Conversation Openings and Closings

Seminar Paper, 2002

16 Pages, Grade: 2,3 (B)



A) Introduction

B) Conversation Openings and Closings
1. Conversation Analysis
1.1 Basics
1.2 Adjacency Pairs
1.3 Preference Organisation
2. Openings
2.1 Summons-Answer
2.2 Identification and Recognition
2.3 Mobile Telephones and Number Identification
3. Closings
3.1 Closing Section and Terminal Exchange
3.2 Closing Components and Pre-Closings

C) Conclusion


A) Introduction

Every conversation is different from all others. Nobody ever had exactly the same private conversation again, even if he conversed about the same topic. Nevertheless there are certain items in conversations that are very alike or completely alike, and which seem to be build on certain schemes. Places in conversations where these schemes occur are openings and closings.

The aim of this paper is to examine the mechanisms behind this phenomenon and to examine if and how these mechanisms have changed since they were first examined by Schegloff and other linguists in the 1970’s. For providing the necessary background information, I will first give some basic features of conversation analysis which are important for the topic, before moving on to conversation openings and finally to conversation closings.

In openings I will especially focus on the summons-answer structure, identification and recognition as well as on the changes that had to be made and were made to the structure since the establishment of number identification. Closings will be examined by their components and the different possibilities they provide will be analysed.

As stated by Levinson (1983: 309) telephone conversation is one of “social activities effectively constituted by talk itself“. This is, that the conversation is not disturbed in its pureness by extra-linguistic features like “physical doings and positionings” (Schegloff 1973: 323). Participating hearers have to interpret the utterances with nothing more than voice, words, intonation and pauses which can be analysed linguistically. Also the beginnings and endings – and because of that also the opening and closing places - of such conversation can clearly be determined, as telephone conversation usually has a duration of the time of the call. Therefore telephone conversation is most suitable for linguistic research and I will focus on such conversation only (Schegloff 1973: 325).

B) Conversation Openings and Closings

1. Conversation Analysis

1.1 Basics

Conversation analysis is a linguistic discipline that mainly handles coherence and sequential organisation in discourse – for example the opening and closing sequences (Levinson 1983: 286). The openings and closings of conversations were examined by its findings. It was observed in empirical studies how they are produced and understood. Recurring patterns were searched for and theory developed from them. Conversation analysis claims that the existence of certain mechanisms that guide our conversations (Levinson 1983: 287). Conversations have two levels of organisation: a local management system and an overall organisation. The overall organisation contains the organisation of topic talk[1].

Other parts of conversations in overall organisation than the topic talk are the opening section and the closing section which I will discuss in detail later on.

The local management system is the one that makes conversation work. A conversation can be defined as a string of at least two turns produced by different speakers. In it at least but not more than one person should normally talk at a time. The mechanism that assures this is the one of turn-taking. At the end of turn-constructional units - these units are syntactic units like sentences - the speaker can change. Such a point is called transition relevance place. The system only works from one speaker to the next one and therefore local[2] (Levinson 1983: 297).

1.2 Adjacency Pairs

Adjacency pairs are a basic feature of conversation analysis that is very important for conversation openings and closings, as they are used in both of them. They can be characterised as paired utterances that are divided into a first pair part and a second pair part. The speaker who produces the first pair part selects the type of the second pair part. Adjacency pairs are typed and a certain first pair part requires a certain second pair part[3] (Schegloff 1973 in Levinson 1983: 303). The feature of adjacency does not always have to be fulfilled. The first and the second pair part can be many utterances apart[4]. They rather are conditional relevant; this is that the utterance of a first pair part

makes a second pair part necessary and waited for (Levinson 1983: 306). Examples for first pair parts are questions, greetings, challenges, invitations.

1.3 Preference Organisation

Another feature is the preference organisation of second pair parts of adjacency pairs. It is closely related to linguistic markedness. Marked – or in adjacency pairs: dispreferred - utterances are structurally more complicated than unmarked – or in adjacency pairs: preferred - ones. These complications consist in delays, prefaces like ‘well` and accounts of why this utterance is made[5] (Levinson 1983: 307).

2. Openings

2.1 Summons-Answer

Coulthard (1985: 89) states conversations are normally opened by greetings. Exclusions from this are conversations among stranger or telephone conversations.

Nevertheless the first utterance in a telephone conversation often is a ‘hello’. According to Schegloff (1968) this ‘hello’ is an answer to a summons[6] and no greeting. Summons-answer structures are best known in a similar form to the one in the following example:

(1) Terasaki, 1976: 12, 13 in Levinson 1983: 309

(a) A: Jim?

B: Yeah?

Here A’s utterance is the summons and B’s the answer to it.

Schegloff (1968: 1081) suggests that “a completed SA [SA for Summons-Answer; E.K.] sequence cannot properly stand as the final exchange of a conversation”. They have to be seen as introduction to further talk which gives a reason for the summons. So the adjacency pair summons-answer actually is three-paired as obvious in the following example:

(2) Atkinson & Drew, 1979: 46 in Levinson 1983: 309

Ch: Mummy

M: Yes dear


Ch: I want a cloth to clean (the) windows

The summons-answer only is an announcement that something else is coming and waited for.


[1] Topic talk in the meaning of the several topics that are handled with in a conversation (Schegloff 1973: 300)

[2] For the main features of turn-taking in more detail see for example Levinson (1983: 296-303)

[3] This is not entirely true. For certain first pair parts several possibilities for a second pair part exist -e.g. questions can have answers, re-routers and others as second pair parts. (Levinson 1983: 307)

[4] Between them are so called insertion sequences that are most often used to sort out preliminaries (Levinson 1983: 304)

[5] What is meant here becomes more clearly with adjacency pairs: a preferred second pair part to an invitation is an acceptance a dispreferred is a denial. With denials often explanations are given why it is not possible to accept and the performer hesitates to speak.

[6] Summons-answer structures are adjacency pairs with the summons as first pair part and the answer as a second pair part

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Conversation Openings and Closings
University of Bayreuth  (English Linguistics)
Speech acts and conversational principles
2,3 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
527 KB
Conversation, Openings, Closings, Speech
Quote paper
Eva Kiss (Author), 2002, Conversation Openings and Closings, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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