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Title: A Case Study on Topic Changes in Conversations of Hong Kong Tertiary Students
Authors: Chan, Ling Yin (陳玲燕)
Department: Dept. of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics
Issue Date: 2007
Course: CTL 4235
Programme: BA Linguistics & Lang Techn'g
Instructor: Dr Zhang Wei
Subjects: Conversation analysis.
College students -- China -- Hong Kong
Abstract: The focus of this case study lies on the placements and techniques of topic changes in Cantonese conversations among Hong Kong tertiary students. Data was collected from video recording. Two groups of tertiary students were invited to take part in the recording. They were asked to have a causal discussion in Cantonese for 15 minutes. They were provided with a topic to start off but they could move on to any other topics after the conversation started. After transcribing the recorded data, observations and analysis were made, based on theories of conversation analysis (CA). There are quite a number of theories that have already been proposed on topic change in CA. This paper examines if those existing theories are also applicable to Cantonese conversation. Three types of placements of topic change were observed from the Cantonese data collected in this study. Placements at transition relevance place (TRP) and placements after silence were the two most frequently-used types. This finding is in fact shared among English and Cantonese conversations. One distinctive placement of topic change was observed from the Cantonese data: topic change after laughter. It was found that laughter after discussion demonstrated an agreement among speakers, and hence implied a highly possible topic change as agreements tend to mark an end of a topic. The study also confirmed two common techniques used for topic change in English and Cantonese conversations: the use of questions and the use of declarative clauses. These two techniques are the simplest and the most straightforward ways to trigger a new topic. The use of conjunction “但係” was also popular in the Cantonese data. It prepared the hearers for something different from the current topic. The connective adverb “咁” functioned quite differently from “但係” in the topic introduction turns in Cantonese conversations. From the data, it was found that all the topic changes introduced by the connective adverb “咁” were logically connected and it illustrated relevant, to the prior topic. Last but not the least, “係喎” was constantly found in the data to initiate a new topic which the speakers found worth-mentioning right there on site of the conversation.
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