Communication ETDs


Danielle Kvam

Publication Date



In this dissertation, I investigate the uses and meanings (Hymes, 1972/1986) of various metacommunicative terms, or "talk about talk" (Philipsen, 1992, p. 72) of a speech community. This speech community is comprised of Latin American immigrants residing in the United States and the staff members who serve them at an immigrant support center (ISC hereafter). I apply Hymes's (1962, 1972/1986, 1974) ethnography of communication to investigate the uses and meanings of the metacommunicative practices of the ISC speech community, which I treat as demonstrating communication practices available for speakers at ISC. In addition to investigating their metacommunicative practices, I also explore the "relational alignments", or "understandings of the self, other(s), and self and others" (Covarrubias, 2002, p. 33) that manifest in ISC community members' talk and mediate their use of various metacommunicative terms. To begin my investigation, I conducted a pilot study at ISC that included 2 months of participant observation of everyday talk at ISC, 7 in-depth interviews with ISC participants and staff, and the collection of public documents produced by ISC participants and staff (Lindlof & Taylor, 2011). Building on the findings from the pilot study, I conducted the main study for the current research, which included five months of participant observation at ISC, in-depth interviews with 30 ISC participants and staff members, and collection of the public documents they produced. I apply Strauss and Corbin (1990) and Charmaz's (2006) coding procedures to analyze the data and generate themes. To provide context for these themes, I draw from the literature concerning speech codes theory (Philipsen, 1992, 1997; Philipsen, Coutu, & Covarrubias, 2005), metacommunication (Carbaugh, 1989; Carbaugh, Berry, & Nurmikari-Berry, 2006; Carbaugh, Boromisza-Habashi, & Ge, 2006; Leighter & Black, 2010; Leighter & Castor, 2009; Katriel, 1986), communication and immigration (Amaya, 2007; Cheng, 2012; de Fina & King, 2011; Henry, 1999; Kim, 1977, 2005; Santa, Ana, Morán, & Sanchez, 1998; Sowards & Pineda, 2013), and Latin American immigration (Hagan, 1998; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 1994, 2003; Menjívar, 2000, 2003, Parrado & Flippen, 2005; Pessar, 2003). I identified 24 available communication practices for speakers at ISC, marked by the use of different metacommunicative terms. I apply Carbaugh's (1989) theory of metacommunication to categorize each practice based on its level (act, event, style), describe the content transmitted via the practice, and identify its functions. Then, I identified six relational alignments (Covarrubias, 2002) that I treat as mediating, or making these communication practices meaningful for the ISC speech community. Given these findings, I propose that ISC staff members may leverage the uses and meanings (Hymes, 1972/1986) of these available communication practices for ISC community members, by creating programming that utilizes these communication practices. Furthermore, the relational alignments (Covarrubias, 2002) that ISC community members implicate through their talk can be fostered to assist in the utilization of the culturally relevant programming created at ISC. Therefore, increased knowledge related to the available communication practices and relationships through which these practices are meaningful can increase accessibility and thus the utilization of resources offered at ISC. Access and utilization of ISC's resources assists Latin American immigrants in making lives in the United States. Furthermore, I propose that communication itself serves as a resource (Leighter & Castor, 2009) that provides more than an information giving and receiving function (Carbaugh, 1989) for its users and is therefore worthy of specific investigation.




Latin American immigration, Metacommunication, Ethnography of Communication

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Covarrubias, Patricia

First Committee Member (Chair)

Rodriguez, Ilia

Second Committee Member

Oetzel, John

Third Committee Member

Tiano, Susan