by Sam Schirm
With the start of the spring weather in May, so too did the three-day workshop on "Formulierungen/Formulations" in Mannheim, Germany. Hosted and funded by the Institut für deutsche Sprache (engl. Institute for the German Language, for short, IDS) in partnership with the Waterloo Centre for German Studies, and with organization by Jörg Zinken (Institut für deutsche Sprache) and UWaterloo professor and Centre member Emma Betz, the workshop and its participants discussed formulations in interaction, i.e., how speakers comment about their own and others' actions in conversation, where this commentary (or these formulations) occurs in interaction, what role(s) these formulations play in interaction, etc. In short: What are we doing when we produce a formulation, and what does that communicate to our conversation partners?
In attendance at the workshop were 16 students and researchers, based in five different countries across Europe and North America. The workshop consisted of a discussion of published research on the topic of formulations, brief project presentations, and six data sessions in which the workshop participants brought in conversation excerpts from their own research. Elisabeth Gülich (Bielefeld University, Germany), Mike Huiskes (University of Groningen, the Netherlands), Florence Oloff (University of Basel and University of Bern, Switzerland), Veronika Drake (Saginaw Valley State University, U.S.A.), Carmen Taleghani-Nikazm (Ohio State University, U.S.A.), Jörg Zinken, and Emma Betz led such sessions, having their fellow participants assist in analyzing data from everyday and medical interactions in German, Dutch, and Czech. Additionally, Ph.D. students Lisanne Knol (University of Groningen) and Sam Schirm (Germanic and Slavic Studies, University of Waterloo) briefly presented each of their (emerging) thesis projects, Lisanne on therapeutic interactions between patients with depression and their psychologists, and Sam on language learner interactions during study abroad.
While the participants may have left the workshop with more questions about formulations than when they came, it is clear that formulations are central to interaction in any language. There is no single practice for doing formulations, and further research into formulations across languages, such as the research the workshop participants presented, could foster a better understanding what we do when we (re)formulate what somebody else has said or meant. While formulations are pervasive throughout human interaction to the point that their function and appearance appear to be self-evident, the more we know about them, the more we realize what is left to explore.