Themes in discourse research: The case of Diana
Themes in discourse research: The case of Diana

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Themes in discourse research: The case of Diana

1.9 Discursive practices continued

1.9.1 ‘I dunno’

In his analysis of Extract 5, Potter focuses on the phrase ‘I dunno’, which appears at the beginning and at the end of Diana's last turn above. This phrase seems throwaway, just one fragment, yet perhaps it illustrates something about people's methods or discursive practices more widely. Why is that phrase there? What work does it do? Given the point made in the previous section that events can always be described differently, why this description of this kind of mental state at this point in the conversation?

Potter proceeds by looking through various corpora of discursive data for other examples of the use of ‘I don't know’ and he argues on the basis of this that ‘I don't know’ appearing at particular points in conversations can be a method for doing what he calls stake innoculation. Potter suggests that questions of stake are key concerns of participants in an interaction. People treat each other as having vested interests, desires, motives and allegiances (as having a stake in some position or other) and this is a problem if one wants one's version of events to be heard as authoritative and persuasive, factual, not interested or biased but the simple, plain, unvarnished truth. I noted earlier how Diana manages to do indirect criticisms attentive to the ways in which such criticism might be heard. People have developed ways, then, of managing stake, inoculating against the appearance of having some interest.

Potter suggests that Diana's use of ‘I dunno’ works in this way. He argues that the topic of the conversation in the extract above – Diana's participation in Morton's book – is a controversial issue for her where her motives (was she just trying to get back at Charles?) have been frequently discussed in the media. Further

the placement of the ‘I dunno's’ in the Princess's talk is precisely where the issue of motive is most acute. For the Princess to accept that the book was part of a planned and strategic campaign to present a particular view of the royal marriage and her role in it would be potentially culpable. The ‘I dunno's’ present her as not sure of the role of the book, perhaps thinking it fully over for the first time . . . the vagueness here is rather neatly in tune with both the ‘on the hoof’ quality presented by the ‘I dunno's'; and the non-verbal finessing of the phrase with a look into the distance as though searching for the answer (in the first instance), and then shaking her head as though it is a difficult question which she did not have a ready or clear answer for (in the second instance).

(Potter, 1997: 157)


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371