This past Friday I went with my fiancée to Mrs. Dalloway’s bookstore in Berkeley to see Deborah Tannen talk about her new book about communication between sisters. She told some great stories about the interviews she conducted while researching the book. I got the impression that the book is mostly about the relations between sisters, and how these are reflected in (and can be discerned by looking at) their conversations. But I’m still not sure how much of the analysis comes from author-sister interaction, or sister-sister interaction (I bought the book as a gift, so I haven’t looked inside).
The last several questions afterward had to do with how a linguist’s perspective on communication might differ from that of a psychologists (or a sociologist, etc; no one actually mentioned other fields, though Tannen mentioned psychology). That lead to wondering what the heck linguistics was anyway. After briefly explaining that, Tannen offered something that Robin Lakoff had once said (light paraphrasing on my part):
I know what I do is linguistics, because I’m a linguist, and I do it.