Prosodic imitation in classroom interaction
A gendered practice of empowerment?
Keywords:classroom interaction, prosody, imitation, gender, conversation analysis
This article presents an analysis of how Finnish teenagers use prosodic imitation in their classroom interaction. The data consists of video recordings (14 lessons) of naturally occurring classroom interaction in junior secondary schools (students aged 13-15). The study is conducted by applying conversation analysis (CA). The prosodic imitation I explore involves the turns-at-talk that orient prosodically to the preceding turns in terms of, for example, intonation, pitch, volume, rhythm, or voice quality (Szczepek Reed 2008). When imitating, the participants usually also recycle some of the verbal elements (words or a syntactic construction) in their source turns. I argue that while prosodic imitation is in many respects a gendered practice, in addition to earlier studies that report boys silencing girls by imitating them (Gordon et al. 1999, Palmu 2003), I show that students use prosodic imitation to various interactional purposes. It is suggested that the prevalent function of prosodic imitation is to express alignment with the preceding turn/speaker, and the students, especially the girls, make most use of this imitation in the negotiations concerning institutional and gender asymmetries. Prosodic imitation is thereby one means for students to playfully deconstruct the institutionally organized interactional setting, and hence one of the instruments they use to empower themselves in interaction.