I use methods in Conversation Analysis, Interactional Linguistics, and Corpus Linguistics to analyze social actions (speech acts) in interaction – their linguistic formulations, visual and prosodic productions, and contextual environments – in everyday conversation and institutional conversations such as classroom interaction and political interviews in different sociocultural contexts.

Selected published peer-reviewed articles:

Zhou, Yan. 2022. Revisiting the modal verb huì with an interactional linguistic approach. Languages 7, no. 4: 294.

Zhou, Yan. 2022. Questioning Chinese government officials on a live broadcast TV program: shifted second-person pronouns and journalists’ stance and identity. Text & Talk.

Yan Zhou. 2021. Accented Mandarin and teaching linguistic diversity in the Chinese second language classroom. International Journal of Chinese Language Education 9, 147-178.

Tao, Hongyin, Liz Carter, Helen Wan, and Yan Zhou. 2021. Inclusive Education in Chinese as a Second/Foreign Language: An Overview and Research Agenda. International Journal of Chinese Language Education 9, 1-16.

Zhou, Y. 2020. The principle of proportionality: Consequentiality and promises in Mandarin conversation. Chinese Language and Discourse11(1), 107-133.

Zhou, Y. 2019. What are speakers doing when they pretend to be uncertain: Actions with a non-committal epistemic stance in Mandarin Conversation. Chinese Language and Discourse10(2), 187-223.


Promising and commitment to future actions in Mandarin conversation

Dianshi Wenzheng, ‘Questioning Officials on TV,’ Wuhan TV station, July 2012

In my dissertation, “Promising and Commitment to Future Actions in Mandarin Conversation,” I adopt Conversation Analysis and Interactional Linguistic methodologies to study how Mandarin speakers design and recognize commissive actions (e.g., promise, offer, granting a request) with multimodal resources in different interactional contexts.

My data includes conversations between journalists and government officials on a live broadcast TV program from Mainland China (电视问政 ‘Questioning Officials’) and ordinary conversations among family and friends.

For instance, what kind of promises are considered “big” promises? What are the linguistic or non-linguistic features of these “big” promises, and how “big” should your promises be? My research shows that the more severe the consequence of the promised action is, the “bigger” promise people make.

As a part of my graduate certificate in the Digital Humanities program at UCLA, I started my first DH project on promises made by American politicians in Professor Miriam Posner’s DH201 class and will expand this project by comparing politicians’ promises from the U.S. and China. 

Epistemic stance in Mandarin conversation

You might have noticed that people say “maybe” a lot! Epistemic stance refers to the degree of the speaker’s commitment (how certain) to the proposition uttered in the speech. Many studies have shown that speakers tend to downgrade their certainty in conversations in order to follow the politeness norms (Brown and Levinson, 1987). My research examines what social actions speakers accomplish in those situations. This study also finds that Chinese speakers seem to “pretend” to be uncertain even more often than English speakers! Check out my paper here!

Interaction between Chinese politicians and journalists

This project aims to reveal patterns of political discourse and media communication in the People’s Republic of China.

My first article on this project, “Questioning Chinese government officials on live broadcast Television: Shifting second-person pronouns and Journalists’ stance and identity,” reports that Chinese journalists shift between nin and ni when questioning officials to indicate their negative stances towards the officials and to highlight their professional identity as the “watchdog” of the local government.

Inclusivity in the Chinese as a second language classroom

An inclusive classroom is a safe and supportive learning community that recognizes and respects every member’s values, identities, and cultures. It requires teachers and students to stand against any forms of explicit or implicit biases of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity, immigration status, or any other protected classification. 
Research shows that groups with higher social diversity share more information and perform better than those with lower social diversity. 

In the current Chinese as a second language (CSL) field, however, teaching materials and pedagogical practices relevant to inclusive classrooms have not been extensively discussed yet. To call for teachers’ and researchers’ attention and to promote inclusive teaching in the CSL field, I collaborated with colleagues at UCLA on the Inclusive Teaching in the CSL Classroom project.

Recent results of our project include a special issue, Inclusive Education in Chinese as a Second/Foreign Language published in the International Journal of Chinese Education, an open-access website with resources for researchers and instructors (supported by the Mellon-EPIC innovation Grant at UCLA), and a UC- wide symposium participated by CSL instructors from other University of California campuses.

Multimodal COVID-19 Conversation between unacquainted speakers on Zoom

Talking to someone who is unacquainted with us is a common scenario in everyday social life. In these initial interactions, interlocutors must establish common ground (Clark 1996) – including communal knowledge of cultural practices, personal information, and affective common ground driven by the affiliation imperative (Enfield 2008). While previous studies have analyzed various issues in this type of interaction (Pillet-Shore 2011), this collaborative multilingual project analyzes conversations on the traumatic COVID-19 experiences on Zoom.

In the first stage of research, our team members focus on a universal practice in conversations: laughter. Drawing on video-recorded Zoom conversations in English, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Thai, we investigate how laughter is used to form common ground, display (dis) affiliative stances, and mitigate dispreferred actions in these initial conversations on Zoom. The initial results will be presented at the 18th International Pragmatics Association in Brussels in the summer of 2023.

Social interaction in massively multiplayer online video games

Human interaction is fundamentally cooperative and is based on joint attention (Tomasello 2008; Tomasello 2009). Online video games, especially massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, nowadays have become a mainstream leisure activity. Although some studies report negative effects of playing video games (Greitemeyer & Mügge 2014), recent studies show that multiplayer collaborative video games facilitate pro-social behaviors as they provide a “meeting place” for players from diverse backgrounds to experience sociality (Voida & Greenberg 2009).

However, social interaction in the virtual world of MMO games is more challenging than in the real world. MMO games are mostly designed with a first-person perspective, and players complete tasks by controlling the actions of their avatars. Such a design provides limited visual access to the space and other players’ activities (Manninen & Kujanpää 2005). How do players achieve various types of collaboration with the constrained set of resources and even coordinate activities that are not possible in the real world? My project aims to answer this question by conducting empirical analyses using Conversation Analysis and Interactional Linguistics methods.

My first manuscript of this project will discuss how competent players collaborate on non-task-related joint activities, or “just for fun” activities, on a popular MMO game, Sea of Thieves. Preliminary analysis shows that: (1) players actively engage in both spontaneous joint activities and coordinated joint activities, (2) actions taken by the avatars on the screen are controlled by players in a sequentially organized manner, and (3) players adopt verbal, vocal, and visual resources to complete the joint activities in the virtual world just as conversation participants do in face-to-face interactions.

This project will expand the scope of CA and IL studies on social interaction and contributes to the understanding of the pro-social feature of online video games. Empirical findings in this study will also have direct implications for video game design.

The initial result of this project will be presented at the 20th World Congress of the International Association of Applied Linguistics in Lyon and the 18th International Pragmatics Association in Brussels in the summer 2023.

Other publications

Gui, T., & Zhou, Y. (2021). A survey of Shanghainese dialect: its current situation and future. Journal of Student Research10(2).

This is a student project that I advised in 2020. In this project, my advisee Tian’ao Gui surveyed more than 180 Shanghai residents regarding their usage of Shanghainese at work and in everyday life. Results show a dramatic decline in Shanghainese usage among the young generation.

Zhou, Yan. (2016). A corpus-based study on the verb-noun collocation of the psychological verbs in the “cherish category” in Mandarin Chinese and its CFL pedagogical implications. Studies in Chinese Learning and Teaching, issue 2, 29-45. 

Li, Tong, and Zhou, Yan. (2015). A Study on the Semantic Collocation of Disyllabic Cognitive Psychological Verbs and Noun Objects. Journal of Yunnan Normal University (Teaching and Research on Chinese as a Foreign Language),13(2), 10-16.