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Published September 25, 2020 | Version v1
Journal article Open

The inference making machine meets the epistemic engine



This paper discusses a lecture by Harvey Sacks on ‘The Inference-Making Machine’, originally delivered in 1964 and included in the posthumously published collection of his transcribed lectures, and then critically juxtaposes Sacks' analysis with recent work in sociology and linguistics on the topic of ‘epistemics’ in conversation. Sacks' lecture discusses an extract from a phone call in which the caller relates a story about a domestic difficulty, and the recipient (an employee of a suicide prevention center, who was unacquainted with the caller) admonishes the caller for not telling the whole story and formulates the missing detail. Sacks makes a series of observations about the practical reasoning the social service agent uses to infer the missing detail. His analysis contrasts with that of some recent studies that assign higher ‘epistemic status’ to speakers who present first-hand as opposed to second-hand accounts of the events in assertions, assessments and stories. The present paper uses the comparison with Sacks' analysis to extend a recent dispute about ‘epistemic’ analyses of conversation, and also examines an instance from a recent publication on police interrogations of suspects also to question the way professional sociolinguistic analysts attribute ‘epistemic status’ to participants in conversational exchanges.


+Sprache: eng.


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