ESN Plenary: Jakob Steensig

Embodied actions in a comprehensive grammar of talk-in-interaction – what to include and what not to include?

I am part of a project writing a grammar on Danish talk-in-interaction. The current version of this is a web-version, accessible on (DanTIN, 2023). The grammar aims at becoming a comprehensive, descriptive grammar of the resources people use in talk-in-interaction. All descriptions in the grammar are based on analyses of record­ings of naturally occurring interactions in Danish, most of them video-recordings of private, everyday settings, where people talk, eat, drink, prepare food, play games, etc. In building the grammar, we are faced with the very practical question: Which embodied resources should we include in the grammar? As an answer to this, our general principle has been logo-cen­tric: In the grammar, we describe only those embodied resources that are used system­atically in the production of social actions in talk-in-interaction. One next question, then, is: which embodied resources are excluded? My answer to both questions will depart from results of the project Grammar in Everyday Life (GEL) 2019-2023, which investigated how analyses of specific social action formats (Fox, 2007; Steensig et al., in press) can be used in the creation of the comprehensive, descriptive grammar.

Inspired by especially Keevallik (2013, 2018), I will consider embodied resources

(a) that have their own position in a sequence of actions (the “inter-unit syntax”),

(b) that occupy specific slots in turn constructional units (the “intra-unit syntax”), and

(c) that accompany and modify or shape verbal actions.

The embodied features that I will discuss include: hand gestures and movements, pointing, head movements, and facial expressions. The social actions analyzed include: requests and responses to requests, questions and answers to questions, and list construction and re­cip­ient reactions to list constructions and storytelling. As noted by Keevallik (2013), some em­bodied displays fit nicely into traditional syntactic categories or wordclasses, and some do not at all. I will briefly discuss the implications this has for the structure of the entire grammar. 


DanTIN. (2023).

Fox, B. A. (2007). Principles shaping grammatical practices: An exploration. Discourse Studies, 9(3), 299–318.

Keevallik, L. (2013). The Interdependence of Bodily Demonstrations and Clausal Syntax. Research on Language & Social Interaction, 46(1), 1–21.

Keevallik, L. (2018). What Does Embodied Interaction Tell Us About Grammar? Research on Language and Social Interaction, 51(1), 1–21.

Steensig, J., Jørgensen, M., Mikkelsen, N., Suomalainen, K., & Sørensen, S. S. (in press). Towards a Grammar of Danish Talk-in-Interaction: From Action Formation to Grammatical Description. Research on Language and Social Interaction.