First Advisor

Suwako Watanabe

Date of Publication

Fall 1-10-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Japanese


World Languages and Literatures




Interpersonal communication in men -- Cross-cultural studies, Japanese language -- Discourse analysis, English language -- Discourse analysis



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 133 pages)


This study seeks to understand the social interaction of small talk in two different countries. Defining small talk as 'phatic communion' and 'social talk' as contrasted to 'core business talk' and 'work-related talk,' Holmes (2000) claims that small talk in the workplace is intertwined with main work-talk. Small talk can help build solidarity and rapport, as well as maintain good relationships between workers. Much of the research on small talk has been focused on institutional settings such as business and service interactions; thus, there is a need for research on non-institutional small talk between participants without established relationships.

This study compared how native English and Japanese male speakers interact in small talk that occurs during the initial phase of relationship formation, when interlocutors who have just met are waiting for a shared purpose. I analyzed their unmonitored small talk interaction in order to examine what types of topics they discuss and how conversations actually occur. I also conducted interviews to obtain information on perceptions of small talk and examined how these perceptions reflect different social norms and values pertaining to small talk in real-life settings. The data on the characteristics of small talk come from the pre-interview conversation between two participants, and the data on perceptions about small talk come from the interviews.

The topics discussed differed between the U.S. and Japanese pairs. The U.S. pairs had "Informational Talk" elaborating on class details such as professors, systems, materials, or class content. The Japanese pairs, on the other hand, had "Personal Informational Talk," talking about personal matters such as study problems, worries, gossip, and stories. Furthermore, the Japanese pairs tended to have many pauses/silences compared to their English-speaking counterparts (the average frequency of pauses per conversation were 6 for the U.S. participants and 16 for the Japanese), presenting the impression that the Japanese pairs might have been uncomfortable and awkward. However, one similarity was that both groups discussed topics on which they shared knowledge or discussed the research study in which they were participating in order to fill silence during small talk with strangers.

The most prominent result from the interviews is that interactions with strangers are completely normal for the U.S. participants, while for the Japanese participants such small talk with strangers makes them feel surprised and uncomfortable. The U.S. participants have numerous experiences with and are aware of the small talk occurring in everyday life, and they commonly discuss impersonal subjects; that is, their talks tend to be about factual information. The Japanese males, on the other hand, reported that they do not commonly talk with strangers; they need a defined place or reason to talk in order to converse openly and exchange personal information. However, in the actual pre-interview small talk, they incrementally came to know each other and started to discuss personal concerns and gossip about friends. This study has shown that small talk can be viewed as a locus where cultural differences in social norms are reflected.


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