Jack Bilmes

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    The Call-on-Hold as Conversational Resource
    (Mouton, 2005) Bilmes, Jack
    The call-on-hold can be an interational resource, a means for disengaging oneself from troublesome situations. Unlike a ringing phone, which demands immediate attention, the call-on-hold permits a certain degree of delay and so can more readily be turned to interactional use. In call-in talk shows, where the calls are “what is going on” rather than momentary diversions from the business at hand, the call-on-hold offers unique tactical opportunities for conversationalists. This paper analyzes one incident from a televised talk show, in which the taking of a call is used “subversively” to disguise the nature of a speaker’s conversational actions. It demonstrates how a seemingly disjointed utterance is exquisitely constructed to achieve this end.
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    Truth and Proof in a Lawyer's Story
    (Elsevier, 2012) Bilmes, Jack
    There is a distinction between commonly known truth and truth as established for legal purposes. The latter requires proof. This distinction between ordinary truth and legal truth is available to speakers as a discursive resource (although differently available in different cultures). In this paper, after a brief discussion of some matters relating to evidence, proof, and truth, I analyze a short, generic story told by a lawyer in the Federal Trade Commission, in which the representatives of companies allegedly violating the law say ‘‘You can’t prove it.’’ The violation is relatively minor and there is some controversy about whether to include the charge in the case. The story, I argue, provides a motivation which goes beyond the strictly legal. The company representatives capitalize on the distinction between ‘‘mere truth’’ and legally established truth. I conclude with a discussion of the place of proof---the word, its variants, and the things which constitute proof---in conversation, including a discussion of sequential placement, deniability, nonverbal signals and implicature, and a distinction between ‘‘official’’ and ‘‘unofficial’’ communication. It is the disparity between their official and unofficial stances that gives the company representatives’ behavior its distinctive interactional force.
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    Preference and the conversation analytic endeavor
    (Elsevier, 2014) Bilmes, Jack
    Conversation analysis (CA), as currently practiced, comprises two approaches -- action-oriented and meaning-oriented. I use CA treatments of ‘preference’ as a case in point. In current discussions of preference, the emphasis is on action, on what interactants do. Action is grounded in psychological mechanisms, which CA is not equipped to handle. So discussions of preference turn toward a more quantified notion of what people usually do. I argue that attempts at quantification raise problems that are not soluble within the confines of CA methodology. I then turn to the broadest and most discussed preference, the supposed preference for agreement, arguing that it is context sensitive in ways that produce multiple exceptions. Using a gross, transcontextual average, even if that were possible, would be unenlightening. I focus, using an extended example, on one of the exceptions, the case of accusations. I suggest that we drop the action- oriented approach and attend instead to meaning. This approach is grounded in a conception of evidence which does not rely on either falsification criteria or statistical measures. Its generalizations pertain not to what interactants normally do but to the resources they have and the methods they employ in producing meaning and social organization.
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    Regrading as a Conversational Practice
    ( 2018) Bilmes, Jack
    The purpose of this paper is to initiate the topicalization of upgrading and downgrading (regrading) in conversational interaction; that is, to offer some fundamental considerations for viewing regrading as an object of study rather than as a taken-for-granted conversational practice. I begin by describing the conversation analytic conception and use of regrading and distinguishing three subtypes. I note further that regrading is a manifestation of scaling, the relationship between the two being reflexive. Regrading, from an interactional perspective, involves a positioning followed by a repositioning on a scale, and so is inherently sequential. I discuss the relationship of contrast and scaling, secondary scales, and certain sequential aspects of regrading. Through the examination of transcribed segments of talk, I comment on the prevalence of regrading as a conversational practice, and on scales as constituting, to a large extent, the underlying structure of talk. I want to claim that (1) Interaction consists, to some considerable extent, of movements, i.e. regrading, on various scales. (2) Understanding of those scales guides interpretation, especially implicature and implication. And (3) understanding word choices as scaling choices is a key to the analysis of how utterances function.
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    Regrading as a conversational practice
    (Elsevier, 2018) Bilmes, Jack
    The purpose of this paper is to initiate the topicalization of upgrading and downgrading (regrading) in conversational interaction; that is, to offer some fundamental considerations for viewing regrading as an object of study rather than as a taken-for-granted conversational practice. I begin by describing the conversation analytic conception and use of regrading and distinguishing three subtypes. I note further that regrading is a manifestation of scaling, the relationship between the two being reflexive. Regrading, from an interactional perspective, involves a positioning followed by a repositioning on a scale, and so is inherently sequential. I discuss the relationship of contrast and scaling, secondary scales, and certain sequential aspects of regrading. Through the examination of transcribed segments of talk, I comment on the prevalence of regrading as a conversational practice, and on scales as constituting, to a large extent, the underlying structure of talk. I want to claim that (1) Interaction consists, to some considerable extent, of movements, i.e. regrading, on various scales. (2) Understanding of those scales guides interpretation, especially implicature and implication. And (3) understanding word choices as scaling choices is a key to the analysis of how utterances function.