A short review of Talking Voices (2nd ed)

Language in Society just published a book note by me on the second edition of Deborah Tannen’s well-known book Talking Voices. Here is the pdf.

In the review I am slightly critical of this classic for three reasons. First of all, for a second edition of a work that appeared two decades ago, it is very thin on updates and revisions. Secondly, it still focuses on the acoustic signal only (thereby overlooking a wealth of work on gesture and multimodal interaction that appeared since the first edition). Third, despite its general claims, Talking Voices limits itself mainly to various Anglophone ways of speaking (excepting some Greek examples). The Greek examples (which derive from an interesting 1983 paper) actually point to the relevance of a widespread linguistic resource that happens not to be very common in either the Greek or the Anglophone cultures discussed: ideophony. I argue that ideophones are immediately relevant to ‘repetition, dialogue, and imagery’ (the subtitle of TV), and thus to core themes of Tannen’s work (see also Nuckolls 1992, 1996).

Here is the conclusion:

The strength of Tannen’s book lies in its insightful analysis of the auditory side of conversation. Yet talking voices have always been embedded in richly contextualized multimodal speech events. As spontaneous and pervasive involvement strategies, both iconic gestures and ideophones should be of central importance to the analysis of conversational discourse. Unfortunately, someone who picks up this second edition is pretty much left in the dark about the prevalence of these phenomena in everyday face-to-face interaction all over the world.

Should Tannen have looked at gesture and ideophones? Of course every researcher has to make general choices and every published piece of scientific work is by definition incomplete. So I don’t think there’s an issue of ‘should have’ — but I do think it is unfortunate for the 2nd edition to miss out on these phenomena, because they would have offered many interesting and helpful illustrations of the book’s themes.


  1. Dingemanse, Mark. 2010. Review of on Tannen, Deborah, Talking Voices: Repetition, Dialogue, and Imagery in Conversational Discourse (2nd ed.). Language in Society, 39, 1, 139-140.
  2. Nuckolls, Janis B. 1992. Sound Symbolic Involvement. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2, no. 1: 51-80.
  3. Nuckolls, Janis B. 1996. Sounds Like Life: Sound-Symbolic Grammar, Performance, and Cognition in Pastaza Quechua. New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Tannen, Deborah. 1983. “I Take Out the Rock-Dok!”: How Greek Women Tell about Being Molested (and Create Involvement). Anthropological Linguistics 25, no. 3: 359-374.
  5. Tannen, Deborah. 2007. Talking Voices: Repetition, Dialogue, and Imagery in Conversational Discourse. 2nd ed. Studies in Interactional Sociolinguistics 25. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *