Archives for posts with tag: repetition

To follow up on my example analysis of repetition in conversation from last month, I would like to offer a few insights into how we might put this awareness to use:

In developing communications or marketing strategies, repetition of your consumers own language (collected through interviews, surveys, or even online product reviews)  is a simple and effective way of demonstrating solidarity with and an understanding of them. Using language created by the consumers themselves to describe or relate to a product not only provides a springboard from which to write inspiring copy, but an accurate representation of how the average consumer understands your product as well.

We’ve all heard from Dating Tips 101 that when your love interest repeats your name in conversation, that’s definitely a good sign. The same effect of demonstrating interest and solidarity operates on a more subtle level in interaction when we repeat forms and structures already used by our conversation partners. As in the example I discussed last month, the repetition of a simple adjective not only demonstrates agreement, but expresses attention and support between parties.

Repetition is an endlessly fascinating and useful feature of language in terms of growing relationships. Understanding its effects can transform your interpersonal involvement strategies and help sculpt personalized marketing plans for your target audience – all you have to do is listen like a Linguist!


Tannen (2007) outlines several primary functions which repetition serves in conversation: production, comprehension, connection and interaction. The analysis that follows focuses primarily on the connective function by which evaluative statements can be made, foregrounded or intensified. I will demonstrate that repetition of lexical items in two examples is evaluative of both the topic of discussion and of the participants’ attitudes toward the topic. At the same time, the repetition of a set syntactic formula is a means by which a set of evaluations can be connected and can potentially strengthen one another. In this way repetition of both form and content serve to evaluate and emphasize the opinions of those involved in the discussion, and establish solidarity between them.

Previously in the interaction from which these two examples have been taken, my parents, my sister Mary, my friend Ashley and I reminisce about the playground at the elementary school to which Mary, Ashley and I went as children. The conversational frame shifts, however when my mother raises the topic of the removal of apparently unsafe playground equipment from schools. Initially, my mother does not explicitly indicate her opinion regarding the decision to remove this equipment, however it is evident to her listeners that she disagrees with that decision based on pre-established co-occurrence patterns of her use of lowered voice pitch and final falling tone with a sense that the discussion is serious or argumentative. Reproduced below are two separate instances in which both Mary and Ashley offer explicit evaluations consistent with my mother’s indications of disagreement with the decision to remove the equipment for liability reasons while employing the same syntactic form: Object Pronoun + Verb + Adjective (squared below). Their utterances are each responded to by my mother who picks up their adjective choice (bolded below) and repeats it in her own turn thereby ratifying their evaluations while simultaneously intensifying them.

Let us go from macro to micro and begin by discussing the repetition of syntactic form. Mary is the first to explicitly evaluate the decision to remove playground equipment in line 68 with “That’s stupid.” In doing so, Mary establishes a syntactic formula (Object Pronoun + Verb + Adjective) by which other explicit and direct evaluations can be made. Additionally, my mother responds in line 69 to Mary’s evaluation with an affirmative “Yeah,” which not only signals agreement with Mary, but also expands the turn-taking pattern to include both participants. Later in the conversation, Ashley and my mother repeat this interactional pattern which Ashley initiates in line 90 with “That’s sad.” My mother follows Ashley’s evaluation immediately with “Yeah” in line 91 and then continues her turn. In employing the same syntactic pattern used previously in the conversation, Ashley connects her explicit evaluation that the decision to remove playground equipment is “sad” to Mary’s previously ratified evaluation that it is “stupid.” Furthermore, repetition of “that’s” ties both utterances to the overarching discussion in addition to each other by maintaining the same reference term (that) indicating the same concept (removal of playground equipment for liability reasons). In this way, the evaluative dialogue is connected across the discourse and work to strengthen each other emphasizing that the removal of this playground equipment is both “stupid” and “sad,” with consequently negative repercussions. It is important to note that Mary’s utterance, “That’s stupid,” was indeed ratified and accepted into the conversation by my mother giving the other listeners an example of a successful means of commenting on a topic that my mother herself raised. My mother’s affirmative response marks “That’s stupid” for other listeners as a ready-made and reusable formula of which Ashley makes use in line 90 with “That’s stupid,” simply replacing “sad” for “stupid.” It is possible that the ratification and acceptance of my sister’s “That’s stupid” is what allows for the continuation of this pattern later in the discourse.

In addition to the repetition of syntactic structure in both these examples, we also see the repetition of two lexical items, “stupid” and “sad,” which are initially used by Mary and Ashley respectively to describe the removal of playground equipment. Both terms are picked up by my mother who takes the turn immediately following each of theirs and uses “stupid” again in lines 70-71 after Mary’s turn: “Yeah. I think it’s stupid too,” and “sad” in line 91 after Ashley’s turn: “Yeah it is sad.” The initial use of both adjectives by Mary and Ashley serves an explicitly evaluative function as my mother has not yet described exactly how she feels about the removal of playground equipment for liability reasons. My mother’s repetition of the adjectives in both examples is foregrounded by her altering the prosody of the language surrounding the terms, namely the marked stress on “too” and “is” in “I think it’s stupid too” and “It is sad.” This repetition and emphasis serves to ratify and strengthen Mary’s and Ashley’s evaluations, but her repetition also serves to positively evaluate Mary’s and Ashley’s contributions to her topic and argument, thus demonstrating a level of solidarity with both her participants. Thus, the repetition of both lexical items in combination with the repetition of the syntactic form creates a sense of involvement and solidarity among the participants and serves to tie evaluation of the topic together across the conversation.

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