American English OKAY Over Time: Challenge and Chance for Interactional Linguistics
Interactional Linguistics, or the study of language in social interaction, is a radically empirical enterprise that depends crucially on the close analysis of recorded data from talk-in-interaction (Couper-Kuhlen & Selting, 2018). Its scope is thus constrained by the accessibility of recorded materials, making it difficult to study language use at earlier periods in time. Investigating language change is one challenge of Interactional Linguistics today.
In my presentation I will report on an attempt to overcome this challenge: an investigation of short-term change in the use of the particle OKAY in American English everyday conversation (Couper-Kuhlen, Frthc). For this study, all sequences with the particle OKAY were extracted from two sets of conversational data, one involving interactions taking place in the 1960s and one involving interactions taking place in the 1990s and early 2000s. The two data sets were set up so as to contain roughly the same number of cases of OKAY produced by a wide variety of different speakers on different occasions. The uses of OKAY, understood in terms of turn location, sequential position, and action implementation in conversation, were then analyzed separately and compared to one another in the two data sets, with raw frequencies being determined for each use.
The results indicate that over a period of roughly thirty years, new uses of OKAY have emerged and the frequencies of other uses have shifted. For instance, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of OKAY as a response to informings, as illustrated by the following extract, where the particle occurs after the delivery of a question-elicited piece of information:
(1) „New Jersey“ (Call Friend_engn 6899_1665.397)
1 SAL: <<h> are you spending the NI:GHT? (0.3) in new JERsey then?>=
2® MOM: =YES:. (0.3) [uh HUH?]
3Þ SAL: [Okay. ]
I will contrast this use of OKAY, widespread in the newer data, with that in the older data and explore some of its ramifications. The latter include the emergence of a new particle combination OH OKAY, now found frequently in response to counter-informings and other-corrections.
In conclusion, I reflect on the chance that this approach to the study of language use over time offers for a deeper understanding of language change.