A Dinner Conversation. Linguistic and Sociolinguistic Analysis of a Conversation

Term Paper, 2020

12 Pages, Grade: 2,3



1 Introduction

2 Theory of Conversational Analysis
2.1 Definition of Conversation
2.2 Turn - Taking
2.3 Adjacency Pairs
2.4 Preference Organization
2.5 Repair
2.6 Problems in Conversations

3 Transcription of “Random Dinner Conversations” (Jefferson Transcription)

4 Analysis of the Dinner Conversation

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

In this paper, a transcript has been taken out of a dinner conversation found on the video platform ‘youtube'. The objectives are to analyse the data linguistically with methods that were introduced by conversational analysis, to interpret findings from a pragmatic point of view, thus employing an approach that is close to interactional sociolinguistics. This paper is divided into three parts: The first one is a theoretical approach where several topics will be explained. The second one is a presentation of an authentic dinner conversation of three people which is transcribed. The last part is the text analysis. It includes proving the different linguistic topics by means of the theoretical approach. The defined notions of conversational analysis will be applied, while the pragmatic point of view will be taken into consideration for the interpretation. Moreover, each of the transcripts will be analysed individually and the discourses that they feature will be examined.

2 Theory of Conversational Analysis

2.1 Definition of Conversation

When discussing conversation from a linguistic perspective, it is important to know how this term is defined in this context. In everyday language use, conversation is often understood as some kind of ‘civilized art of talk' or ‘cultured interchange' (Schegloff 1968: 1075). Conversation Analysis defines conversation in a different way. First of all, it is presented to be a “familiar predominant kind of talk in which two or more participants freely alternate in speaking” (Levinson 1983: 284) and the “central or most basic kind of language use” (Levinson 1983: 285). This means that in conversation, several persons speak in the way we do it every day, without a special set of rules according to which the participants are to act, like in a courtroom. “The conversation meant here can be a conversation between old friends, a short talk between strangers, a call to a business- partner and so on” (Kiss 2003: 6).

All these aspects I featured so far are not enough to completely define Conversation. Sacks disserts in (Coulthard 1985: 69) that “a conversation is a string of at least two turns” (Couthard 1985: 69). This is also shown by Schegloff and Sacks who call this “speaker change” (Sacks & Schegloff 1973: 293). They add another essential aspect to the basics of conversation which was taken by all Conversation Analysis researchers. “At least, and no more than, one party speaks at a time in a single conversation” (Sacks & Schegloff 1973: 293).

To understand the basic features in the organisation of conversations I want to illustrate the turn-taking system.

2.2 Turn - Taking

A conversation requires several parties who speak, but only one party should speak at a time. This is when the operation of turn - taking takes place. One speaker is meant to speak as long as the duration of his turn allows him to speak. It is difficult to find out when the speaker's turn is over and when a new speaker is “allowed” to speak. But when do listeners begin preparing the response?

Levinson (2015) examined the time course of listeners' prespeech inbreaths, which have been shown to be related to response preparation. It has been shown that listeners took inbreaths after the end of the speaker's utterance, suggesting listeners may have reacted to turn final signals displayed at the end of the speaker's utterance. “However, it is not clear whether inbreaths index articulation or earlier stages of response preparation. As a result, we cannot determine how much of their response listeners prepared before they took an inbreath” (Corps, Gambi, Picering, 2018).

If the case arises, that listeners only begin to prepare the utterance before the speaker has finished his utterance, then they are not able to prepare their whole response before articulation. To avoid long time gaps between utterances, they have to plan their response successively and simultaneously as they articulate this response. There is an evidence that listeners “listeners could begin articulation very early, perhaps after they have prepared the first syllable of their utterance, while simultaneously planning and preparing subsequent parts of their response.“ (Corps, Gambi, Pickering, 2018).

If the speaker wants to lengthen his utterance, it is important to know that there exist several techniques. On the one hand a speaker's turn contains a syntactic unit, which means the Turn Constructional Unit - or TCU. This unit can consist of utterances like mhm and long sentences with several clauses. These are flexible syntactic units and they can vary tremendously in their length (Levinson 1983: 297).

Another technique is the incompletion marker. Incompletion markers exist at the beginning of turns and often have the form of subordinators. The subordinators will inform other participants that the turn will not be finished as soon as possible, but that the turn is lengthened. Another way of incompletion markers and to lengthen the turn, is to structure the turn in advance. Before one is making his turn, he informs people for example I’d like to make two points. No one expects him to be finished after the first point (Coulthard 1985: 64).

In addition, there exists the utterance incompletion. Sometimes an and or but is used, to add something to the turn at the possible end of a TCU as a clause connector. This technique is more problematic than the of incompletion markers because other participants might have expected the end of the turn before the speaker and or but utters. Therefore, an overlap could occur. Actually, 28% of overlap happen with this technique (Coulthard 1985: 64).

As a participant in a conversation, one wants to know when the speaker has finished his turn and another participant is allowed to speak, so everyone agrees. This phenomenon is set by a number of rules which will be explained in the following paragraph.

The Transition Relevance Place or TRP explains how a transition could be managed successfully. The rules exist to select the next speaker after a turn is finished. In a conversation, the current speaker could address another participant during his turn. At the next TRP the current speaker stops, the addressed participant gets the next turn. This is also called next - speaker pre - selection. When the current speaker doesn't pre - select, any other participant is allowed to choose himself to take the turn. At this point the participant to gets the turn first, has the right to speak. In case, this rule doesn't take place because no one was pre - selected by the current speaker and no participant decides to take the chance to speak after a turn, the current speaker has still the right to continue his turn for the length of another TCU and all rules apply again at the next TRP (Levinson 1983: 298).

To sum it up, there are four rules of Turn - Taking: “The rule of next - speaker pre - selection, the one of self- selection, the one of current - speaker self - selection and finally the rule after what happens after a current - speaker self - selection” (Kiss 2003: 9).

The rules only describe the part of turn - taking from the current to the next speaker. “An application of the rules on turns after the next turn is not possible, because such a provision would not meet our definition of conversation” (Kiss 2003: 9). As long as the turn - taking system “operates on a turn - by - turn basis”, it also can be described as a local management system (Levinson 1983: 297).

2.3 Adjacency Pairs

Richard Nordquist, an English and Rhetoric Professor at the University of Georgia has written the article “Adjacency Pair (Conversation Analysis)” (2020). He describes Adjacency Pair as the following: “In conversation analysis, an adjacency pair is a two-part exchange in which the second utterance is functionally dependent on the first, as exhibited in conventional greetings, invitations, and requests. It is also known as the concept of nextness. Each pair is spoken by a different person”.

As previously mentioned, the current speaker of a conversation can select another speaker, by addressing him. This kind of address is often used in the form of a first part of an adjacency pair. It is a part of an utterance which has the length of two utterances, is adjacent, produced by different speakers, typed and ordered as a first part and a second part. Adjacency pairs are sequences like question - answer, greeting - greeting or offer - refusal. (Coulthard 1985: 69)

These exchanges are even extended by Thornbury and Slade: “Adjacency pairs include such exchanges as (...), complaint/denial; offer/accept; request/grant; compliment/rejection; challenge/rejection, and instruct/receipt.” (Thornbury, Slade, 2006)

The Turn - taking and adjacency pairs are close connected. Meaning that having an adjacency pair is a type of turn - taking. Generally, it is regarded as “the smallest unit of conversational exchange” (Nodquist 2020) and thereby the first part of the pair conditions what is used in the second part. In case no second part exists, it is recognizably missing and waited for. This expectation of a second pair part is called conditional relevance. The conditional relevance can replace an adjacency pair's characteristic of being adjacent. (Levinson 1983: 306) Nevertheless, it not indispensable that adjacency pairs have to be adjacent. In many cases, the first and the second part of an adjacency pair are many utterances apart. Between these parts are the so - called insertion sequences. They are used to reject preliminaries which are important for the performance of the second pair part. (Levinson 1983: 304)

Necessarily, something must be uttered on the receiver's part because “silence, such as a look of confusion on the receiver's part, does not count as part of an adjacency pair, as to be a component of such a pair” (Nordquist 2020). Either the speaker rephrases the statement or he continues until the second part of the pair occurs. For instance, “questions could be asked as a follow - up to questions can also split apart adjacency pairs, as the answer to the first has to until the follow - up question is answered” (Nordquist 2020). It has to be considered, that the second part must be related to the first one.

2.4 Preference Organization

The second parts of adjacency pairs can be categorized into preferred and dispreferred second parts. Preference and dispreference, are linguistic concepts, although a psychological background certainly exists. (Levinson 1983: 307)

The difference between these parts takes place in their structure: While the preferred seconds are categorized simpler, the dispreferred parts occur in a more complex form. The complexity can be divided in to: Delay, Preface and Account. (Levinson 1983: 307)

Delay can arise in various forms. While preferred seconds are mostly delivered immediately, dispreferred seconds are often marked by a pause before their occur. In that event, the speaker can use the pause as a chance to avoid a dispreferred second and establish repair. (Levinson 1983: 334)

In situations, where the repair initiator is not taken up for repair, a dispreferred second will be achieved with further features of dispreference. Endeavors of avoiding dispreference are simultaneously insertion sequences. A final form of delay as part of dispreference is the use of preface. (Levinson 1983: 334)

Prefaces can either appear at the beginning of the turn or affect the structure of the whole turn. If they occur at the beginning of a turn like oh or ah or other hesitations like for instance self - editing, they have the form of markers. In matters where the preface affects the structure of the whole turn, they are mostly linked to positive utterances which shall reduce the dispreferred effect. This can be accomplished by the production of token agreements or an appreciation or by the usage of apologies or qualifiers like for instance I don’t know for sure, but.... (Levinson 1983: 334)

2.5 Repair

The form of repair occurs when a speaker has to correct problems while speaking, hearing and understanding. In this case, the speaker is aware of his “speech error and repeats what has been said with some sort of correction.” (Nordquist 2019). The linguistic term of repair is characterized by a possible stumble, hesitation and is occasionally regarded as a sort of dysfluency.

Repair can be categorized in several classifications:

- “Self - repair”: corrections, made by speakers themselves responsible
- “Other - repair”: made by interlocutor
- “self - initiated”: made by a speaker without querying or prompting
- “other - initiated”: made in response to querying or prompting (Matthews 1997)

2.6 Problems in Conversations

Problems can occur in different forms. On the one hand there is the rule “at least, and no more than, one party speaks at a time in a single conversation” (Sacks & Schegloff 1973: 293). On the other hand, there are the consequences by disregarding this rule which can take two different shapes.

If no one is speaking, vocalization is absent and silence steps in. These silences can have the forms of gaps, lapses, or attributable silences. (Levinson 1983: 299)


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A Dinner Conversation. Linguistic and Sociolinguistic Analysis of a Conversation
University of Leipzig
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dinner, conversation, linguistic, analysis
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Nikolai Hoffmeister (Author), 2020, A Dinner Conversation. Linguistic and Sociolinguistic Analysis of a Conversation, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/947586


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