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A Marriage of Convenience: Ethnography and ConversationAnalysis in Real Estate Negotiation

This study investigates real estate negotiations that are naturally-occurring interactions between the real estate agents and potential buyers.  In this negotiation of the sale and purchase of property both parties are non-native speakers of English who are engaged in a multiethnic negotiation setting in the local Malaysian context.   Within this context, the study aims to establish that although the interlocutors are unacquainted, they are able to construct the entire sequence of negotiation in an organized, well-choreographed manner.   The study is based on a two-pronged methodical approach which integrates the Conversation Analysis-Ethnographic approaches. CA provides the structural frame for analysis while ethnographic information provides the background knowledge of the property and the interlocutors, which forms the framework for the understanding of intended meanings.   Based on the theoretical premises of Holmes’ (1992) proposal on the phases of negotiation, Sacks et al’s (1974) systematic turn-taking procedure and Tsui’s (1992) notion of the different functions of questions, the current study investigates these phenomena in the negotiation of the sale and purchase of property. 
The analysis of data draws upon the transcript conventions of Jefferson (1972) which was adapted to suit the Malaysian conversational features. The transcripts are used to identify both the phases of negotiation as well as the functions of questions as tactics in negotiations.   The analysis also draws upon software known as Praat which contributes significantly to accurate and precise analysis of this discourse-based study and as far as the researcher is concerned this study is pioneering work in the area of negotiation studies particularly real estate. 
This study seeks to provide answers to the following questions:
a)      How do unacquainted interlocutors co-construct the turn-taking sequence of negotiation?
b)      Would the construction of phases replicate the linear-structured process of negotiation?
c)      How are the adjacency pairs of question-response utilized in the negotiation process?
This study acts as a reference source for other types of negotiations. Furthermore, this study looks at negotiations between non-native speakers of English, i.e. the Malaysian interlocutors who were able to hold conversations in English and negotiated with no fear of being misunderstood. Therefore, the study also fills the research gap on the scarcity of work in real estate negotiations among non-native, unacquainted Malaysian interlocutors.

Thilagavathi Shanmuganathan is a lecturer at the Department of English Language, Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, University of Malaya. Her research interests include Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics, Ethnography and Conversation Analysis. Her Ph.D work is on ‘Negotiation at the Workplace: An Ethnography Conversation Analysis’. Current research includes projects on the Corpus of Spoken English, Language Maintenance and Loss in minority communities and the Pragmatics and Discourse in specific contexts and communities  

For more information on the research, Please contact: DR. THILAGAVATHI A/P SHANMUGANATHAN
Last Update: April 08, 2009