Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …


Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

IMPACT FACTOR 2018: 0.509

CiteScore 2018: 0.23

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.232
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.478

Agenzia Nazionale di Valutazione del Sistema Universitario e della Ricerca: Classe A

See all formats and pricing
More options …
Volume 2015, Issue 205


Signaling equality: On humor and other semiotic resources that serve disagreement and display horizontal hierarchy

Einav Argaman
Published Online: 2015-05-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2015-0002


This paper studies the public display of horizontal hierarchies. Drawing on a naturalistic paradigm, audio- and videotaped presentations of college students were investigated. The students presented in class before their peers. Excerpts that comprise disagreement between equals were selected for analysis. The primary assumption was that disagreements can serve as a potential risk to horizontal hierarchies. Hence, they serve as an interesting source for exploring if and how colleagueship is sustained. The analysis shows the use of various verbal and nonverbal semiotic resources (including humor), which display the shift students make between assuming power and signaling equality. The sequential organization of disagreements (detailed in the paper) pertains to the building blocks (i.e., a contest and a retreat from confrontational positions) that comprise horizontal hierarchy. These building blocks are exhibited in different turns and within turn-constructional components.

Keywords: horizontal hierarchy; power relations; disagreement; semiotic recourses; humor; conversation analysis


  • Argaman, Einav. 2009. Arguing within an institutional hierarchy: How argumentative talk and interlocutors’ embodied practices preserve a superior-subordinate relationship. Discourse Studies 11(5). 515–541.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Berk, Ronald A. 2003. Professors are from Mars, students are from Snickers: How to write and deliver humor in the classroom and in professional presentations. Madison, WI: Mendota Press.Google Scholar

  • Bell, Diana Calhoun & Sara Redington Elledge. 2008. Dominance and peer tutoring sessions with English language learners. Learning Assistance Review 13(1). 17–30.Google Scholar

  • Bell, Diana Calhoun, Arnold Holly & Haddock Rebecca. 2009. Linguistic politeness and peer tutoring. Learning Assistance Review 14(1). 37–54.Google Scholar

  • Berman, Ruth Aronson 1978. Modern Hebrew structure. Tel Aviv: University Publishing Projects.Google Scholar

  • Blum-Kulka, Shoshana & Elite Olshtain. 1984. Requests and apologies: A cross-cultural study of speech act realization patterns. Applied Linguistics 5(3). 198–213.Google Scholar

  • Dale, Karen & Gibson Burrell. 2000. What shape are we in? Organization theory and the organized body. In John Hassard, Ruth Holliday & Hugh Willmott (eds.), Body and organization, 15–30. London: Sage.Google Scholar

  • Ekman, Paul & Wallace V. Friesen. 2003. Unmasking the face. Cambridge, MA: Malor.Google Scholar

  • Even Shoshan, Abraham. 2000. Even Shushan dictionary. Israel: Am Oved, Kineret Zmora Bitan & Yediot Axaronot.Google Scholar

  • Glinert, Lewis. 1989. The grammar of modern Hebrew. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Goodwin, Charles. 2000. Practices of seeing: Visual analysis: An ethnomethodological approach. In Theo van Leeuwen & Carey Jewitt (eds.), The handbook of visual analysis, 157–182. London: Sage.Google Scholar

  • Goodwin, Charles & Marjorie Harness Goodwin. 1990. Interstitial argument. In Allen Girmshaw (ed.), Conflict talk, 85–117. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Goodwin, Marjorie Harness. 2008. The embodiment of friendship, power and marginalization in a multi-ethnic, multi-class preadolescent US girls’ peer group. Girlhood Studies 1(2). 72–94.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Goodwin, Marjorie Harness & Charles Goodwin. 1987. Children’s arguing. In Sue Fisher & Alexandra Todd (eds.), Gender and discourse: The power of talk, 55–94. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar

  • Goodwin, Marjorie Harness, Charles Goodwin & Malcah Yaeger-Dror. 2002. Multi-modality in girls’ game disputes. Journal of Pragmatics 34(10–11). 1621–1649.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Goodwin, Marjorie Harness & Amy Kyratzis. (2012). Peer language socialization. In Alessandro Duranti, Elinor Ochs & Bambi B. Schieffelin (eds.), The handbook of language socialization, 365–389. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar

  • Harper, Harriet. 2000. New college hierarchies? Towards an examination of organizational structures in further education in England and Wales. Educational Management & Administration 28(4). 433–445.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Hillman, Sandra M. (2001). Humor in the classroom: Facilitating the learning process. In Arlene J. Lowenstein & Martha J. Bradshaw (eds.), Fuszard’s innovative teaching strategies in nursing, 3rd ed., 54–61. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen.Google Scholar

  • Holmes, Janet. 2000. Politeness, power and provocation: How humor functions in the workplace. Discourse Studies 2(2). 159–185.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Holmes, Janet & Meredith Marra. 2002. Over the edge? Subversive humor between colleagues and friends. Humor 15(1). 85–87.Google Scholar

  • Iannello, Kathleen. P. 1992. Decisions without hierarchy. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

  • Ikeda, Keiko. 2008. A conversation analytic account of the interactional structure of “arguments”. Studies in Language and Culture 29(2). 289–304.Google Scholar

  • Jaworski, Adam & Itesh Sachdev. 1998. Beliefs about silence in the classroom. Language and Education 12(4). 273–292.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Jefferson, Gail. 1979. A technique for inviting laughter and its subsequent acceptance declination. In George Psathas (ed.) Everyday language: Studies in ethnomethodology, 79–96. New York: Irvington.Google Scholar

  • Keeling, Richard P., Ric Underhile & Andrew F. Wall. 2007. Horizontal and vertical structures: The dynamics of organization in higher education. Liberal Education 90(4). 22–31.Google Scholar

  • Kendon, Adam. 2004. Gesture: Visible action as utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Kyratzis, Amy & Traci Marx. 2001. Preschoolers’ communicative competence: Register shift in the marking of power in different contexts of friendship group talk. First Language 21(63). 387–431.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Levinson, Stephen C. 1988. Putting linguistics on a proper footing: Explorations in Goffman’s concepts of participation. In Anthony Wootton & Paul Drew (eds.), Erving Goffman: Exploring the interaction order, 161–227. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar

  • Lorenzo-Dus, Nuria. 2008. Real disorder in the court: An investigation of conflict talk in US television courtroom shows. Media, Culture & Society 30(1). 81–107.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Magee, Joe C. & Adam D. Galinsky. 2008. Social hierarchy: The self-reinforcing nature of power and status. Academy of Management Annals 2(1). 351–398.CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Maschler, Yael. 2004. Accepting while shifting: The discourse marker tov (“okay,” “fine,” lit. “good”) in Israeli Hebrew talk-in-interaction. Texas Linguistic Forum 48. 216–228Google Scholar

  • Mayer-Ahuja, Nicole & Harald Wolf. 2007. Beyond the hype: Working in the German internet industry. Critical Sociology 33(1–2). 73–99.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Neill, Sean & Chris Caswell. 1993. Body language for competent teachers. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

  • Norrick, Neal R. & Alice Spitz. 2008. Humor as a resource for mitigating conflict in interaction. Journal of Pragmatics 40(10). 1661–1686.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Palacios Martínez, Ingacio M. (1996). Negative intensification in modern English. In S. Fernández Corrugedo (ed.), Some sundry wits gathered together, 183–196. A Coruña: Universidade da Coruña.Google Scholar

  • Portner, Paul. 2007. Instructions for interpretation as separate performatives. In Kerstin Schwabe & Susanne Winkler (eds.), On Information structure, meaning, and form, 407–425. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar

  • Reese-Miller, Janie. 2000. Power, severity, and context in disagreement. Journal of Pragmatics 32(8). 1087–1111.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Rosenthal, Rubik. 2005. Dictionary of Israeli slang. Jerusalem: Keter.Google Scholar

  • Sacks, Harvey, Emanuel Abraham Schegloff & Gail Jefferson. 1974. A simplest systematics of the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language 50(4). 696–735.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Schegloff, Emanuel Abraham. 1987. Recycled turn beginnings. In Graham Button & John R. E. Lee (eds.), Talk and social organization, 70–85. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar

  • Schegloff, Emanuel Abraham. 2000. Overlapping talk and the organization of turn-taking in conversation. Language in Society 29(1). 1–63.Google Scholar

  • Schegloff, Emanuel Abraham. 2001. Getting serious: Joke → serious “no”. Journal of Pragmatics 33(12). 1947–1955.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Schiffrin, Deborah. 1987. Discourse markers. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

About the article

Einav Argaman

Einav Argaman (b. 1969) is a lecturer at the Levinsky College of Education. Her research interests include talk and embodiment in educational institutions, hierarchical relationships, the manifestation of disagreement, and change processes. Her publications include “Assuming positions: Organizational change as mediated through metaphors” (2007); “In the same boat? On metaphor-variations as mediating the individual voice in organizational change” (2008); “Explaining educational experience: On one- and two-handed gestures as semiotic entities and the flexibility of their use” (2010); and “Teachers’ words and verbal expressions of resistance to change” (with G. Alexander, 2013).

Published Online: 2015-05-19

Published in Print: 2015-06-01

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2015, Issue 205, Pages 169–190, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2015-0002.

Export Citation

©2015 by De Gruyter Mouton.Get Permission

Citing Articles

Here you can find all Crossref-listed publications in which this article is cited. If you would like to receive automatic email messages as soon as this article is cited in other publications, simply activate the “Citation Alert” on the top of this page.

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in