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Text & Talk

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies

Ed. by Sarangi, Srikant

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Volume 39, Issue 4


Sequential organization of hinting in online task-oriented L2 interaction

Ufuk Balaman
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of English Language Teaching and HUMAN Research Centre, Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey
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Published Online: 2019-05-25 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2019-2038


This study aims to explore the sequential organization of hinting in an online task-oriented L2 interactional setting. Although hinting has been studied within conversation analysis literature, it has not yet been treated as a distinct type of social action. With this in mind, the study sets out to describe the sequential environment of hinting through the unfolding of the action with pre-hinting sequences initiated through the deployment of interrogatives, knowledge checks, and past references; maintained with base hinting sequences initiated through blah blah replacements, designedly incomplete utterances, and metalinguistic clues; and finally progressively resolved with screen-based hinting. Based on the examination of screen-recorded video-mediated interactions (14 hours) of geographically dispersed participants using multimodal conversation analysis, this study provides insights for an overall understanding of the interactional trajectory of hinting as a context-specific social action and contributes to research on L2 interaction in online settings.

Keywords: hinting; conversation analysis; sequence organization; mobilizing response; turn design; online interaction

1 Introduction

Indirect references to a specific item and providing clues to elicit a response have been generically referred to as hinting without a technical, research-based, and systematic characterization. Hinting, as a term, has also been used repeatedly in conversation analysis literature without much reference to its type-specific sequential environment. Therefore, it has remained largely unexplored as a distinct type of social action.

This study sets out to present the trajectory of hinting in online interaction in English as a second/additional/foreign language (henceforth L2) with a focus on its sequential environment over the course of online task completion. Based on conversation analytic examination of screen-recorded online interactions of a group of geographically dispersed participants (i.e. on Google Hangouts), the findings help characterize hinting as a distinct social action in contextually-configured sequential environments.

The following section provides an overview of research on hinting. Then, the details regarding the focal context and dataset are given. Subsequently, the interactional trajectory of hinting is presented based on a set of context-bound interactional resources deployed for the design of turns that either lay the ground for incipient hinting (i.e. pre-hinting resources) or lead to sequential accomplishment of hinting (i.e. base hinting resources). The study is concluded with an overall discussion based on the findings.

2 Literature review

The early conversation analytic interest in hinting (Sacks 1992) is oriented to “doing identifying by hinting” (p. 579) and “hintable with objects” (p. 330) used in order to make orientation but not an explicit identification in talk-in-interaction. Further research on hinting appears in aphasic conversations especially in so-called ‘hint and guess sequences’ (Laakso and Klippi 1999), which is defined as collaborative problem-solving sequences that start with the rejection of a guess and proceeds with the establishment of the problem and the participation framework, hinting, and guesses until a point of possible resolution. Radford (2010) investigates a similar sequential environment and refers to hinting as the delivery of a verbal clue targeting some related information by recipient-designing a specific response. She also notes that hinting leads a co-participant to a searched-for word (or idea). Brouwer (2003) and Lin (2014) point to the same feature of hinting around word search sequences in a classroom context.

Hinting has also been documented based on research on requests. Ogiermann (2015) focuses on pre-requests – but does not adopt a sequential look into data – in a family talk setting and describes ‘hint-like utterances’, which emerge during checking the availability or noting the absence of a particular object. She mainly examines the act of off-record requests stemming from literature on politeness and indirectness (Blum-Kulka and Olshtain 1984; Blum-Kulka 1987; Weizman 1985). Blum-Kulka and Olshtain (1984) treat hinting as a level of indirect request and categorize the action into two types: (1) strong hints that are partial references to a hintable object; and (2) mild hints that are interpretable but not containing any reference to requests (also see Blum-Kulka 1987). Weizman (1985), with a politeness-theory informed stance, considers hinting as a strategy for masking a request.

In addition to the research explicitly referring to hinting, some studies on pedagogical interaction describe similar social interactional trajectories using different terms. Mercer (1995), for instance, investigates classrooms and calls teachers’ interactional attempts to elicit an answer using visual and verbal hints as ‘cued elicitation’ (Edwards and Mercer 1987). Lee (2016) recently adopts this term to demonstrate yes-no questions as a type of cued elicitation. McHoul (1990), in a similar vein, refers to teachers’ stepwise correction initiations for evoking student-corrections as ‘cluing’. Hosoda and Aline (2013) also contribute to this line of research by describing the emphasis on repetitions as an interactional resource for cluing.

Waring (2015) approaches cluing as a push for self-repair in order to pave the way for students’ ‘self-discovery’. She describes a range of practices for enabling self-discovery as two main types: (1) noting a problem; and (2) offering assistance. Noting a problem consists of resources such as silence, delay, use of classroom artefacts, question, repetition, comprehension check, designedly incomplete utterances, and explicit indication of a problem; while offering assistance includes nonverbal and contextual cues, reversed polarity and alternative questions, seeking elaboration, and proposing courses of action (for an entire list of resources, see Waring 2015: 63). Waring’s conceptualization of self-discovery is built on a variety of research findings that directly informs the current study. Her work also aligns with some recent research on offering assistance without being asked to, i.e. recruitment (Kendrick and Drew 2016). In sum, hinting (or alternatively, cued elicitation and cluing) appears to require some interactional effort in terms of turn design and succession of turns and sequences to “convey an action without being said” (Schegloff 1996: 181).

Further background to hinting at turn design level comes from research on extended elicitation sequences (Mehan 1979), guessing bad news (Schegloff 1988), elicitation questions (Lerner 1995), increments (Lerner 2004), designedly incomplete utterances (Koshik 2002), requesting indirectly (Gill et al. 2001), mobilizing response (Stivers and Rossano 2010; Stivers 2010), mobilizing recipiency (Butler and Wilkinson 2013), and pursuing a response (Zemel and Koschmann 2011; Bolden et al. 2012). To elaborate on these, hinting at a specific response is an ‘interactional project’ (Schegloff 2007) that is consequently resolved with the elicitation of either the response or a demonstration of understanding. Mehan (1979) refers to this interactional structure as ‘extended elicitation sequences’ mainly initiated with known-information questions.

A similar, yet more sensitive elicitation work is found in the delivery of bad news contexts (Schegloff 1988). Schegloff (1988: 445) describes how participants can make the recipients to guess bad news provided “adequately recipient-designed” clues are delivered. In a medical interaction setting, Gill et al. (2001) showcase how patients address a similar recipient design to manage subtlety in their requests by hinting at a possible health condition (also see Gill 2005) following the establishment of the ground for the indirect request through so-called ‘frontloading’ (Gill et al. 2010).

To this end, previous research shows that hinting at turn design level is generally oriented to mobilizing a particular response (Stivers and Rossano 2010; Stivers 2010). The design of hinting turns also bears similarities to designedly incomplete utterances (DIUs) (Koshik 2002), although it is not the utterance that is left incomplete to elicit a completion (i.e. DIU) but it is an expression of a particular object, word, and/or action that is withheld and implicated (i.e. hinted at). A response to a hinting turn is thus ‘pursued’ (Lerner 1995; Zemel and Koschmann 2011; Bolden et al. 2012; Romaniuk 2013) until either the previously withheld expression is elicited or there somehow emerges a demonstration of understanding. Against this background, this paper sets out to describe the trajectory of hinting as a distinct social action with its context-specific forms of turn design and sequential organization in geographically dispersed participants’ online interactions.

3 Data and method

Based on a corpus of 14 hours of screen recordings captured over 18 weeks from 4 participants’ multiparty online interactions in L2 English, the collection under examination consists of 83 instances during which the participants observably engage in hinting. The participants are students of an English language teacher education undergraduate program and members of a leisure-time conversation club where they regularly meet to practice L2 interactional skills.

The data for the current study was collected from an online conversational project (i.e. an alternative club activity) implemented through a task setting (Figure 1) where weekly tasks were uploaded to facilitate the participants’ L2 interactions (i.e. on Google Hangouts). The setting was designed to deliver emergent information gap tasks (Balaman 2016), an extension to the commonly used pedagogical task type known as information gap tasks. This specific task type does not impose any predetermined information gaps on the participants but paves the way for natural occurrence of these gaps after one of the participants finds the solution (i.e. a particular keyword as the correct answer) to the task.

Task interface.
Figure 1:

Task interface.

To further contextualize the data setting, Figure 1 (below) presents a sample task. It includes A Day to Remember as the title of the task, worker’s as the textual clue, and the image of a plane crash as the visual clue. The participants, on whom no predetermined information gaps are imposed, are expected to find the correct answer (i.e. mayday) by individually engaging in screen-based activities and verbally discussing the implications of the on-screen clues. This would be possible by exploring the link between the distress call mayday from a crashing plane (visual clue) and the worker’s day also known as mayday (textual clue), implied with a day to remember (title as textual clue). After one of the participants finds the correct answer, an information gap emerges and minimization of this gap is a requirement for task completion as the task interface takes the team to the next task only after all members submit the correct answer. This is further ensured with a task rule that the participants are instructed to follow – but not monitored on-site whether they follow it or not – which is ‘do not tell the correct answer to the co-participants but add new clues to facilitate the completion of the task’ (Sert and Balaman 2018). The participants’ orientations to this rule boost L2 interaction mainly in and through hinting sequences. Accordingly, hinting becomes a central interactional practice for task completion in the setting. This is also what makes this setting an optimal medium for the description of the sequential organization of hinting, yet still bearing in mind its highly context-specific nature.

The collection (83 instances of hinting) will be represented with the analyses of seven extracts showcasing the use of diverse interactional resources that also characterize the sequential unfolding of hinting sequences in pre- and base-sequential positions. That is to say, these resources are benchmarks of a sequential practice that occasionally starts with some signals and ground-laying work (i.e. optional pre-hinting sequence) and continues with a base hinting sequence in all cases (see Table 1 below). The extracts have been transcribed using the Jeffersonian transcription conventions, with some additional elements (see Appendix) in order to reflect screen-based activities of the participants that co-occur with talk. These activities are selectively illustrated next to the transcripts of talk in accordance with their availability during the recordings and relevance to the preceding and forthcoming actions (cf. Balaman 2016; Balaman and Sert 2017a). These multimodal transcripts are deemed important mainly for an overall understanding of the interactional context.

Table 1:

Diverse resources deployed in pre- and base hinting sequences.

Finally, as a way of clarification with regard to terminology in the analysis section, ‘hintable’ refers to hinted at items following Sacks (1992). It should also be noted that ‘verbal clue’ is used in several parts in the paper with reference to generic hinting instances (Radford 2010) that are not any of the context-specific hinting resources described in the current study. Lastly, ‘clue’ (used interchangeably with hint) is used to refer to either an on-screen clue (see Figure 1 above) or part of a term from existing literature (e.g. verbal clue; metalinguistic clue), thus referring to a minimal resource for doing – but not necessarily sequentially accomplishing – hinting. With these in mind, the following section describes the interactional unfolding of pre-hinting sequences.

4 Preliminaries to hinting sequences

Schegloff (2007) defines pre-expansion as orientations to base sequences and demonstrations of relevancy to some actions projected to occur. In a similar vein, hinting is described as a distinct social action in this section that unfolds in the course of a sequential environment that is initially projected with some preliminary work to signal its occurrence. The participants within the focal interactional context initiate such work mainly through the deployment of interactional resources such as yes/no and wh- interrogatives, knowledge checks, and past references. These resources, therefore, feature in the first pair part of a pre-hinting sequence and mobilize a response that might potentially function as a go ahead for the base hinting sequence.

Although pre-hinting sequences precede base hinting sequences in all cases, it is also quite common in the dataset that base hinting sequences emerge without any previous signals or engagement in pre-hinting sequences. Therefore, pre-hinting sequences do not constitute the main body of the collection at hand, yet are of importance for an overall understanding of the sequential environment of hinting within the focal context. To this end, the following descriptions of diverse pre-hinting practices are presented to contribute to the major concern of this study, that is to describe hinting as a distinct social action in its sequential environment. The following sub-sections will primarily display the extracts; present line-by-line analyses; and then briefly discuss the findings related to interrogatives, knowledge check, and past reference as resources marking pre-hinting.

4.1 Interrogatives

Extract 1. yes/no interrogative as a pre-hinting initiator

1DEN:are you on the web page of new york times? ←
3NUR:uh huh
4DEN:and then go under (0.4) the page
6the very first under (.) of it
8and there will[be
9NUR:[i'm on the new york times
10web site now
15DEN:you should go: (0.6) below.


The extract starts some time after DEN finds the answer. In line 1, DEN uses a yes/no interrogative to check for NUR’s current screen activity (are you on the web page of new york times?). This interrogative helps them establish mutual orientation towards the web page (Jenks and Brandt 2013), on which DEN uses to build a hinting sequence. Following a 1.6 seconds of waiting time, NUR, in line 3, responds with a confirmation token (uh huh) to display her orientation to the page although she has not changed the window to the page yet (2#). In line 4, DEN starts giving instructions in the form of a page description (go under (0.4) the page) to direct NUR to an exact location on the page and also marks the initiation of the base hinting sequence. It also reveals that her understanding check with a yes/no interrogative to establish mutual orientation is indeed a pre-hinting sequence that successfully gets NUR’s attention to the web page (2# and 3#) that is the target of the hinting sequence. What follows is NUR’s confirmation request and DEN’s confirmation, which is a collaborative effort for the continuation of a stepwise hinting whose ground is laid with the initial pre-hinting sequence. She then continues hinting with a repetition of her previous instruction in line 15 and facilitates the completion of the task.

The first extract of the study has shown how a yes/no interrogative (line 1) (cf. Lerner 1995; Raymond 2003; Koshik 2005; Stivers 2010; Thompson et al. 2015; Lee 2016) projects a hinting sequence (line 4 onwards) and enacts an action other than doing questioning (Stivers 2010) in that it is used to establish mutual orientation (Jenks and Brandt 2013) towards a hintable (Sacks 1992). In the following section, the interrogative morphosyntax is deployed for doing pre-hinting again, yet it is oriented towards checking for the co-participants’ knowledge rather than solely for establishing mutual orientation. It is presented at a separate section because knowledge checks were previously described to occur with diverse resources (cf. Heritage 2012; Jakonen 2014) although they have only occurred with the deployment of interrogative morphosyntax (i.e. do you know X) in the current study.

4.2 Knowledge check

Extract 2. Knowledge check as a pre-hinting initiator

1NUR:i found the answer
8NUR:do you know
10NUR:[winx ↑girls (0.7) winx girls?
11ZEH:yes yes ↑A[U:hhh
12NUR:[there was a blonde girl
16SIN:[>uh uh< i tried↓ be↑fore
17NUR:no: ↑just the name
18DEN:OH::[(i found it)
19NUR:[not surname
20ZEH:[a- ou:
23DEN:you found it (0.2) nursen ↑thank you::


The extract starts with NUR’s announcement of finding the correct answer in line 1, which creates an opportunity for the establishment of mutual orientation (lines 3–7). Following this, NUR uses a knowledge check in lines 8 and 10 (do you know winx ↑girls (0.7) winx girls?), which functions as a preliminary to her forthcoming hinting action. It is oriented to by ZEH with a double confirmation token and a change of state token in line 11, which is a display of knowledge as is also visible on her screen-based activity (4#). In an overlapping fashion with the change of state token, NUR hints at the correct answer with a verbal clue ([there was a blonde girl), which is observably linked to her earlier knowledge check, in line 12 and mobilizes the name of the blonde girl as the response (Stivers and Rossano 2010; Romaniuk 2013) that requires a display of understanding and submitting it as the correct answer although a verbal orientation is not due. Accordingly, ZEH and DEN respond with acknowledgement tokens to display understanding (Koole 2010). However, SIN rejects the hintable ([>uh uh<) with an account for her action (i tried↓ be↑fore), which nevertheless indicates a moment of understanding and SIN resubmits the candidate answer (3#). NUR, in line 17, expands the hinting sequence with an other repair that is initiated with a turn-initial negation marker and an upgrade to her previous hint (↑just the name) across two lines ([not surname). This repair sequence also resolves the hinting work and the task is accomplished in the following lines (#4 and #3).

The above extract has displayed how a participant deploys a knowledge check to target specific information and builds a hinting sequence based on successful elicitation of a knowledge display (Lerner 1995; Koshik 2005; Heritage 2012; Jakonen 2014; Thompson et al. 2015; Balaman and Sert 2017b). In doing so, they establish mutual understanding on the hintable with object (lines 8 & 10) (Sacks 1992) (i.e. a name in this case), thus laying the ground for the base hinting sequence (line 12 onwards) that eventually leads them to task completion. Therefore, the use of a knowledge check as the first part of a pre-hinting sequence observably makes a knowledge display the next relevant action and signals the forthcoming hinting sequence.

4.3 Past reference

Extract 3. Past reference as a pre-hinting initiator

2ZEH:$ah hah hah hahhhh$
3DEN:$hah hah$
5SIN:okay ↑okay >ih ih< its its about /a/ ↑er:
6<its about a ↑sickness< .hhh you know er:
7>you you< ↑said ↓deniz er:
8/resantli/ erm:you (0.4)
9er you have heard erm (0.3)
10[from er: news <this illness<
11ZEH:[↑yeah guys i found
12SIN:yeah (.) you found?
14DEN:=the illnesses name?
17SIN:excuse me (.) i /kant/ understand you
18DEN:the name of illness?


The extract starts with an announcement of finding the correct answer with a loud tone that receives laughter from the co-participants. SIN initiates the hinting sequence in line 5 and refers to a sickness as the correct answer. Although it seems to unfold potentially as the first part of a base hinting sequence, it later turns out to be a prefatory work that simply lays the ground for mobilizing the best guess to the name of the hinted at illness (lines 14, 19, 21). Therefore, the verbal clue (<its about a ↑sickness<) in line 6 and the subsequent past reference across four lines (7–10) oriented to a previous discussion only operate as the preliminary to the hinting sequence. While this pre-hinting sequence successfully leads ZEH to the correct answer in line 11 (#2), the addressee of the past reference, DEN, orients to SIN’s formulation and asks for confirmation (the illnesses name?) in line 14, thus aligning with SIN’s prefatory work to lay the ground for the forthcoming hinting sequence. She repeats the confirmation request in line 18 following SIN’s repair initiation in line 17 that eventually leads them to task accomplishment with SIN’s confirmation in line 20.

This extract has presented the third resource marking the initiation of a pre-hinting sequence – past reference. Along with interrogatives and knowledge checks, the participants also signal a forthcoming hinting sequence by referring to their shared past (Can Daşkın 2017; Can Daşkın and Hatipoğlu 2019; Jakonen 2018; You 2015; Shaw and Kitzinger 2007; Kim 2012). Similar to the establishment of mutual orientation through question-answer and knowledge check/display sequences, the participants orient to their previous discussions and use it as the base to build a hinting sequence on. You (2015) describes a similar trace in everyday talk based on recognition checks that are deployed as references to shared past in pre-sequences.

It should be noted again that pre-hinting sequences seem to be optional interactional moves in that they precede base hinting sequences only in 15 cases out of the 83 hinting sequences in the collection (see Table 1 above). The main focus of the study, to this end, is the base hinting sequences described in detail with the variety of resources in the following section.

5 Sequential unfolding of hinting in online L2 interaction

Either projected with a pre-hinting sequence or emergent without any preliminaries, hinting sequences unfold in various ways within the focal context. This section presents four diverse resources for doing hinting: namely, blah blah replacement, designedly incomplete utterances (DIUs), metalinguistic clues, and screen-based hinting. Each type is presented initially with an extract and followed by analysis and a subsequent brief discussion.

5.1 Replacing the hintable with blah blah

Extract 4. Replacing the hintable with blah blah as base hinting sequence initiator

1DEN:nursen did you find it?
2NUR:yeah i'm looking for
3the list of the (.) teams
5DEN:there is a blah blah (0.4)
6bu:ll team
10DEN:and er: the team is very famous
11ZEH:oka:y i found=


The extract starts with DEN’s check for NUR’s status of finding the answer in the form of a yes/no interrogative (did you find it?). NUR responds to DEN in line 2 with a confirmation and an elaboration on her current screen-based activity, which is also a specification of her location on a web page (the list of the (.) teams). This ensures the establishment of mutual orientation and operates as a pre-hinting sequence that potentially makes a hinting sequence relevant given that NUR still tries to find the answer. Following 3.5 seconds of silence, DEN initiates a hinting sequence that is built on NUR’s previous reference to the teams in line 5. She narrows the list down to a single team by constructing the hinting through replacing the correct answer with blah blah which precedes the other part of the team’s name (blah blah (0.4) bu:ll team). Doing this replacement, she mobilizes the correct answer as the next relevant response or makes a demonstration of understanding the hintable relevant in the next turn. However, the co-participants do not show immediate orientations (lines 7–9) although ZEH undertakes a series of screen-based activities (1# and 2#) and DEN continues hinting with a turn-initial continuation marker in line 10. She also adds a verbal clue (the team is very famous) and observably upgrades her attempts to mobilize a best guess. She is finally oriented to with demonstrations of understanding from both co-participants and closes the hinting sequence in line 15.

This extract has shown how the initiation of a hinting sequence is delivered with a turn design feature aimed at mobilizing the correct answer and completing the task. The deployment of blah blah in this case is a replacement of Chicago with reference to the famous Chicago Bulls team and eventually proves useful to accomplish the task. Blah blah is a previously undescribed context-specific interactional resource (but see Roam [2011] for a non-research account). The use of blah blah seems to resemble turn prompts (Lerner 2004) in that they are designed to elicit elaboration (i.e. being the correct answer in our case) by referring to a potential point in the interaction. It also bears some similarities to candidate answers in question design oriented to eliciting information as described by Pomerantz (1988). It completely aligns with the first feature of candidate answer offers in that a model is provided to the recipient to target display of some specific information as the next relevant action (Pomerantz 1988). The next section presents another turn design feature for initiating a hinting sequence through leaving a turn designedly incomplete (Koshik 2002) rather than replacing the hintable with blah blah.

5.2 Designedly incomplete utterances

Extract 5. DIU as base hinting sequence initiator

1NUR:did sinem find the answer?
2DEN:e- just er:
3SIN:no: no[t
4DEN:[she left (0.2)
6NUR:[no >okay okay< i'm gonna (.) ↓tell her
8uh sinem do you know audrey hepburn?
11NUR:audrey hepburn (.) er:
12there is a movie that er: she took (0.3)
13it is very famous (0.5)
14breakfast at the?
((NUR's roommate far behind NUR))
16SIN:>=okay okay okay< okay
17NUR:oka:y? try ↑that.

This extract starts with a yes-no interrogative to check for a co-participant’s status of finding the correct answer in line 1 (did sinem find the answer?). SIN responds to this in line 3 with a negation that can be heard as a go ahead for the forthcoming hinting sequence. Accordingly, NUR initiates a pre-hinting sequence in line 8 using a knowledge check and elicits SIN’s display of knowledge in line 10. Following this, NUR engages in hinting with a turn-initial repetition of the name that she previously checked for SIN’s knowledge (do you know audrey hepburn?). She continues the hinting turn with a verbal clue that refers to the famous Audrey Hepburn movie in lines 12 and 13. Following the silence of 0.5 seconds, she continues hinting with an explicit reference to the name of the movie (breakfast at the?), yet leaves it designedly incomplete (Koshik 2002) at the point of the correct answer, also marking it by ending the turn with rising intonation. NUR’s deployment of a “DIU as hint” (Koshik 2002) to the correct answer is oriented to by an eavesdropper in NUR’s physical setting with a task rule breach; however, it is not evident whether this contribution is taken up by the co-participants. Nevertheless, SIN demonstrates understanding with repetitive acknowledgement tokens in line 16 (3#) and the hinting sequence is closed.

This extract has demonstrated how the participants deploy a DIU for doing hinting (Koshik 2002). The design of a turn with an incomplete utterance implicitly locates the missing item as the hintable, thus mobilizing the expression of the correct answer or a demonstration of understanding in the next turn (Waring 2015; Margutti 2006, Margutti 2010; Netz 2016; Sert and Walsh 2013; İşler et al. 2019). Accordingly, the co-participants demonstrate understanding and the task accomplishment is facilitated.

In the next section, a form-oriented resource for hinting is described.

5.3 Metalinguistic clues

Extract 6. Metalinguistic clue as base hinting sequence initiator

1SIN:you said (0.3) acun's progra:m
3DEN:°acun's progra:m?°
4SIN:we tried but that's not the
5>answer↑ .hhh<
6you- you should (.)
7you should try it
8er: plural version
12SIN:>huh huh< plural.


The extract starts with a past reference (you said) to a local TV producer’s program (acun’s progra:m) in line 1. DEN requests for confirmation in line 3, which is delivered in line 4 with an account for the reference. The account-giving lays the ground for the forthcoming hinting turn in line 6 and SIN starts hinting with an instruction (you should try) oriented to the form (plural version) of the focal TV program (i.e. survivor), thus providing a metalinguistic clue (Lyster 1998; Lyster et al. 2013). She explicitly points to a form-based modification on the correct answer that is the pluralized form (i.e. survivors) of the program. This is oriented to by NUR with a repetition of the clue in line 10 and through a screen-based activity (3#). SIN acknowledges it and closes the hinting sequence with a repetition in line 12.

Despite being the least common resource used for hinting in the collection, metalinguistic clues still add to an overall understanding of hinting in that they evidence the diversity of interactional resources for doing hinting. In addition to the deployment of blah blah replacements and DIUs, the participants occasionally use metalinguistic clues to draw the co-participants’ attention to a particular form and eventually mobilize the hinted form-based modification as the next relevant response. In line with this finding, Lin (2014) draws on the interactional practice of providing metalinguistic clues with reference to withholding an utterance and forming hints to elicit searched-for-words from the students.

5.4 Screen-based hinting

Extract 7. Screen-based (stepwise) hinting

1SIN:i found the answer ohka:y.
3DEN:[o::h ↑really?
4SIN:yeah <i:: write er: google>
5house of cards slogan
7DEN:and (0.8)°yeah°
8SIN:and the second link is
9mashable dot com
13SIN:and (0.9) er:
15in the middle of (.)
16the page er: (1.1)
17erm (.) our picture <is there>
18and there is a name (1.0)
19blah blah coo:lidgehh (0.9)
20or something else and
21>there is a date< (0.8)
22you should write
23the first name


The above extract starts with an announcement of finding the correct answer, which is responded to with a news receipt by ZEH and a newsmark by DEN (Maynard 1997). In line 4, SIN orients to the newsmark and elaborates the announcement. Her elaboration is actually the first of a series of hinting turns that are designed to mobilize the best guess over the course of a stepwise hinting sequence. She describes her previous search path that led her to the correct answer and provides the keywords (house of cards slogan) to facilitate task completion. Following 1.8 seconds of silence, DEN requests for continuation with a turn-initial continuation marker (and) in line 6. SIN orients to her request initiating the turn with the same marker and continues describing her search path on Google with reference to the search results (the second link). DEN shows receipt in line 11 and undertakes the hinted at screen-based activity (2#). Following another relatively long silence, SIN continues hinting in line 15 with a more specified description, a particular location on a webpage (in the middle of (.) the page). She also establishes links to some on-screen clues (our picture) and maintains the stepwise hinting with a verbal clue (there is a name) integrated with a blah blah replacement in line 19 that might potentially mobilize the best guess. In line 22, she continues referring to some items on the page and consequently ends the extended hinting turn with an instruction (you should write the first name) that reveals the final step of the hinting so far. The long silence at the end of the extract marks the co-participants’ screen-based activities (#4).

The final extract has shown how the participants initiate a hinting sequence with a ‘procedural informing’ (Gardner and Mushin 2013, Gardner and Mushin 2017) to describe the search path that has previously led a participant to the correct answer. This has later been combined with a page description to point to a particular location on the web page – also proposed as a course of action for self-discovery (Waring 2015). Finally, it has been incorporated with diverse hinting resources and an instruction (cf. Markee 2015), which can possibly mobilize a best guess. This entire stepwise hinting episode has presented an example to how screen orientations (also see Gardner and Levy 2010; Cekaite 2009; Musk 2014, Musk 2016; Balaman 2018; Balaman and Sert 2017a) contribute to the resolution of a hinting sequence. The participants aptly deploy screen-based hinting as an extension to the online interactional setting, thus unpacking the context-bound nature of hinting. This also points to an intricate interactional work that consists of participants’ interactional efforts to turn their ‘private’ screen orientations to ‘social’ interactional resources by coordinating the deployment of screen-based resources with talk (Balaman and Sert 2017a; Goodwin 2013, Goodwin 2018). It is mainly important because the lack of physical co-presence in the interactional context (Jenks and Brandt 2013) facilitates the emergence of diverse context-specific interactional resources and hinting within the focal context is a direct lens to provide insights into this line of research. This is also evident in that screen-based resources constitute the main body of hinting by being the far most common type of base hinting sequences in the dataset.

6 Discussion and conclusion

The analysis has shown that hinting is a distinct social action that sequentially unfolds in talk-in-interaction within the focal interactional context. Its sequential environment occasionally includes pre-hinting sequences that are initiated with deployment of interrogatives (Lerner 1995; Raymond 2003; Koshik 2005; Stivers 2010; Thompson et al. 2015; Lee 2016); knowledge checks (Lerner 1995; Koshik 2005; Heritage 2012; Jakonen 2014; Thompson et al. 2015); and past references (Can Daşkın 2017; Can Daşkın and Hatipoğlu 2019; Jakonen 2018; You 2015; Shaw and Kitzinger 2007; Kim 2012). These diverse resources project the occurrence of hinting, thus laying the ground by establishing mutual orientation towards the hintables (Sacks 1992).

The base hinting sequences have been found to emerge in several ways at turn design and sequential levels. In order to mark the initiation of a hinting sequence, the participants have replaced the hintables with blah blah, left an utterance designedly incomplete (Koshik 2002), and deployed metalinguistic clues (Lin 2014). They have also engaged in stepwise hinting by giving instructions (Markee 2015), doing procedural informings (Gardner and Mushin 2013, Gardner and Mushin 2017), describing web pages, and proposing courses of actions (Waring 2015) – all oriented to screen-based resources for doing screen-based hinting.

This study bears evidence to the fact that hinting is not limited to the delivery of a verbal clue to elicit a particular response/action (Radford 2010). The findings extend the definition to mobilizing a specific response by withholding a direct expression in the design of a turn and pursuing the response or a demonstration of understanding at sequences of talk-in-interaction. However, it should still be noted that this working definition is based on a set of highly context-specific research findings, thus it only reflects the trajectory described in the current study rather than making generalizable claims.

The findings also corroborate some previous research findings. The hinting turns in the collection align with Sacks’ (1992) formulation of hinting as the identification of things by making orientations, thus being conveyed at turns-at-talk without being said (Schegloff 1996: 181). For instance, replacing the hintable with blah blah, using a DIU or a metalinguistic clue are all oriented to the identification of a particular response/action which is withheld in the design of a turn. Furthermore, the findings contribute to DIU literature by describing a new feature that helps mobilize the best guess or facilitate understanding rather than locating a trouble (Koshik 2002). It is also confirmed that DIUs are useful resources for doing hinting (Sert and Walsh 2013; Koshik 2002). Metalinguistic clues, on the other hand, are among the ways for initiating a sequence, which consequently reveals a conversation analytic respecification of their interactional functions in and through the unfolding of hinting sequences (also see Lin 2014; Waring 2015). Moreover, screen-based hintings are reported to occur similar to extended elicitation sequences (Mehan 1979); however, these are initiated with knowledge checks (i.e. referential questions) rather than known-answer questions.

The study has also largely drawn on Waring’s (2015) self-discovery research for an overall understanding of base hinting sequences. Her references to practices for promoting self-discovery have mainly informed the study in terms of blah blah replacements, DIUs, and metalinguistic clues. Blah blah replacements and metalinguistic clues have aligned with her taxonomy in that they have been used as resources for clearing the ground for a co-participant to discover the task solution. On the other hand, while Waring (2015) describes DIUs as devices for narrowing the location of an error for discovery in line with Koshik (2002), the current findings show that they can also be used for mobilizing a specific response (Stivers and Rossano 2010), thus narrowing the relevancy range of a next turn. In addition, Waring’s research has informed the stepwise screen-based hinting sequences in that she also focuses on proposing course of action by offering assistance in solving a problem. Each screen-based clue has been a step towards the completion of the task and has progressively shaped the sequential organization of hinting.

In conclusion, the study has both incorporated a great variety of previous research findings and used them as the basis for the conceptualization of hinting as a distinct social action in its context-specific sequential environment based on a collection of emergent conversation analytic findings. These findings have revealed diverse resources for doing pre- and base hinting, which might contribute to online interaction research by offering a research base for further conversation analytic investigations in online contexts. They also provide a number of pedagogical implications in that hinting is reportedly an intricate social action which might promote learner-learner interactions based on an interactional effort to recognize the hintables and subsequently to maintain the progressivity of interaction. Furthermore, hinting can be deployed as a resource in teacher talk to encourage learner contributions by attending to turn design features explored in the current study. Accordingly, tracking the emergence, development, and diversification of these resources for an understanding of whether their deployment by both the teachers and the learners is subject to change over time would contribute to research on L2 interaction (cf. Balaman 2018). Finally, the examination of hinting in various settings including everyday talk and different institutional contexts can potentially offer further insights into the sequential organization of hinting, which has been beyond the scope of the current study.


This study was partly presented in Interactional Competences and Practices in L2 (ICOP-L2) Conference at University of Neuchatel and was supported by la Commission de recherché du FNS a l’Universite de Neuchatel (subside de Fonds des donations). I would like to thank Olcay Sert and Safinaz Büyükgüzel for their valuable comments on an earlier version of this article.

Appendix: Transcription Conventions

1#Onset point of the screen-based activity surrounding the talk that is marked along with the lines of the transcript
#1Offset point of the screen-based activity surrounding the talk that is marked along with the lines of the transcript
1# …Continuation of the screen-based activity (used only within the screen-based activity illustrations)
IllustrationsCurrent screen of the participants who perform the screen-based activities
CirclesPoints on the screen where the participants either click or hold the cursor still
ArrowDirection of the cursor movements within the screen-based activity illustrations
Lines 2–5Duration of screen-based activity represented across lines in order to indicate the scope of each description
DescriptionsUnanalytical descriptions of the illustrated screen-based activities

These notations only include the additions to Jefferson (2004) transcription conventions.


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About the article

Ufuk Balaman

Ufuk Balaman is an Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics in the department of English Language Teaching at Hacettepe University, Turkey. He is also the director of Hacettepe University Micro-Analysis Network (HUMAN) Research Centre. His research primarily deals with online task-oriented L2 interaction using conversation analysis as research methodology. His recent publications appeared in Journal of Pragmatics, Computer Assisted Language Learning, ReCALL, and Language Learning & Technology. Address for correspondence: Hacettepe Üniversitesi, Beytepe Kampüsü, Eğitim Fakültesi B-Blok, Ofis: 305, PK: 06800 Çankaya/Ankara, TURKEY. Email: ubalaman@hacettepe.edu.tr.

Published Online: 2019-05-25

Published in Print: 2019-07-26

Citation Information: Text & Talk, Volume 39, Issue 4, Pages 511–534, ISSN (Online) 1860-7349, ISSN (Print) 1860-7330, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/text-2019-2038.

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