Pronominal heterosexuality: the use of locally initial proterms

Another method through which (heterosexual) couples are produced in the classic CA data sets is through speakers’ use of pronouns—in particular, first-person plural proterms (we, us, our). Across the (noninstitutional) data sets, use of a locally initial and unspecified we is normatively treated by co-interactants as meaning the speaker and his or her spouse. The we (Line 01) in Fragment 28 (shown earlier) is one such instance. Lesleys “Anyway” (Line 01) marks a disjuncture from the previous talk (about the death of a mutual acquaintance) to a new topic. Therefore, her we is a locally initial person reference invoking an unspecified collectivity. The fact that she is using it to mean “my husband and I” is apparent from her subsequent addition of Gordon (the couple’s son)—thereby displaying that he was not initially understood as one of the iw (a move that is paralleled—in Line 06—by the separate naming of Kenneth Haversham, their son, from the Havershams).

In Fragment 29, Lesley moves from the first-person singular (“I’m teaching tomorrow,” Line 01) to the first-person plural (“we’ll be up . . and “we’ll be able to lie in . . .”) without specifically naming who else is included in her nv—although this person (Mark, who is, of course, known by Mum to be Lesley’s husband) is finally named at Line 19:

Fragment 29 [Holt X(C)1-1-1]

01

Les:

Well I’m teaching tomorrow so:,

02

Mum:

Oh: goody:, [hee!

03

Les:

[we:’ll be up[e- aa-

04

Mum:

[heh heh eh-eh h=

05

Les:

We’ll be able to LIE: LN:. Becuz USUALLY WE’RE 1

06

at SIX ’n toMORROW is eh we’ll be able t’ 1 get up at

07

six thirty.

08

(0.6)

09

Mum:

Oh. u-Why::,

10

(•)

11

Mum:

he he hn- [Why are]you why: six thirty.

12

Les:

[ Becuz |

13

Les:

Becuz 1 always Jdo when I’m teaching.

14

(0.3)

15

Mum:

Oh 1 see:,

16

(0.4)

17

Mum:

An’ you usually get up at si:x.

18

(0.7)

19

Les:

Well ye:s, cz Mark has: (.) does ’n (.) hour’s overtime

20

befo:re sk- work starts.

21

(1-0)

22

Mum: Oh:-:.

UP

In Fragments 30 and 31, a locally initial we is used by Emma (Fragment 30, Line 08) and Jo (Fragment 31, Lines 04,14,17), respectively. In both of these instances, however, the other person who constitutes the speaker’s we is never named. This causes no apparent difficulty for the co-interactants who seem to be assuming that we invokes the husbands with whom—it is evident from other calls in the corpora—Emma and Jo are co-constituted as couples:

Fragment 30

[NB.1I.3]

01

Lot:

...lo:,

02

Emm:

¿G’morning Letitia¿=

03

Lot:

=u.-hHow’r YOU:.=

04

Emm:

=F1:NE HOW’R [YOU:

05

Lot:

[eh he:h heh WUDIYIH kno:w.=

06

Emm:

=.hhh Jis got down last -ni:ght.eh

07

Lot:

OH YOU DI[:D?

08

Emm:

[’hhh We BEEN tuh PA:LM SPRINGS.

09

(0.2)

10

Lot:

Oh: God ah be’t it’s |ho:|:t.

Fragment 31

[SBL:2:1:3:R]

01

Cla:

...Clai:re Moh::r.

02

Jo:

Well how are yuh.hh

03

Cla:

Fime how’r you:.

04

Jo:

We’re jis fi:ne.

05

Cla:

Were you eading?

06

Jo:

t hhhh

07

(0.5)

08

Jo:

S’m gra:pes, uhh huhhh=

09

Cla:

=heh hheh Ah-ah wz dus lookin et mi: |ne

10

Jo:

[ehh hehh he[h heh ] =

11

Cla:

[eghh hehj=

12

Jo:

=lhehj

13

Cla:

= [ hhh Jhh It’s so Tio::t.AQh[: [’hhh [hhhhhh ] [hhhhhj

14

Jo:

[Oh it [s [We jis [got [inn, |

15

(•)

16

Cla:

Oh[ d i d ) yuh? |

17

Jo:

[We’ve b)een a jway f’almiss two weeks you kno:w,

As elsewhere in the analyses advanced in this article, I am pointing to the absence of trouble in the co-conversationalists’ talk: The ease with which an unspecified locally initial we is managed and deployed reflects “how the society and the world work” (Schegloff, 1996, p. 465) in relation to heterosexual married couples. The locally initial use of we in these instances seems to rely, in part, on (and to reproduce) the overarching primacy of the couple as a collectivity in relation to which Anglo Americans locate themselves; and, in part, on the kinds of activities in which the collectivity indexed as we is reportedly engaged: a shared evening event (Fragment 28), sleeping and rising together (Fragment 29), and vacations (Fragments 30 and 31). These are culturally understood to be the kinds of activities in which couples engage (although, of course, others may also do so); the combination of an unspecified we engaged in activities culturally understood as “the sorts of things couples do together” makes available—indeed, may in some circumstances mandate—the hearing of we as “the couple of which I am a part.” For the members of different-sex married couples whose talk is displayed earlier, this we reproduces them as the married couples they already know themselves to be. The same sort of we is presumably routinely used by heterosexual unmarried couples and same-sex couples who are open about their status as couples and is treated with caution by closeted same-sex couples or different-sex couples not wanting to reveal their relationships. This analysis of we in normative situations offers analytic purchase on the deployment (or avoidance) of it in relation to nonnormative arrangements.

It is also common practice for speakers to use the pronouns he or she as a method for referring to just one member of a couple and for distinguishing the one from the other—a practice that is, of course, possible only when the members of the couple can be differentiated by sex. In deploying a proterm as an unproblematic person reference for one member of a couple unknown to the cointeractant, a speaker also thereby conveys that the couple is composed of people of different sexes. In Fragment 32, Lesley is offering some assistance to someone whose husband—encountered recently at a party political meeting—has apparently lost his job, and whom she knows vaguely but has not seen (as transpires later in the call) for many months. She gives as the reason for the call—the offer of possible help from “friends in Bristol” (clearly treated as unknown to her recipient— both through her use of a nonrecognitional reference and, of course, because the purpose of her call is to put the recipient and her husband in touch with them). It is worth looking in some detail at how these friends in Bristol are produced as a couple, and as a heterosexual couple:

Fragment 32: Three heterosexual couples

[Holt:2:3]

01

Mar:

One three five?

02

(•)

03

Les:

Oh hello, it’s um: Leslie Field he:re,

04

Mar:

Oh ¡hello:.

05

Les:

Hello, .tch.h I '['hope you don’t mind me getting

06

in touch but uh- we metchor husband little while

07

ago at a Liberal meeting.

08

(0.3)

09

Mar:

Ye:[s?

10

Les:

[.hh And he wz: (0.3) i-he told us something of

11

what’d happened,

12

(0.5)

13

Les:

to him .hh An:T wondered haa- (0.2) i-he said he

14

m::ight have another position in vie:[w,

15

Mar:

[Mmhm,

16

Les:

.hh (.) Uhm (0.3) .tch Well I don’t know how that

17

went, .h uh (.) It’s just thet I wondered if he

18

hasm’t (0.3) uh we have friends in: Bristol

19

Mar:

Ye:s?

20

Les:

who:-(.) uh: thet u-had the same experience.

21

Mar:

Ohf::.

22

Les:

And they uhm: .t (0.2) .hh He worked f’r a printing

23

an:’ paper (0.9) uh firm [u-

24

Mar:

[Ye:s,

25

Les:

uh[:- which ih puh- uh: part’v the Paige Group.

26

Mar:

[Yeh,

27

(•)

28

Les:

.hh And he now has: u-a:: um (1.1) 1 don’t think you’d

29

call it a consultancy (0.2) They find positions for

30

people: in the printing’n paper (0.4) indus[tryi,

31

Mar:

[Oh I see: [:.

32

Les:

[ hh

33

An:d if: i-your husband would li:ke their addre [ss.

34

Mar:

[Ye:[:s,

35

Les:

[

36

they’re specialists,

37

Mar:

Ÿë7s?

38

(•)

39

Les:

Uhm: my husband w’d gladly give it [to hi m . |

First, the relevance of hearing the friends in Bristol as a couple is supplied by a local context in which couples (specifically, married heterosexual couples) are indexed in the preceding talk. At Line 06, Lesley’s we (rather than, say, /) produces her as a member of some unspecified collectivity on whose behalf she is “getting in touch” (likewise, see her us, Line 10; and we, Line 18)—and hence, as proposed in my analysis of we mentioned earlier, is likely to be heard as invoking her marital unit. Lesley also references the marital relationship of her co-interactant (“your husband,” Line 06)—such that the relevant interactional units are constituted as two married couples. The friends in Bristol are first hearable as a married couple, then, in the context of the two other married couple relationships already indexed in this talk. The subsequent pronoun repair from they to he (at Line 22) extracts one member of the couple from the collectivity and is performed because, although the “experience” (Line 20) of unemployment and its consequences on their lives was presumably a shared event for both members of the couple already indexed in the plural (with “friends,” Line 18), it was only one member of the couple who lost a job—the one who “worked for a printing and paper firm” (Lines 22—23), and for whom the proterm he is appropriate. Notice that he is treated as serving to differentiate the member of the couple who was employed (and subsequently lost employment) from the other, and hence produces the other as female. If both members had been male, he would not have been usable in differentiating the two members of the couple from one another, and a different formulation—for example, “one of them,” “the employed one,” and so forth—would have been necessary to do so.

In Fragment 33, Ros and Bea are two nurses talking about a case that Bea is working on and about which it turns out Ros has independent information. In Line 01, she is checking this information with Bea:

Fragment 33

[SBL 1.1.10]

01

Ros:

=Isn’t she the one: who- hh I f think

02

ah hheahrd about ?it.? Th’daughter in law

03

told me wasn’t she playing

04

go:[lf out et th]e Vail ejy Clu:b?=

05

Bea:

[ Y e £ s ]thet’s fi t]

06

Bea:

=Thet’s Tthe _o:ne.

07

Ros:

En had’n aneurism.

08

Bea:

Yhe:s:,

09

Ros:

Suddenl*y.

10

Bea:

Mm hm,

11

Ros:

nThey thought et first she wz hit witha

12

golf: (0.5) ball uhr bat er something but

13

it wasn’t that i[t w’ss: ]uh-

14

Bea:

[Uh-hah.J

15

Ros:

a ruptured aneurism hhh And i-*u-*u-th*i-

16

(0.3) they didn’wan’Doctor Reeves’n Saint

17

Joh:n they took’er dow:n tih U.C.L.A*

18

Bea:

Yhe:s:.

19

(0.3)

20

Bea:

Ah-hah.

21

Ros:

An’it (0.3) Ah’it left’er (0.4) quite

22

permanently damaged ?I s[uppose?

23

Bea:

[tk

24

Bea:

Uh:pparently,

25

(•)

26

Bea:

Uh fhe is still hopef*ul.

27

(•)

28

Ros:

The husb*’n.

29

Bea:

Ah hah end yih never jus’ (.) eh yih js’

30

never saw such devotion in yer l*i:fe.

At Line 26, Bea treats a locally initial he as adequate reference for a husband who has so far not been introduced into the conversation. And indeed, Ros correctly identifies this proterm as referring to the husband (Line 28)—of whose existence she presumably has prior knowledge (via the daughter-in-law, Line 02), but who is indexed here only by a proterm with no clear prior referent. Like the locally initial use of we to mean the (heterosexual, married) couple as a collectivity, the locally initial use of he in Fragment 33, combined with a range of contextual knowledge, relies on (and reproduces) a category-bound activity (here hopefulness for a spouses recovery) to index a spouse and (thereby) the centrality of the husband-wife relationship.

Fragment 34 is quoted by Sacks (1995a, pp. 762—763) and (with reference to Sacks’s, 1995a, earlier argument) by Schegloff (1996, p. 475, Footnote 19)—both of whom point to the use of a locally initial he at Line 06, which “it appears clear” (Schegloff), is “obviously” (Sacks) a reference to Mr. Hooper:

Fragment 34

[From Sacks, 1995a, pp. 762—763]

01

A:

How is Missuz Hooper.

02

B:

Uh oh, about the same.

03

A:

mm, mm mm mm. Have they uh th-uh

04

Then she’s still continuing in the same way.

05

B:

Yes, mm hm.

06

A:

Well I hope uh he can con- uh can, carry on

07

that way, be [cause-

08

B:

[Well he wants to make a chay- a change

Sacks (1995a) said,

Focussing on “1 hope he can carry on,” there’s no “he” being talked about; no person that could be referred to via “he” has been introduced. Who’s “he”? Obviously in this case “he” is Mr Hooper. The topic is Mrs Hooper’s illness. The introduction of him in such a way as requires the use of Mrs Hooper to find who “he” is, may be one way that, that Mr Hooper is being talked of subtopically is done.

(p- 763)

As in Fragments 32 and 33, a locally initial he (Line 06; i.e., a locally subsequent reference form in a locally initial position) is understood and treated by the co-interactants as referring to a husband. What makes it “obviously” (Sacks, 1995a, p. 763) the case that he indexes the husband? First, the use of the title Mrs. (Line 01) indexes the existence of a husband (at least at some point), whereas the use of a first and last name would not, and Miss would be counterindicative—but in any event, the interactants seem to share some information about Mrs. Hooper and presumably both know of the husband’s existence (part of what Schegloff, 1996, p. 457, perhaps meant when he said that the he reference “invoke[esj recipients (B’s) knowledge of the matters being talked about to solve what—that is relevant to this topic—this person reference could be referring to”). The plural proterm they at Line 03 (also used in Fragment 32, Line 22) is hearable as possibly inviting the recipient to understand Mrs. Hooper as part of an (unspecified) collectivity. The invocation of another as part of a collective they may, like the invocation of oneself as part of a collective we, produce the heterosexual (married) unit as the collectivity generally understood as thereby referenced. 9 The subsequent production of a locally initial he (Line 06) (possibly hearable as extracting a male from the they at Line 03) produces a male person as needing to carry on in the context of Mrs. Hoopers illness. The apparent ease with which the speakers produce and understand this locally initial he as Mrs. Hoopers husband displays (for us as analysts) the extent to which coping with a wife’s illness is an activity category bound to husband, and that this category boundedness is a resource that is relied on by the speaker who deploys—and the recipient who makes sense of—the locally initial proterm. The “knowledge of the matters being talked about” (Schegloff, 1996,p. 457) is not merely knowledge specific to the individual circumstances of Mrs. Hooper (in Fragment 34) or the friends in Bristol (in Fragment 32, about whom the recipient in fact has no prior knowledge): It rests also on cultural knowledge about what categories of people care about and for each other, and possibly share a single family income—categories produced here in terms of the heterosexual married couple. Through the invocation of husbands and wives with locally initial proterms (we, he, she), speakers treat the existence of such persons as a taken-for-granted feature of their social worlds.

Across these conversations, then, a couple is understood as composed not just of two people, but specifically of two people of different sexes. This assumption is most flagrantly apparent in Fragment 35, in which Lesley tells her friend, Joyce, that she has ordered roses as a present for her ruby wedding anniversary—and that, in recognition of that specific occasion, she has ordered “a couple, a male and a female.” (Line 02 is the final assessment of someone they have been discussing in the sequence that Lesley treats as finished when she launches Line 01.):

Fragment 35

[Holt 10_88—1-08]

  • 01 Les: The other thing [is I
  • 02 Joy: [°She’s dr[ead,fu[l.°
  • 03 Les: [I wz g’nna mention
  • 04 to you, .hhhh is I’ve ordered th- (.) the roses, I’ve
  • 05 ordered as it wz your- (0.2) k- your ruby wedding I (.)
  • 06 ordered a cou:ple. a made ’nd a female hhuh heh
  • 07 he [h hn
  • 08 Joy: [Oh: he-how l:o:[v ejly. oh-:-:-:
  • 09 Les: [,hh|E:dward Mo::rse an’Eena
  • 10 Harkn[ess.
  • 11 Joy: [Oh::: Edward Morse is one I l::o:::ve.=

Through her selection of different-sex roses, Lesley displays the extent to which heterosexuality is displayed as integral to her understanding of a marriage.10 The couple whose anniversary is being celebrated are specifically produced, through the gift she has selected for them, as a male and a female. Of course, they happen to be categorizable as male and female—but that is not the only way of categorizing them, and it is the selection of this particular (sex-based) category system that constitutes Lesleys report of her gift as specifically heterosexual. Alternative categories she might have used—that sound implausible only because of the primacy of the male—female distinction in our taken-for-granted understanding of married coupledom—might have been a climbing rose and a bush rose (producing the couple as composed of a tall and a short member); or a red rose and a white rose (producing them as originating respectively from the English counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire, of which these flowers are emblems). Any actual marriage is (almost) as likely to be between two people of different heights and geographical regions as between two people of different sexes: However, the former two category systems are treated as incidental to the Euro-American definition of marriage, whereas the latter category system is central to it. The dominant cultural understanding of marriage—reflected and reconstituted in Lesleys formulation of her gift—is (as the marriage amendments in 17 U.S. states now instantiate11) the union of one man and one woman. It is not likely that Lesley, living in rural England in the mid-1980s, was defending marriage against the incursions of equal marriage activists; her selection of different-sex roses simply reflects and reconstitutes the taken-for-granted heteronormativity of her culture.

 
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