Preference Structure – dispreferred
A dispreferred social act, to simply put, is a way of expressing refusal. In an
adjacency pair, silence in the second part is an indicator of a dispreferred response.
Silence after the first speaker’s utterance often leads to revision of the first part to
get a second part that is not silence from the second speaker.
Mark: You should go to the party tonight.
Mark: Hmm-You’re shy though
James: Yea-I’m not good with crowds
James’ silence occurs when he would have had to make a dispreferred response.
The silence indicates that James is not in a position to give a preferred response.
Silence, however, is quite extreme of a response and it may give a nonparticipation impression. Usually, when a speaker have to make a dispreferred
statement, they will show indication.
Nolan: I love the Red Sox. Best team to represent New York!
Sally: Uh-Well-It’s Boston Red Sox. They’re from Boston
In this example, Nolan made a statement that Sally disagrees to. Sally’s
dispreferred second part is indicated with hesitation, as it is difficult to perform this
action. A delay “uh” followed by a preface “well” shows that this speaker is having
difficulty and is unwilling to have to say what is being stated. The use of hesitation
and preface can also be found in dispreferred second part to invitations.
Aaron: You want to go to the movies this weekend?
Bruce: Oh-Yes-I’d love to-but you see-I-I’m tasked with this project and-UhI’m supposed to finish on time-you know how it is.
As shown in example C, a refusal can be accomplished without the speaker saying
“no”. Even though it’s not said, the intention is communicated. After a preface
“oh”, the speaker made a token acceptance “yes I’d love to” to show appreciation
to the invitation. Then, the other’s understanding is invoked “but you see” and an
account is presented “I’m tasked with this project” followed by a hesitation “uh”.
This explains the speaker’s reasoning behind the dispreferred response. The
speaker also conveys that the circumstances are beyond his control because of an
obligation “I’m supposed to”.
How to do a dispreferred response
Pause; er; em; ah
c. Express doubt
I’m not sure;
I don’t know
I’d love to;
what a pity
I must do this; I’m
expected in Y
You see; you know
d. Token Yes
g. Appeal for understanding
h. Make it non-personal
Give an account
k. Hedge the negative
Too much work;
No time lef
Sort of; kinda
I guess not;
Conversation is an unavoidable activity in our daily lives. Humans are social
beings. As part of society, we must interact with fellow members of our social
environment. As such, being proficient in using language in conversations is a skill
we must possess in order to form good communication between us and others
around us. These skills include how to get other’s attention, how to start a
conversation, how one should and should not cut off the conversation, and how to
close a conversation. To be competent with such skills, we should not feel tired and
bored to learn, because learning is the only way to improve.