Gaze, questioning and culture

Rossano, F., Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (2009). Gaze, questioning and culture. In J. Sidnell (Ed.), Conversation analysis: Comparative perspectives (pp. 187-249). Cambridge University Press.
Relatively little work has examined the function of gaze in interaction. Previous research has mainly addressed issues such as next speaker selection (e.g. Lerner 2003) or engagement and disengagement in the conversation (Goodwin 1981). It has looked for gaze behavior in relation to the roles participants are enacting locally, (e.g., speaker or hearer) and in relation to the unit “turn” in the turn taking system (Goodwin 1980, 1981; Kendon 1967). In his seminal work Kendon (1967) claimed that “there is a very clear and quite consistent pattern, namely, that [the speaker] tends to look away as he begins a long utterance, and in many cases somewhat in advance of it; and that he looks up at his interlocutor as the end of the long utterance approaches, usually during the last phase, and he continues to look thereafter.” Goodwin (Goodwin 1980) introducing the listener into the picture proposed the following two rules: Rule1: A speaker should obtain the gaze of his recipient during the course of a turn of talk. Rule2: a recipient should be gazing at the speaker when the speaker is gazing at the hearer. Rossano’s work (2005) has suggested the possibility of a different level of order for gaze in interaction: the sequential level. In particular he found that gaze withdrawal after sustained mutual gaze tends to occur at sequence possible completion and if both participants withdraw the sequence is complete. By sequence here we refer to a unit that is structured around the notion of adjacency pair. The latter refers to two turns uttered by different speakers orderly organized (first part and second part) and pair type related (greeting-greeting, question-answer). These two turns are related by conditional relevance (Schegloff 1968) that is to say that the first part requires the production of the second and the absence of the latter is noticeable and accountable. Question-anwers are very typical examples of adjacency pairs. In this paper we compare the use of gaze in question-answer sequences in three different populations: Italians, speakers of Mayan Tzeltal (Mexico) and speakers of Yeli Ndye (Russel Island, Papua New Guinea). Relying mainly on dyadic interactions and ordinary conversation we will provide a comparison of the occurrence of gaze in each turn (to compare with the claims of Goodwin and Kendon) and we will describe whether gaze has any effect on the other participant response and whether it persists also during the answer. The three languages and cultures that will be compared here belong to three different continents and have been previously described as potentially following opposite rules: for speakers of Italian and Yeli Ndye unproblematic and preferred engagement of mutual gaze while for speakers of Tzeltal strong mutual gaze avoidance. This paper tries to provide an accurate description of their gaze behavior in this specific type of sequential conversation.
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