Full Text

Small Talk and Gossip

Justine Coupland

Subject Sociology
Communication Studies » Language and Social Interaction

Key-Topics language

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


The need for the companionship of others is one of the fundamental features of human social nature, and talk is a primary form of human communion. “Small” talk is a type of talk through which we mark co-presence, e.g., the mutual recognition provided by threat-reducing talk to strangers in a lift or neighboring airline seat. This need to commune through speech is also enacted across distances (intimacy-confirming phone calls, texts, emails to significant others, friends, family). Within small talk, what is talked about may matter less to participants than the interpersonal significance of talking at all – in a range of social contexts – from intimate, playful encounters (e.g. “pillow” talk) to formal, hierarchical gatherings (e.g., in breaking the ice at the beginning of a job interview). Hence the recent emphasis within research on social interaction on the social functioning of small talk ( Coupland 2000 ). Small talk constructs social cohesion, reduces the inherent threat value of social encounters, and helps to structure social interaction. As humans, we have significant emotional investment in the impressions others gain of us ( Goffman 1972 ), so our social competence, as displayed through our use of small talk, is crucial to our well-being (→  Impression Management ). Some of the more formulaic aspects of small talk, as often used in service encounters, e.g., enable servers ... log in or subscribe to read full text

Log In

You are not currently logged-in to Blackwell Reference Online

If your institution has a subscription, you can log in here:


     Forgotten your password?

Find out how to subscribe.

Your library does not have access to this title. Please contact your librarian to arrange access.

[ access key 0 : accessibility information including access key list ] [ access key 1 : home page ] [ access key 2 : skip navigation ] [ access key 6 : help ] [ access key 9 : contact us ] [ access key 0 : accessibility statement ]

Blackwell Publishing Home Page

Blackwell Reference Online ® is a Blackwell Publishing Inc. registered trademark
Technology partner: Semantico Ltd.

Blackwell Publishing and its licensors hold the copyright in all material held in Blackwell Reference Online. No material may be resold or published elsewhere without Blackwell Publishing's written consent, save as authorised by a licence with Blackwell Publishing or to the extent required by the applicable law.

Back to Top