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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Constructing the Social Space: Toponyms and Place Descriptions in Interaction

E De Stefani
University of Berne, Switzerland

This paper focuses on conversational sequences, in which participants carry out place descriptions. Drawing on a videotaped corpus of informal conversations among Italian speaking participants, the paper adopts a conversation analytic approach to the study of place descriptions in interaction. The analysis of sequences in which the description, and hence the constitution, of a socially relevant place is the main activity will allow us to address the following issues:
- Speakers use toponyms as well as other verbal and non-verbal resources (deictics, place descriptions, pointing gestures, etc.) to refer to a spatial entity. It will be interesting to see whether the selection of different resources is linked to interactional (sequential, topical, etc.) contingencies.
- Place descriptions are often negotiated among the participants; the geographical entity to which a toponym applies, as well as the delimitation of the area covered by the toponym are a frequent matter of discussion. From this point of view, toponyms are used not only to describe a (given) place, but to construct the relevant place for the current purposes of the interactants.
- Place names often occur in diverse formal realizations. We will argue that the use of different variants is not haphazard; in many cases, name variants contribute to accomplishing socially relevant tasks.

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