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Review of  Stance in Talk

Reviewer: Hang Du
Book Title: Stance in Talk
Book Author: Ruey-Jiuan Regina Wu
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Language Family(ies): Sino-Tibetan
Issue Number: 16.1788

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Date: Mon, 6 Jun 2005 11:28:07 -0400
From: Hang Du
Subject: Stance in Talk: A conversation analysis of Mandarin final

AUTHOR: Wu, Ruey-Jiuan Regina
TITLE: Stance in Talk
SUBTITLE: A conversation analysis of Mandarin final particles
SERIES: Pragmatics & Beyond
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2004

Hang Du, Chinese Department, Middlebury College


The book is based on the author's doctoral dissertation. The
theoretical and methodological background is conversation analysis
(CA). It tries to reveal how Mandarin speakers use two final particles,
ou and a, to display their stance in conversations.


Chapter 1. Introduction
In this chapter, the author gives an overview of the book and also
introduces some basic concepts central to the rest of the
book. "Stance" is defined as "a speaker's indication of how he or she
knows about, is commenting on, or is taking an affective or other
position toward the person or matter being addressed" (p. 3). This
study also builds on the new field of "interactional linguistics". Wu
briefly discusses interactional studies of stance in four areas: lexical
choice, syntactic design, prosodic manifestation and sequential
positioning. This chapter also briefly reviews interactional research
done in the studies of Mandarin Chinese.

Chapter 2. Preliminaries and methodology
In this chapter, the author first gives an overview of Mandarin final
particles. She points out that these particles do not have referential
meaning, and occur frequently in situations where a lot of emotions
are involved. Methodology and data used in the book are discussed in
this chapter. The main theoretical and methodological framework is
conversation analysis. The main data are transcripts of about 12-
hours' conversations in Mandarin Chinese by people in/from Taiwan.
They consist of seven telephone conversations and four video-taped
conversations involving multiple parties. There are 28 speakers, 18
females and 10 males. Their ages range from mid-twenties to late
sixties. The author says about four hours' video-taped conversations
among native speakers of Mandarin Chinese from Mainland China
were also included in the study. While final particles can appear in
TCU (turn constructional unit)-final and non-TCU-final positions, the
author points out that the final particles she analyzes in this book are
only those that appear in TCU-final positions. Among all the final
particles that exist in Mandarin Chinese, ou and a are chosen for this
book because they appear most frequently in the data that the author

Chapter 3. Final ou
In this chapter, the author first makes the distinction between two
kinds of ou's: unmarked ou and marked ou. The former carries a flat
and low pitch and is not stressed. The latter, on the other hand,
carries "a markedly high pitch, or with some kind of dynamic pitch
movement, such as a rising or falling-rising pitch contour" (p. 50). The
author suggests that unmarked ou is more frequent that marked ou.
Unmarked ou appears most frequently in responsive positions. Its
main functions are soliciting confirmation or disconfirmation and
displaying surprise at what the prior speaker had just said to be
newsworthy (offering a piece of information as news). These two
functions, the author points out, are not mutually exclusive. Marked ou
can appear in both first positions and responsive positions. In both
positions, marked ou functions to "register a heightened sense of
newsworthiness" (p. 112). The author points out that although both
marked and unmarked ou can have a function of "newsmarking", only
marked ou can mark an additional sense of emphasis. This, the author
speculates, might have something to do with it prosody. Finally, the
author suggests that both marked and unmarked ou register an
epistemic alert.

Chapter 4. Final a
The author distinguishes between two kinds of a: a with a notably low
pitch and a with a flat or slightly higher pitch. The a with a notably low
pitch can be used to construct a confirmation question by itself or can
be attached to a grammatically-constructed question. In both cases, a
marks "problematicity", something is deviant, problematic, abnormal
from the a speaker's point of view. In contrast to a with a low pitch,
which appear in interrogatives, the a with a flat or slightly higher pitch
mainly appears in non-interrogatives. This kind of a mainly functions to
inform or disagree. In many cases, final a can function to intensity a
contradictory view, but it can also neutralize a potentially problematic

Chapter 5. Conclusion
In this chapter, the author summarizes her findings about ou and a,
and offers some comparisons between these two particles. On the
one hand, the environments in which they appear overlap to some
extent. For example, both can be used to contrast what the speaker is
saying against what has just been said. On the other hand, there are
differences in their usage. For example, a denotes a stronger stance
on the part of the speaker, but ou is not so strong; it merely marks the
information that the ou speaker is offering as "news".


Final particles are ubiquitous in Mandarin Chinese oral discourse, but
their functions are very difficult to capture and categorize. Some
descriptive works of Chinese linguistics, most notably, Chao (1968)
and Li & Thompson (1981) have listed the functions of various
particles, but little research has looked at authentic language data for
the functions of such particles. This is why Wu's work is laudable. Not
only does she have transcripts of 12 hours' authentic language data,
she uses them frequently in the book in relevant places to make her

While I think the author's analyses of a are very insightful, I have no
intuition about her analyses of ou because it is rare in my dialect,
Beijing Mandarin, which is also the basis of Mainland Mandarin. To
confirm my impression, I checked the transcript of one-hour's
conversation between two native speakers of Mandarin from Beijing. I
found other particles but did not find any token of ou. This contrasts
what Wu finds in her data: She states the reason why she chooses to
analyze a and ou in her study is that they appear most frequently in
her data. This may show that in spite of claims that there is only
one "Mandarin" across the Taiwan Strait, the differences between the
standard Mainland Mandarin and Taiwan Mandarin are more
significant than people think.

Somehow along these lines, I find many differences between the data
in the book and the Mandarin I am familiar with. Differences in
vocabulary aside, I find one syntactic difference very interesting, as
shown in (12) below (P. 142). In (12), the "you", glossed as the
English "have", is not used in Mainland Mandarin in such affirmative

Keshi wo you- wo you ding guo changrong
But I have I have reserve ASP (airlines)
'But I've- I've asked about EVA Airlines.'

A Mainland Mandarin speaker would say the same sentence without
the "you". I know Taiwan Mandarin has such a feature, but I was still a
little surprised at how common it is: It appears frequently in the data
throughout the book.

Apparently the author was aware of such issues so she says she has
included four hours' data from speakers of Mainland Mandarin. But
unfortunately, discussion of such data is rare. In the book, only one
instance of ou used by someone from the Mainland is discussed on
several occasions (example 31 on p. 98 is one such occasion). But in
this conversation, this Mainlander's Taiwanese interlocutor used ou in
her turn of the conversation first. In response to what she said, the
Mainlander used ou twice. It is not clear whether this person would
have used it on his own or his ou was prompted by the other person's
turn, which contained ou.

Given these considerations, I am not sure the title of the book, "Stance
in Talk: a conversation analysis of Mandarin final particles", truly
reflects the content of the book, because the book covers only two
particles, and one of them is not common in Mainland Mandarin. Chao
(1968) lists 18 one-syllable final particles. Readers would expect the
discussion of probably more than two particles when they saw such a
title. Among the two particles discussed in the book, one of them, ou,
is of limited occurrence in Mainland Mandarin. Such a difference
between Taiwan Mandarin and Mainland Mandarin, in itself, is an
interesting direction to pursue, but the book should have had a
narrower and more appropriate title: "Stance in Talk: a conversation
analysis of Taiwan Mandarin final particles ou and a".


This volume is a valuable addition to the literature in Chinese
linguistics in general, and to the research in conversation analysis
(CA) on Chinese. I hope more CA research will follow covering other
versions of Mandarin Chinese, other grammatical devices and other


Chao, Yuan-ren. (1968). A grammar of spoken Chinese. Berkeley:
University of California Press.

Li, Charles. N. & Thompson, Sandra. A. (1981). Mandarin Chinese: A
functional reference grammar. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of
California Press.


Hang Du is Assistant Professor of Chinese at Middlebury College. Her
research interests include Chinese linguistics and the acquisition of
Chinese as a second language.