Linguistic and discourse analysis of a dinner-conversation

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

26 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2.1 Definition of Turn-taking
2.2 Speaker changes at non-CTRP, interruption, overlap and simultaneous speech
2.3 Conversational gaps
2.5 Repair mechanism
2.6 Notes on narrative strategies

3. Analysis of the data
3.1 Turn-taking
3.2 First transcript
3.3 Second transcript

4. Summary

5. Literature


1. Introduction

In this paper I present two transcripts that I have taken out of a dinner conversation I had with my boyfriend. My objectives are twofold. The first is to analyze the data linguistically with methods that were introduced by conversational analysis, and the second is to interpret the findings from a pragmatic point of view, thus employing an approach that is close to interactional sociolinguistics. Therefore, the approach to discourse analysis by Gee (2005), which he called “D/discourse analysis”, is taken into account. He established the notions “discourse” as “language-in-use”, and “Discourse” with a “big D” that is the “discourse” together with non-linguistic devices in order to perform specific identities and activities.

In the beginning of this paper, the terms of conversational analysis will be defined, with a concentration on the definitions given by the classical article “Systematics for the organization of turn-taking” by Sacks, Schleghoff & Jefferson, as well as the more recent and differentiated article by Ford & Thompson.

. The next part is devoted to the application of the theory to my data. The defined notions of conversational analysis will be applied, while the pragmatic point of view will be taken into consideration for the interpretation. Furthermore, each of the transcripts will be analyzed individually, and the discourses that they feature will be examined. That is for the first transcript the discourse of corrections, and for the second one, the narrative strategies.

2.1 Definition of Turn-taking

According to Sacks et al. “turn-taking seems a basic form of organization for conversation” (1974, p.700). In their study, one of the most important and most cited in the field, they present the following recurring patterns of turn-taking in English conversation:

(1) Speaker-change recurs, or at least occurs.
(2) Overwhelmingly, one party talks at a time.
(3) Occurrences of more than one speaker at a time are common, but brief.
(4) Transitions (from one turn to a next) with no gap and no overlap are common. Together with transition characterized by slight gap or slight overlap, they make up the vast majority of transitions.
(5) Turn order is not fixed, but varies.
(6) Turn size is not fixed, but varies.
(7) Length of conversation is not specified in advance.
(8) What parties say is not specified in advance.
(9) Relative distribution of turns is not specified in advance.
(10) Number of parties can vary.
(11) Talk can be continuous or discontinuous.
(12) Turn-allocation techniques are obviously used. A current speaker may select a next speaker (as when he addresses a question to another party); or parties may self-select in select in starting to talk.
(13) Various ‘turn-constructional units’ are employed; e.g. turns can be projectedly ‘one word long’, or they can be sentential in length.
(14) Repair mechanism exist for dealing with turn-taking errors and violation; e.g., if two parties find themselves talking at the same time, one of them will stop prematurely, thus repairing the trouble.

Furthermore, Sacks et al. established the notion of the turn-allocation component, which dictates that the “next turn is allocated by current speaker’s selection next speaker” or “next turn is allocated by self-selection” (1974, p.703). The turn-taking can only occur on transition-relevant places (TRP), which are viewed as the possible completion of a turn-constructional unit (TCU) – a sentential, clausal, phrasal, or lexical construction (Oreström, 1983). The basic set of rules that governs turn construction, including the allocation of a next turn indicated to the other party and the coordinated transfer to minimize gaps or overlaps, either involves the ‘current speaker select next’ technique or does not. In the first case employing the technique, the selected party has the right, and is also obliged to take the turn. If, instead, no selection of the current speaker has taken place, the next speaker may, but does not need to, self-select her/himself for the next speakership. Alternatively, the current speaker may, but need not, continue until the next TRP (Sacks et al., 1974).

Questions have been raised about the models of TRP and TCU by Sacks et al. (Edmondson, 1981; Owen 1981) because it is not clearly defined how the speaker can recognize the TRP or predict when a TCU is completed if there are no syntactic or intonational cues. Consequently, other scholars (Duncan 1972, 1973; Duncan & Niedereche 1974; Duncan & Fiske 1977; Ball 1975) have included more cues that indicate the TRP.

In order to avoid confusion, this paper will mainly consider the model developed by Ford and Thompson (1996). Constructed on the TRP, Ford and Thompson introduced the notion of complex transition relevance places (CTRP), as well as differentiated the completion points from Sacks et al. (1974) into grammatical completion points, intonational completion points and semantic completion points.

For identifying the grammatical completion points, the following criteria are considered: appropriate grammar, such as “…and I put a reminder on this…”(line 98) because ‘put’ is a two-place predicate; the increments, that is words and phrases that appear after the first grammatical argument and recoverable predicates, which are considered to form complete clauses, includes elliptical clauses, answers to questions and reactive tokens.

The intonational completion points are determined by the final intonation contours, including periods for final falling and question marks for final rising.

The third category, the semantic completion points, includes the notions of floor right, floor-claiming utterance, proposition and reactive token. The floor right, which is the speaker’s right to talk, can be acquired by the speaker’s status or obtained in the course of the inaction, such as being selected as the next speaker or being asked a question. When the right to hold the floor has expired, the semantic unit is considered to be completed. The floor claiming utterances are words or phrases that proclaim a longer turn, such as ‘for example’ or “What I was trying to make with…”(L.81), projecting an upcoming explanation about an example or ‘what` refers to. When, instead, these semantic indication points are not made, a semantic completion point is assumed after each proposition. The last notion of reactive tokens refers to utterances that have no full structure of a sentence but are, however, considered as semantically complete because they can carry out recognizable actions. According to Clancy et al. (1996) they are divided into five categories, which are: backchannel, reactive expression, repetition, collaborative finish, laughter, and short statement. These categories are also characterized as non-floor-taking turns (i.e. the current speaker remains).

2.2 Speaker changes at non-CTRP, interruption,
overlap and simultaneous speech

In the previous section, the point in the conversation, called CTRP, where a speaker change could take place, were discussed, as well as the conditions for the CTRP that are the grammatical, intonational, and semantic completion points.

Although Sacks et al. assumed that turn-taking can only occur on TRP, Ford & Thompson (1996) discussed “speaker changes at non-CTRPs” (Furo, 2001, p.93). They demonstrated different motivations for this case, which are: giving a backchannel, expressing an emotional reaction (reactive expression), repeating the previous speaker’s utterance, laughter, adding information, correcting the previous speaker’s utterance, asking for clarification, asking a question, showing strong agreement, showing a disagreement, and introducing a new topic.


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Linguistic and discourse analysis of a dinner-conversation
University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
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Steffi Kny (Author), 2006, Linguistic and discourse analysis of a dinner-conversation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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