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Drew and Heritage Institutional Talk

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Drew and Heritage Institutional Talk

Linguists Drew and Heritage were part of a language research movement that used conversation analysis to study interactions in institutional settings. This research showed certain characteristics or elements present across many different institutional interactions, and we refer to them as institutional talk. This article will look at what institutional talk is, what Drew and Heritage concluded from collating linguistic research, and the different institutional talk elements, with examples so we can better understand the concept.

Conversation analysis is when we analyse ordinary conversation to study social interaction in everyday life. This can also be referred to as 'talk-in-interaction'.

Drew and Heritage Institutional Talk Institutional Talk Definition StudySmarter'Institutional Talk' is concerned with the kind of interactions that happen in professional settings, Pixabay

Drew and Heritage Institutional Talk Summary

Institutional talk is a part of the study of language and social groups and can specifically be applied to the study of language and occupation. This research area looks at the language used in different institutional settings or interactions where there are constraints on elements such as structure, turn-taking, and allowable contributions.

Institutional talk refers to the conversational trends of an institutional setting. The presence or absence of these trends may differ depending on the setting.

Linguists first started researching the concept of institutional talk in the late 1970s. They used conversation analysis to examine institutional interaction for distinctive features that could then be grouped under the term institutional talk.

What do we mean by an institution? The Oxford Dictionary1 defines an institution as 'an organisation founded for a religious, educational, professional, or social purpose.' When we apply this definition to the study of language, institutional talk is the one used in interactions among professionals in their field of work or a situation with predetermined rituals or structures. This could be a marriage ceremony in a church with a vicar or a business meeting at a high-flying marketing company.

The major areas where research was carried out in institutional talk were the courts, education, police, social services, medicine, business meetings, and the mass media. This range provided many different settings where the types of interaction had scope to differ strongly.

Institutional Talk Examples

To give some context to what we've covered so far, here are some examples of institutional talk:

The interaction in a courtroom has a fixed structure, strict turn-taking rules, and clear asymmetry. The judge has the most power and can decide who takes turns speaking when creating a clear sense of asymmetry within the interactions. The structure of a courtroom interaction is usually very fixed, with people entering court and the lawyers doing most of the talking. The lawyers for the accused and the defence take turns talking and then have the opportunity to ask their witnesses questions. Finally, the judge asks the jury to deliver a verdict.

A classroom interaction would be much more flexible regarding the structure. However, similar restraints on power, turn-taking, and asymmetry apply. This is because the teacher will have the most control of anyone in the room, lead the conversation, and allow different students to speak at different times. The structure isn't fixed as it's quite likely that some lessons will be vastly different from others; for example, the students may have a guest speaker in, watch a video, or be required to do group work.

The vast differences in scenarios such as these allow linguists to carry out a detailed analysis of the conversational conventions and spot any trends applied across the board.

Drew and Heritage Institutional Talk Institutional Talk Examples StudySmarterA court hearing or other courtroom proceeding is an example of where institutional talk would be required, Pixabay

Drew and Heritage Institutional Talk Theory

In 1992, Drew and Heritage collated and summarised multiple pieces of research into their theory of institutional talk. They defined the concept of institutional talk more clearly, concluding that it has six characteristic elements. These are:

  • Goal orientation

  • Turn-taking rules

  • Allowable contributions

  • Professional lexis

  • Structures

  • Asymmetry

Although these elements have been identified, it does not mean that interaction has to have all of them to be deemed as institutional talk. As Heritage2 said in 2004:

Institutional talk can occur anywhere, and by the same token, ordinary conversations can emerge in almost any institutional context".

By this, Heritage implies that there are no black and white cases of institutional talk. Many instances of the institutional talk don't include all elements. For example, a conversation may start as an institutional talk with a clear workplace topic, digress to cover more personal topics, and then swap back to the original topic discussed with elements of institutional talk. These elements may also depend on the formality of a situation and the audience.

Institutional talk: Example

Here's another example of institutional talk:

In the workplace, you’re much more likely to follow the conversational trends of your workplace when speaking to your boss in a meeting than when you’re catching up with your workmates at the coffee station.

To fully understand this theory, we can now look at each element of institutional talk in more detail.

Goal Orientation

By goal orientation, Drew and Heritage mean that the people participating in institutional interaction share common goals. They hope to achieve a similar outcome from having the conversation, whether exchanging information, giving and receiving instruction, or even declaring something (as you would in a courtroom interaction).

In a classroom, the teacher and students share a common learning goal. This causes specific language use and structures such as different turn-taking rules to the usual conversation. In a classroom setting, the teacher has more authority and therefore has longer speaking turns but also allows students to talk by asking and answering questions. Adhering to these rules is done through cooperative communication between the students and the teacher, allowing the common goal to be reached.

When there is no goal orientation in an interaction, it can lead to inefficient conversations and even arguments where no useful outcome is reached. In an institutional setting, this can reflect badly on the speaker, often showing them to be unprofessional and uncooperative.

Drew and Heritage Institutional Talk Goal Orientation StudySmarterIn a classroom, the teacher will have more talk time than the students in order to ensure goal orientation is achieved, Pixabay

Drew and Heritage’s concept of goal orientation can be linked to John Swales' theory of discourse communities, where he states that people within a discourse community share goals. In both instances, people in these groups share common knowledge or a common interest, such as their occupation, creating effective communicative interactions.

Turn-taking Rules

Within the everyday conversation, there are already turn-taking rules and restrictions that apply; for example, we wait for someone to stop speaking before we take our turn to speak. Adhering to these unspoken turn-taking rules shows a person’s general politeness and good manners, showing their respect for their interlocutor.

An interlocutor is a person who participates in the conversation. There are generally two or more interlocutors in a conversation.

These general turn-taking rules also apply in institutional talk but with more distinct rules that consider the social hierarchy within the institutional setting.

Institutional talk: example

There is a social hierarchy within a classroom where the teacher has more power than the students. As the teacher has more power, they start, lead, and end conversations. The teacher also has the power to decide when someone can talk and when someone has to finish their turn talking.

If a child shouts out answers in a classroom without being asked to speak, they are violating the classroom turn-taking rules, and the teacher then reserves the right to use their authoritative position and tell them to stop talking.

Allowable Contributions

Drew and Heritage’s concept of allowable contributions refers to the fact that there are constraints on what someone may contribute to an institutional interaction.

Institutional talk: example

Let's keep consolidating the topic with another example:

If we look at the interaction of a wedding ceremony, there are clear, allowable contributions that participants can make in response to specific prompts, for example, ‘I do.'

Some contributions may not be allowable in this scenario. For example, talking about the weather or the traffic during the wedding ceremony would not be acceptable.

This concept of allowable contributions can also reflect a workplace or institutional social hierarchy. A contribution may be allowable for someone of a high rank to make but not for someone else.

If we link this to Herbert and Straight’s 1989 finding that compliments usually flow from those of the highest rank, we can conclude that compliments are considered an allowable contribution for people who have a high ranking within their institutional hierarchy. As compliments do not flow the other way, from low rank to high rank, a compliment would therefore be deemed an inappropriate contribution from the lowest-ranking person in the room.

Professional Lexis

In each institutional setting, there is a corresponding semantic field of specific and frequently used lexis. This lexis differs from that of ordinary everyday conversations and is what Drew and Heritage refer to as professional lexis. Every place of institutional talk (for example, different workplaces) will have its range of professional lexis, allowing clear and effective communication among the participants.

For example, in the police force, there is a range of professional lexis that isn't used in ordinary conversation outside of that profession. These professional lexis terms may be known by laymen but not necessarily used by them.

Some professional lexis terms used in the police profession are:

  • arrest (to take someone into police custody)
  • assailant (a person who has carried out an assault or attack)
  • book (to register someone as a criminal)
  • DUI (driving under the influence)
  • felony (a major crime)
  • misdemeanour (a minor crime)

This concept directly links to Michael Nelson’s theory of business lexis3 which shows certain words or topics are used in professional settings such as companies, money, time, and events. He also found some words and topics not present in business lexis, such as family, holidays, weekends, and social plans.

Structure

Much research into institutional talk has found that different institutional settings each have different conventions for how communication is structured. This may greatly contrast with how ordinary social conversations are structured, as institutional talk may feature the same specific patterns in every conversation. In contrast, social interactions are much freer and can be easily adapted.

If we look at the interaction of a dentist check-up appointment, it follows nearly the same structure every time, like following a flow chart.

  • The patient is called in, and they and the dentist exchange pleasantries.
  • Then, the dentist enquires about the patient’s dental health and care and then examines the patient’s teeth.
  • When doing this, the dentist lists different codes (about the teeth). The assistant responds with a verbal acknowledgement or updates the information and waits for the next piece of data to input.
  • During this process, the patient is not required to participate and is not even expected to understand what the dentist is communicating to their assistant.
  • After this examination, the dentist lists the information the patient needs to know, either relaying what any issues are or telling them their teeth are in good health.
  • It is then usual to either arrange a follow-up appointment if one is needed or to acknowledge that another check-up appointment will be arranged for a later date.

This example shows a consistently structured interaction that is specific to dentist appointments. Although it may have overlapping patterns with other interactions such as doctors’ appointments, certain aspects make it unique to dentistry, such as the recording of the teeth data.

Asymmetry

The final element defined by Drew and Heritage as being part of the institutional talk is asymmetry. There are two aspects of asymmetry: power and a person’s role.

Power can cause asymmetry in an institutional or workplace setting as the person with the most knowledge, or highest rank is usually allowed to talk first. They can also hold the floor and speak for longer without being interrupted, or, when they’re not speaking, they have the power to interrupt without it being viewed too negatively. The person with the most power can also determine the topic of conversation, either steering it towards work matters or choosing a more personal subject.

This links to Hornyak’s language and occupation theory4 that the shift from work talk to personal talk is always initiated by the highest-ranking person in the room.

Aside from power, a person’s role or workplace requirements may cause asymmetry within an interaction. This is because their role may require them to talk more.

Institutional Talk Examples

Some more institutional talk examples:

In a wedding ceremony, the vicar is required to speak more to lead the ceremony, with the bride and groom repeating after them. This can be linked to knowledge and power; however, the vicar does not speak more to show power through their language use.

Another situation where we can see asymmetry, but without power as a factor, is in a scenario where someone in a workplace asks a person of low ranking to present findings to a meeting. This gives them a responsibility that requires them to talk more than the rest of the people in the room for the duration of the presentation, creating asymmetry for that time.

Drew and Heritage Institutional Talk Asymmetry StudySmarterDuring a wedding ceremony, the vicar will usually speak more in order to keep the ceremony on track, Pixabay

Drew and Heritage Institutional Talk - Key Takeaways

  • Institutional talk refers to the conversational trends of institutional settings.
  • Drew and Heritage concluded there are six elements of institutional talk.
    1. Goal orientation – People share goals when engaging in institutional talk.

    2. Turn-taking rules – Institutional settings often mean turn-taking rules differ from ordinary social conversation.

    3. Allowable contributions – There are certain constraints on what different people can contribute in institutional talk.

    4. Professional lexis – Each institutional setting has a semantic field of lexis used by the people participating in conversations.

    5. Structures – Interactions in institutional settings can have specific structures they consistently follow.

    6. Asymmetry – Institutional talk interactions can appear one-sided due to a speaker having more power or being required to talk more than another.


References

  1. Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner. 1989. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  2. John Heritage, Conversation Analysis and Institutional Talk. Handbook of Language and Social Interaction. 2004
  3. Michael Nelson. 2006. Semantic associations in Business English: A corpus-based analysis. English for Specific Purposes.
  4. Jennifer Hornyak. 1994. Hornyak 1994. Westmount, Quebec: The Galerie.

Frequently Asked Questions about Drew and Heritage Institutional Talk

The talk used in institutional or workplace settings that follows conversational trends specific to each setting.

Drew and Heritage found that the six elements of institutional talk were:

  • Goal orientation
  • Turn-taking rules
  • Allowable contributions
  • Professional lexis
  • Structures
  • Asymmetry

Asymmetry in the workplace occurs when one speaker has more power or speaks more than who they're interacting with, often creating a seemingly one-sided conversation.

Goal orientation in interaction is where the participating speakers aim for the same outcome of a conversation such as the exchange of information.

In different institutions (such as work places or schools), there are specific patterns and rules for language use. Drew and Heritage list six aspects of institutional talk where it differs to ordinary conversation.

Institutional talk is the language used in institutional settings. The patterns and rules of institutional talk can be analysed using conversation analysis and comparing it to the patterns of ordinary conversation.

An example of institutional talk is when people follow specific turn-taking rules in the work place. For example, in a business meeting, the person with the highest authority will decide who talks when and for how long. They can interrupt and then talk for as long as they like.

Final Drew and Heritage Institutional Talk Quiz

Question

How did Drew and Heritage come up with the six elements of institutional talk?

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Answer

They collated and summarised research into the concept of institutional talk and found six recurring elements that differentiated it from ordinary social talk.

Show question

Question

What are the six elements of Drew and Heritage's institutional talk?

Show answer

Answer

  • Goal orientation
  • Turn-taking rules
  • Allowable contributions
  • Professional lexis
  • Structures
  • Asymmetry

Show question

Question

What is goal orientation in institutional talk?

Show answer

Answer

Goal orientation is when the participants of a conversation share the same aims for the outcome such as the exchange of information or the giving and receiving of instructions.

Show question

Question

How does Drew and Heritage's concept of goal orientation link to John Swales theory of discourse communities?

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Answer

Drew and Heritage state that in institutional talk, people will have the same goals. Swales states that discourse communities have shared goals. A workplace or institutional setting is a type of discourse community so both theories are in agreement that shared goals are part of effective communication within a type of community.

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Question

How is turn-taking in institutional talk different to turn-taking in ordinary social talk?

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Answer

Turn-taking in ordinary social talk is conventional and allows for one person to stop talking before the other begins. In institutional talk, someone with more power may interrupt when they want without it being deemed a breach of polite interaction.

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Question

What are allowable contributions in institutional talk?

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Answer

There are constraints on what is deemed an allowable contribution in an institutional setting or workplace. Allowable contributions may refer to certain topics or specific contributions that have to be made.

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Question

What are some examples of what wouldn't be allowable contributions in a courtroom setting?

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Answer

Talking when you haven't been directly addressed, talking about your social plans, asking what the weather forecast is.

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Question

How does Herbert and Straight's language and occupation theory link to Drew and Heritage's allowable contributions?

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Answer

Herbert and Straight state that compliments flow from those of the highest rank. As this is a one-way exchange, it means compliments are an allowable contribution from someone of a high rank but not from someone of low rank.

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Question

Which other language theorist can be linked to Drew and Heritage's concept of professional lexis?

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Answer

Michael Nelson and his theory of business lexis as it shows there is a particular semantic field of lexis used in the workplace.

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Question

How do structures apply to institutional talk?

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Answer

Different institutional settings and interactions will have different structures that apply to them. For example, appointments will always follow a similar fixed structure where a problem is discussed, examined and then a solution is discussed.

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Question

What is asymmetry in institutional talk?

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Answer

Asymmetry occurs either in relation to power or role.

When one person has more power than another, they may lead the conversation, speak more often or interrupt, and choose and change the topic of conversation when it suits them.

Alternatively, someone of low power may be required to present in a meeting, causing them to be speaking a lot and creating a seemingly one-sided conversation.

Show question

Question

How does asymmetry relate to Hornyak's language and occupation theory?

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Answer

Hornyak found that the shift from work talk to personal talk was initiated by the highest-ranking person in the room. This creates conversation asymmetry as the highest-ranking person has the power to begin conversations, choose the topic and then terminate them regardless of the input of others.

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Question

What is an example of where structure in institutional talk is important?

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Answer

An example of where structure in institutional talk is important is in wedding ceremonies. In these ceremonies, there is a very fixed structure where participants have specific things to say at specific points of the ceremony.

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Question

In a classroom setting, what causes asymmetry?

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Answer

In a classroom, asymmetry is caused by the teacher having more power than the students.

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Question

What usually determines turn-taking in institutional talk?

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Answer

The person with the most power can usually decide who talks when and for how long. They can control turn-taking through inviting specific people to speak or through interrupting.

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Question

Define 'conversation analysis'.

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Answer

When we analyse ordinary conversation to study social interaction in everyday life. 

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Question

What's another term for conversation analysis?

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Answer

talk-in-interaction

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Question

What is 'institutional talk'?

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Answer

The conversational trends of an institutional setting. 

Show question

Question

List five examples of where you might find institutional talk.

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Answer

Any of the following:

  • courts
  • education
  • police
  • social services
  • medicine
  • business meetings
  • the mass media 

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Question

True or false: Institutional talk has to include all six elements identified by Drew and Heritage in order to be considered 'institutional talk'.

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Answer

False, conversations do not have to include all six elements to be considered institutional talk, and will often include different combinations of the elements. 

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Question

What is an interlocuter?

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Answer

An interlocuter is essentially a participant in a conversation. A conversation must have at least two interlocuters. 

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Question

What is meant by 'professional lexis' according to Drew and Heritage?

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Answer

Professional lexis refers to lexis that differs from that of ordinary everyday conversations. In each institutional field, there will be a specific semantic field that includes professional lexis relevant to that field. 

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Question

Which of these is required in order for a conversation to be successful?

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Answer

turn-taking

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What happens if there is no goal orientation in an institutional interaction?

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Answer

Arguments can ensue and the conversation will be inefficient, leading to no results.  

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Question

Is this example an allowable contribution or an unacceptable one? 


  • Talking about your family holiday during a business presentation with the company's board of directors. 

Show answer

Answer

No, this is not an allowable contribution and should not be a topic that is discussed in a purely professional business-related conversation. 

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