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The terms of not knowing
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Languages, Department of Modern Languages, Finno-Ugric Languages.
2011 (English)In: The Morality of Knowledge in Interaction / [ed] Tanya Stivers, Lorenza Mondada, Jacob Steensig, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 2011, 184-206 p.Chapter in book (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In some sequential positions in conversation, knowledge displays are systematically due. Information questions make the recipient accountable for providing an informative answer and mai tea (‘I don’t know’ in Estonian) serves as an account for not doing so. This paper looks at mai tea in responsive turns in everyday conversation in Estonian, showing parallels in Swedish and Russian.


Prior conversation analytic studies on “no knowledge” responses have been based on institutional interaction (Clayman 2001; Drew 1992; Hutchby 2002) where knowledge as well as the right to extort it are distributed according to the participants’ institutional roles. In everyday interaction a “no knowledge” response is treated as a joint responsibility. Insofar as questions should be addressed to knowing recipients, a mai tea response implies that the question was irrelevant, inapposite or posed to a wrong recipient. The answerer can affiliatively show her understanding of the design of the question by giving a further account. In the case of stand-alone mai tea, which constitutes a disaffiliative action, the questioner is responsible for redesigning the question. The epistemic claim is thus used for handling interactional contingencies. The paper looks at how participants manage the accountability for not knowing, and how this plays out in terms of speaker-recipient affiliation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 2011. 184-206 p.
, Studies in Interactional Sociolinguistics, 29
Keyword [en]
epistemics, interactional linguistics, knowledge disclaimer, action sequence, Estonian
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-120749ISBN: 9780521194549OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-120749DiVA: diva2:303939
Available from: 2010-03-16 Created: 2010-03-16 Last updated: 2011-09-13Bibliographically approved

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