Analyzing Conversation Practices in the Endangered Rushani Language
Understanding commonalities of interactional practices across vastly different cultural settings has the potential to inform both intercultural communication and second language pedagogy.
To this end, this study analyzes conversation practices in an unwritten and endangered language, Rushani, which is spoken primarily in remote, mountainous areas of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. It does so through “conversation analysis,” an approach for unpacking interactional practices used in applied linguistics. Three telephone conversations among native Rushani speakers were recorded, transcribed (using the International Phonetic Alphabet), and translated. Analysis of the form and function of each conversation turn was then conducted, with particular focus on the call openings.
Examples were sought in these conversations of the four opening sequences of telephone calls that have been identified in calls conducted in other languages: summons-answer; identification-recognition; greetings; and initial inquiries. At first glance, Rushani telephone conversation openings appear to skip over greetings and move directly into an extended exchange of initial inquiries. However, upon closer analysis, it is argued that a Rushani word that literally translates as “How are you,” is in fact used by participants as a greeting. So, despite their apparent form as inquiries, the greetings these Rushani conversations serve the same function and resolve the same interactional issues as those in other languages.
These results are then linked to a broader debate between the “universalist” position of conversation analysis, which posits a common framework for conversations across all languages, and “particularistic” positions, which acknowledge various degrees of culturally-driven variation; this test case seems to support the universalist position. As an additional implication of this study, this time for second language pedagogy, it is argued that telephone conversation openings should be taught as a discrete topic. It is a language task that is both intimidating for the learner, and a vital component of basic communicative competence.
This initial study is described in “‘tsɑrɑŋ?’ - Telephone Conversation Openings in the Rushani Language”, to be published in the May 2019 issue of Columbia University Studies in Applied Linguistics & TESOL. A follow-up study is planned that will use a larger data set and explore additional interactional issues.