Conversational Analysis: Questions & Responses

Conversational analysis (CA) is the study of social interactions in everyday life. In this post, we will look at how questions and responses are categorized in CA.

Questions

In CA, there are generally three types of questions and they are as follows…

  • Identification question
  • Polarity question
  • Confirmation question

Identification Question

Identification questions are questions that employees one of the five W’s (who, what, where, when, why). The response can be opened or closed-ended. An example is below

Where are the keys?

Polarity Question

A polarity question is a question the calls for a yes/no response.

Can you come to work tomorrow?

Confirmation Question

Similiar to the polarity question, a confirmation question is a question that is seeking to gather support for something the speaker already said.

Didn’t Sam go to the store already?

This question is seeking an affirmative yes.

Responses

There are also several ways in which people respond to a question. Below is a list of common ways.

  • Comply
  • Supply
  • Imply
  • Evade
  • Disclaim

Comply

Complying means give a clear direct answer to a question. Below is an example

A: What time is it?
B: 6:30pm

Supply

Supplying is the act of giving a partial response, that is often irrelevant and fails to answer the question.

A: Is this your dog?
B: Well…I do feed it once in awhile

In the example above, person A asks a clear question. However, person B states what they do for the dog (feed it) rather than indicate if the dog belongs to them. Feeding the dog is irrelevant to ownership.

Imply

Implying is providing information indirectly to answer a question.

A: What time do you want to leave?
B: Not too late

The response from person B does not indicate any sort of specific time to leave. This leaves it up to person A to determine what is meant by “too late.”

Disclaim

Disclaiming is the person stating they do not n]know the answer.

A: Where are the keys?
B: I don’t know

Evade

Evading is the act of answering with really answering the question

A: Where is the car
B: David needed to go shopping

In the example above, person B never states where the car is. Rather, they share what someone is doing with the car. By doing this, the speaker never shares where the car is.

Conclusions

The interaction of a question and response can be interesting if it is examined more closely from a sociolinguistic perspective. The categories provided here can support the deeper analysis of conversation.

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