A multimodal investigation of Discourse Markers in doctoral supervision sessions: Two case studies

Bakeer, Samira (2020) A multimodal investigation of Discourse Markers in doctoral supervision sessions: Two case studies. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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More than 30 years ago, Schiffrin (1987) drew attention to the study of Discourse Markers (DMs). Since then, there has been an extensive body of research studying these devices. Prior work has acknowledged their ubiquity and vital role in spoken, written and Computer-mediated communication. However, studies that investigate DMs in the context of doctoral supervisory discourse are limited and rarely based on multimodal approaches. By embracing both verbal and nonverbal conducts, the current study attempts to fill up this gap by examining the use of DMs in the under-researched context of face-to-face doctoral supervision sessions. Hence, it is a study of multimodal DMs but moves beyond these items to the broader context which could potentially shed new lights on the dynamic nature of social interaction where meaning-making is constructed both verbally and nonverbally.

The research adopts a mixed-method approach which integrates Corpus Linguistics (CL), Conversation Analysis (CA), and relevant aspects of epistemics and relational work within interpersonal pragmatics. This combination allows for detailed and fine-grained analyses that offer a better understanding of the role of DMs in student-supervisor interactions. The data set consists of a mini corpus (around 5.5 hours and 36729 words) of video-recorded meetings collected over three months at a university based in England. The main innovation of the thesis is the proposal of a novel multimodal framework to the study of DMs which aims to widen the focus of CL and CA methods to multimodal analysis and take into account consistent co-occurrence of features occurring in several modes.

Two case studies are conducted in which four participants (two students and two supervisors) from two research fields (Applied Linguistics and Mechanical Engineering) volunteered to be video recorded during their supervision meetings. The data were transcribed and analysed with particular attention to various interactional modes, including verbal, nonverbal and prosodic resources.

The results of the research show that DMs are widely used in the current data, although their distribution and functions are somewhat uneven across the four participants. All participants use DMs as resources for negotiating their common ground and managing rapport by reconciling information provided by their interlocutors with their state of knowledge. It is proposed that these differences are due to differences in the interactional work at play. The findings also underpin several patterns which signify a promising headway in unpacking the relationship between students and supervisors at different stages of candidature.

When it comes to the co-occurrence of embodied resources, the analysis shows that the distribution of co-verbal gesture is not redundant in structure but follows some systematic patterns. Their production serves to maximize opportunities for affiliative actions and minimize opportunities for disaffiliative ones and hence work to social solidarity. At points when there is a risk of breaking down the intersubjectivity, such as during disagreement and criticism sequences, the participants attempt to restore it with both DMs and accompanying gestures. Alternatively, participants are also found to communicate their authoritative stance through specific coverbal gestures which enhance the epistemic meaning of the associated DMs. Further investigation demonstrates that intonation was tactically used by speakers in order to add additional unspoken information to the markers.

Overall, the thesis makes an essential contribution to our understanding of talk-in-interaction in doctoral supervision contexts. Moreover, the study confirms that in order to recognise what the speaker is trying to communicate with a specific DM, it is necessary to understand the whole segment of the conversation by investigating not only the linguistic properties but also co-verbal gestures and prosodic features.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Adolphs, Svenja
Mullany, Louise
Keywords: discourse markers, doctoral supervision
Subjects: P Language and literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of English
Item ID: 61140
Depositing User: Bakeer, Samira
Date Deposited: 28 Mar 2024 13:15
Last Modified: 28 Mar 2024 13:15
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/61140

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