of other resources mobilized by the participants, such as prosody, syntax, gaze, gestures, posture, and body movements.
The data for the study consists of 21 hours of video-recorded naturally occurring conversations among friends who are native speakers of Finnish, Slovak and Czech. In these everyday conversations, participants rely mostly on English (used as lingua franca), which is the second language of all participants. Participant proficiencies as well as experiences with using English are varied. In addition to English, participants also recurrently draw on their native and/or other second languages, which may or may not be partially shared by the co-participants.
The results suggest that despite asymmetries in linguistic knowledge, participants often manage to maintain the progressivity of interaction by relying on their bodies as well as on the surrounding material environment. The examples will demonstrate how participants co-construct understanding by utilizing such resources as gestural performing, the showing or manipulating of material objects, as well as by constantly adapting their behavior in response to monitoring the multimodal actions of other participants.