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Conversation Analysis In A Real Conversation English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 4678 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In the previous chapter, discourse analysis has been discussed. In this chapter, we are going to talk about conversation analysis, which is one of the approaches to analyze discourse.

8.1.1 What is Conversation Analysis?

People are interested in understanding how social interaction work. Linguists discover the ways in which how social interaction are organized, they tried to describe and analyze those features appeared in conversation; they use scientific methods to examine the phenomena. Conversation Analysis is a systematic study established by the American pioneers, Harvey Sacks, Emanuel A. Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson.

According to Hutchby and Wooffitt (2008), how is a normal conversation organized, how do people arrange their conversation in daily social interaction, and what is the role of conversation in between each participants, are the major subject matter of this chapter.

8.1.2 Why do we need Conversation Analysis?

Conversation analysis represents a methodological approach to the study of social communication (Psathas, 1995). At the fundamental level, conversation analysis is the study of talk. It studies the natural and authentic conversation in real life situations, especially to determine turn-taking organization, silence and repairing problem, sequence of utterances and transcription.

The term ‘interaction’ could apply to numbers of social encounters. For instance, a teacher chatting with students in a staff room is one kind of interaction; others included a doctor asking patient for the illnesses, a professor attending to a formal academic exchange meeting, or a woman chit-chat with the shop-keeper during she buys vegetables at the supermarket, and there are dozens of examples showing that people are involved in different contexts of conversation.

8.1.3 Maxims of Conversation

In the field of linguistics, even more specifically in the area of pragmatics and discourse analysis, scholar introduced an important concept: maxims of conversation. It is the unwritten rules that govern people to make an appropriate conversation.

The basic description of Grice’s cooperative principle govern how people ordinarily react in conversations: Be true, be brief, be relevant and be clear.

8.2.1 Turn-taking Organization in Conversation

Turn-taking is one of the most critical and noticeable aspects of conversational structure. Harvey Sacks (1995), who the founder of the conversational analytic system, hold the view that the basic small unit of the conversation is ‘turn’. We are going to look at some fundamental features about turns (or floors) in order to discover how ‘turns’ can be allocated.

Furthermore, in a normal, polite, Western-styled conversation, participants do not keep on speaking all the time, as to demonstrates patience, cooperation, social etiquette in a conversation, they will wait for their ‘turn’ to speak.

Liddicoat (2007) indicated that speakers keep changing in a conversation: when A is finished, it is B’s turn to talk. Consequently when B has finished speaking, A take turn again.

8.2.2 How does turn-taking works?

Schegloff, Sacks & Jefferson (1974) introduced a set of turn-taking rules for people who involved in conversation can manage turn transition and turn allocation easily. The turn-taking rules are set for distinguishing who should take the turn at the next transition relevance place (TRP).

A transition-relevance place (TRP) takes place at the completion of an utterance; it is the change-of-turn place (Wang, 2011).

The turn-taking rules are ordered as the following:

If a speaker is selected by the current speaker, then that speaker must take the turn at the next transition relevance place.


Venus: Where should we go now, turn left or turn right?Winnie.

Winnie: Er… I don’t know, I am sorry.

In this situation, A pass the turn to B by asking a question.

If, however, no next speaker is selected, then any other participant in the conversation may self-select to take the role and start speaking.


Venus: Where should we go now, turn left or turn right?

Hailey: I know.

Venus: Yes? Hailey.

Hailey: uh…I suppose we should turn left.

If no other speaker self-selects to take the role, the current speaker may then continue to talk again.


Venus: Which is the correct direction to go, left or right?

Winnie, Joanna, Hailey: (Silence)

Venus: No one knows?

Venus: uh… Ok, turn right then.

Speakers will indicate their willingness to stop by using signals, such as turning their gaze to someone in the conversation, or using body languages and gestures, in order to stop and let others continue. Also, they may soften their speech, lengthen the last syllable of a sentence or use some discourse markers e.g. ‘you know’, ‘as you see’ or “sort of things’ etc. If certain markers are showed by the current speaker, another participant will then take over the conversation.

There are two types of signals or markers.

Implicit markers

Most of the time, people use body languages, sometimes prosodic features such as falling tone and rising tone can also be used.

Example 1

“Have you noticed↑ that?”

Example 2

“↑ Can’t you see the dolphin?”

Explicit markers

These are different kinds of linguistic features to invite people give response.

a) Suggestion – Turn-taking by making some suggestions.


“Shall we go to Lamma Island on this Tuesday?”

b) Request – Current speaker may make a request the others.


“Could you please tell me about your journey?”

c) Question – Current speaker will asks question in order to draws people attention and encourage others to get involved.


“We go to Barcelona in the coming Easter, what do you think, darling?”

8.2.3 Gaps and Overlaps in Turn-taking

Jerfferson (1983) have proposed some of the organizational features of gaps and overlapping. As we mentioned before, turn-taking can be visibly signaled by using body languages and gestures, however, it can also be marked by overlapping (Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998; Schegloff, Sacks & Jefferson, 1974).

If two or more people are speaking at the same time, overlapping will occur when the next speaker start talking when the current speaker has just completed a thought only, but still decide to continue (Schegloff, Sacks & Jefferson 1974).

Gaps may be treated as signs of trouble, for example, that the upcoming turn such as disagreements and repairs (Levinson, 1983). Gaps in conversation occur very frequently, such as telephone conversation.

Example 1

Joanna: Well, will you help me for – these.

Hailey: I certainly will give you a hand.

Example 2

Hailey: Why don’t you come and join me tonight at the party.

Winnie: Sure, I would like to.

When the next speaker self-selects at a transition-relevance place, but a current speaker would like to add additional information into the completed utterance, overlaps will also occur.

Example 3

Hailey: That was a romantic weekend, uh..Ven- Venus.

Venus: I’m glad you enjoyed your time.

Example 4

Winnie: The party should be around seven or so

Venus: Well, do you have an extra bed at

your place?

8.3 Repairs

As Schegloff (1979) said, “Repair is defined as the mechanism by which trouble in speaking, hearing, and understanding is claimed and resolved.”

8.3.1 Different kinds of conversation repair

Repair can be classified by who initiates repair, such as self or other, and by who solves them, such as self or other (Wikipedia: Conversation Analysis, n. d.). Repair therefore can be divided into four types. They are self-initiated self repair, other-initiated self repair, self-initiated other repair and other-initiated other repair. Self-initiated self repair

According to Wang (2011), the speaker initiates the mistake or something unknown in his conversation and he repairs it by himself, which is called self-initiated and self repair.


Ruby: What have you done at the weekend?

LiXun: I go to…er…have gone to see a movie.

In the example, LiXun initiates that he uses the wrong tense so he changes ‘go’ into ‘have gone’ immediately. Other-initiated self repair

Not only the speaker himself can initiate his mistake, but other speakers also can do so. The speaker himself will repair it. This situation is called other-initiated self repair.

The same situation as what mentioned above. The situation is changed.

Ruby: What have you seen?

LiXun: I go to see a movie.

Ruby: (surprised) What do you mean?

LiXun: I said I have gone to a movie.

In this example, LiXun does not initiate that he uses the wrong tense. Ruby however dose. She reminds LiXun to repair. Self-initiated other repair

Self-initiated other repair is absolutely opposite to other-initiated self repair. The speaker himself initiates what should be repaired but he fails to repair it. The others help him to repair.


Ruby is going on talking with LiXun.

Ruby: Then what have you seen?

LiXun: A movie, er, adapted from a magic fiction, er, so famous. I forget the name… Its writer is J.K. Rowling.

Ruby: Aha. I see. It’s Harry Potter.

LiXun: Yes, that is! Thanks.

In this example, LiXun fails to remember the name of the movie in the conversation. Even though he knows the detail of the movie, he still cannot tell Ruby what he has seen. The detail which he gives however reminds Ruby of the name of the movie. This situation is defined as self-initiated other repair. Other-initiated other repair

In other-initiated other repair, the speaker even does not initiate what he has to repair. Others initiate it and repair for the speaker. You can learn from the following example.


LiXun wants to go on their conversation.

LiXun: What about you, Ruby?

Ruby: Er, I think we have to go to the lecture room. Otherwise, we will be late for the lecture.

LiXun: Let’s go to D1-LP-02.

Ruby: No, we are going to D1-LP-04.

Ruby initiates what LiXun says is wrong in the conversation and repairs what he fails to say.

8.4 Attributable silences

Silence plays an important role in our speech. As stated by Jaworski (1993, p.3), “The main common link between speech and silence is that the same interpretive processes apply to someone’s remaining meaningfully silent in discourse as to their speaking.” Jaworski (1993) also suggests that silence has positive and negative value in a speech. His words indicated various silences of different situation perform different functions.

8.4.1 Function of silence

Jeasen (1973) suggested that there are five function of silence in speech. The functions he points out are the following: a judgmental function, a linkage function, an affecting function, a revelation function and an activating function. All of the five functions are what we are going to focus on. Judgmental silence

According to Jeasen (1973), silence may indicate one’s attitude towards the topic he is talking about. Silence can tell whether he supports or he objects the idea.


LiXun is talking a boring topic with Ruby.

LiXun: I think chemistry is so amazing!

Ruby: … (Smiles and says nothing)

LiXun: Wow! You see the chemistry formula… (He goes on talking excitedly.)

Ruby: … (Still keeps silent)

It’s apparent that Ruby holds opposite attitude to what LiXun is talking about. So she keeps silent for politeness. Linkage silence

Jeasen (1973) stated that silence is able to bring two or more people together or to separate them. It brings further effects on the speakers in the speech. We are familiar with the following situation. Two good friends misunderstood each other. Every time when they see each other they just keep silent. They, sooner or later, will become strangers. Because of silence, they fail to know what the other thinks. As the time goes by, they are separated by silence. This kind of silence separates people. Affective silence

Jeansen (1973) holds the opinion that silence can heal or wound someone. It is believed that silence shows your attitude towards the topic of the conversation, as well as your attitude towards the speakers. For example, people always keep silence when they are talking to someone they dislike. The silence usually wound the speakers. Revelatory silence

Revelatory silence is an interesting one. Jeasen (1973) said that there may be some information behind the silence. It, meanwhile, may be known to the speakers or the listeners. What the silence actually means depends on the relationship between the speakers. You can see in the following example. If two closed friends, especially girls, are gossiping, they will keep silence when they are met someone who they are talking about. In this example, the silence conveys a warning.

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Jeasen (1973) indicated that this kind of silence may bring some deep thoughtful signal. It also may bring mental inactive signal. While we are talking, our mind keeps on thinking. A silence is able to show the deep mind of the speakers. As you can see, when we are consulting with the professors, they usually lead us to thinking deeply. The professors, therefore, choose to be silence when we are talking our ideas. The silence can be considered as an encouragement, an agreement or an appreciation.

8.5 Sequence of Conversation

8.5.1 Adjacency Pairs

Adjacency pair is the sequence of conversation. It includes two parts which are produced near another (Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998) and is the smallest unit of conversational exchange.

Basic form of adjacency pair (Schegloff, 2007):

First, adjacency pair involves two utterances. Once the first utterance is spoken, the second is required.

Second, each utterance is produced by two different speakers.

Third, pairs are adjacently placed.

Fourth, pairs of utterances are ordered. They are separated into two parts. They are the first pair parts (FPPs) and the second pair parts (SFFs). For instance, given a question is followed by an answer, then the question is the FPPs and the answer is the SPPs.

Lastly, they are pair-type related.

Here are some example of some types of adjacency pairs (Wang, 2011):

Question → answer

[At the supermarket]

Hailey: Can I get some help over here? I can’t get that tin of sardines.

Shop-keeper: I’ll be right here to help you.

Invitation / request → acceptance / declination

[In Winnie’s birthday]

Joanna: Would you like to dance with me, please?

Winnie: Yes.

Greeting → return greeting

Hailey: Good morning.

Joanna: Morning.

Offer → acceptance / rejection

[In the library]

Liberian: May I help you find something?

Venus: No thanks, I can find it by myself.

Compliment → acceptance

Venus: Your dress looks very lovely.

Winnie: Thank you. I just brought it from H&M. Transition of sequence

There are different types of transition of sequence. Adjacency/ Nextness

To verbalize a turn-constructional unit, every word ought to be placed one by one (Schegloff, 2007).


Ben : Good morning.

Bob : Good morning.

In the above conversation, Ben greets Bob and then Bob returns the greeting to Ben immediately.


Ben :Would you like to have a lunch?

Bob : No, thanks.

Ben : How about a drink?

The above conversation is called exchange as it includes three utterances. The IRF pattern are initiation, response and follow-up (Wang, 2011). Counters

Counter means one does not answer SPP directly after one asks a FPP, instead he/she direct the FPP back to the asker (Schegloff, 2007). In this case, SSP given is being delayed.

( (Tarpee, 1991:1)

1 Kate : F ƒ  What is it?

2 Emily : F ƒ  You guess what it is first.

3 (0.2)

4 Kate : S ƒ  Pumpkin.

5 Emily : Yes, it is.

In the conversation, Kate asks a question (FFP) in line 1, however, Emily does not answer it in return, and instead she redirects the question back to Kate (the asker) to answer. (line2)

( (Scheflen, 1961:114, as adapted in Peyrot, 1994:17)

1 Seth : F ƒ  Do you love me?

2 Candy : F ƒ  Do you think so?

3 Seth : Sure.

4 Candy : But I don’t.

In the conversation, Candy does not answer Seth’s question directly. Instead, she answers the question with an insertion of a question-answer exchange.

8.5.2 Pre-expansion

Pre-expansion means adding a part before an exchange (FPs and SPs). According to Schegloffs, pre-expansion is expanding the conversation by adding preliminary question in front of the FFP (Schegloffs, 2007). Pre-invitation

Before giving an invitation, you need to be sure that he or she is available or not. So, you need to ask some preliminary questions. For example, by asking “What are you doing?”, if you want one to accept your invitation, you expect the answer to be “no”; vice versa.

( (Jefferson G.3:1)

(Arthur is the caller; Sylvia is answering to the phone)

1 Sylvia : Hello.

2 Arthur : Hello, how are you?

3 Sylvia : Fine, thanks.

4 Arthur : F(pre)ƒ  What are you doing?

5 Sylvia : S(pre)ƒ  Nothing.

6 Arthur : F(b) ƒ  Do you want a drink?

7 Sylvia : S(b) ƒ  Yes, why not?

Arthur asks what Sylvia is doing to see if she is free or not. With the go-ahead response of Sylvia (line 5) indicating she is free, Arthur continues to invite her as he knows she is free with the pre-sequence asked at line 4. Finally, Sylvia accepts his invitation. Pre-offer

Pre-offer is similar to pre-invitation. It aims to provide the need to someone beforehand.


1 Sylvia : Oh, I tear the sheet mistakenly.

2 Arthur :

3 Sylvia : I think I need to buy a tape.

4 Arthur : I have one.

5 Sylvia : Really?

6 Arthur : Do you want it?

7 Sylvia : Sure.

From the example, Arthur gives the pre-offer (line 4) to Sylvia after knowing she needs a tape. At line5, when she says “Really?”, it is a go-ahead response to pre-sequence. Lastly, when Arthur makes the offer, she accepts.

8.5.3 Preference

There are different types of responses during exchanges. For instance, when greeting, one says hello to you and you are supposed to reply with a greeting too. Nevertheless, when one asks you a question, you may have different answers which can be preferred or dispreferred by the asker. Like an invitation, the reply can be positive or negative. Nonetheless, an answer with “yes” does not mean it is a prefered response. According to Schegloff, “If the question is built to prefer ‘yes’, then ‘no’ is a dispreferred response, even if delivered without delay and in turn-initial position, vise versa” (Schegloff, 1988 c:453). Types of responses

There are two types of responses. The first one is preferred responses, which means answers are given positively. Another is dispreferred responses, which means answers are given negatively.

In fact, there are some hints indicating the preferred status of a turn.

When answering directly and without any delay:


Janice : Do you want to go swimming

Jill : Yes, I do.

Moreover, there are some other hints indicating the dispreferred status of a turn.

a) When answering indirectly:


Janice : Are you free on Monday?

Jill : Well, I need to do my homework, and …

b) When answering with delay:


Hesitation such as “Well”, “Um”, “Er”…

8.6 Conversation Transcription

Transcription of conversation is very essential for analyzing conversation .It should be produced preceding conversation analysis, because it is used as a referential tool for the analysis of conversation (Psathas, 1995).

8.6.1 Tools used for recording

A naturally occurring conversation is usually recorded by video recorders these days. Hence, apart from recording the conversation, body languages, gestures as well as facial expressions can also be recorded. These features are very crucial as they allow the relationship between speech and body movement to be observed (Psathas, 1995).

8.6.2 Procedures involved in transcription

In fact, the recordings mentioned in 8.6.1 are done by analysts themselves. After producing the recordings, analysts listen to the recordings repeatedly by themselves. Once analysts repeatedly listen to the tape, they can focus on the phenomena that are very crucial for conversation analysis (Hutchby, & Wooffitt, 2008).

8.6.3 Characteristics of conversation transcription

Conversation transcription is not simply a piece of writing with words and sentences exchanged by the speakers. However, it includes many other different features as well.

The information listed below should be included in a transcript (Wang, 2011).

Information about the participants

Words spoken

Sound uttered

Inaudible sound

Overlapping speech

Stretch, stresses, volume

Different transcription symbols will be introduced as follows:

1. Latching

When latching occurs in a conversation between two people, two ‘=’ will be placed in the transcript when the second speaker speaks just after the first speaker speaks. The first ‘=’ will be placed right behind the transcription of the first speaker, while the second one is placed in front of the transcript of the second speaker (Psathas, 1995).


Mary: I’m hungry=

Peter: =You never feel full

Latching by more than one speaker is represented similarly to latching by two speakers. A ‘=’ is put after the transcription of the first speaker, but a ‘=[[‘ is placed in front of the transcription of two speakers instead of ‘=’ (Psathas, 1995).


Hailey: I’m hungry=

Joanna: =[[You never feel full

Venus: =[[So do I

Latching by more than one speaker can also occur in a way that two speakers end their conversation at the same time and immediately the third speaker speaks. (Psathas, 1995)


Venus: I’m very very [hungry]=

Hailey: [hungry]

Joanna: =So do I.

In this case, the Mary and Peter end their conversation at the same time and then Paul immediately speaks.

2. Audible breathing

Exhalations are represented by an ‘h’ or more than one ‘h’ while inhalations are represented by ‘.h’ or more than one ‘.h’ (Psathas, 1995). Usually, exhalation expresses tiredness or sadness.


Joanna: I haven’t finished my Wiki-book project yet hhhh!

As for inhalation, it usually indicates surprise or nervousness.


Venus: .hhh I’m going to have my linguistics exam tomorrow.

Sound stretch

Sound stretch means lengthening the sound. When speakers would like to strengthen their tone, sound stretch occurs. One colon denotes that the precedent sound is lengthened, while more than 1 colon means a more lengthened sound (Psathas, 1995).


Hailey: I am so:::: hungry

Venus: I know (.) I can hear that some sound’s coming out from your stomach.


Throughout a conversation, there must be rises and falls in the intonation of speakers (Psathas, 1995).

A rise in intonation

An arrow pointing upwards is put just prior to the rise in intonation (Psathas, 1995).


Joanna: Would you like to have dinner with me?

Venus: ↑Yes, sure.

A fall in intonation

An arrow pointing downwards is put just behind the fall in intonation (Psathas, 1995).


Hailey: Would you like to have dinner with me?


Venus:↓Yes(0.9)if I’m free tonight.


When speakers want to emphasize something, they will speak the words more loudly and lengthen the words. The emphasized word is underlined (Psathas, 1995).


Hailey: I almost got full marks for my linguistics exam, will I be awarded something, Mum?

Venus: Sure (0.9) I’ll buy a reference book for you to study so that you can get full marks next time.


A Fall in pitch

To show a fall in pitch, the vowel of the word should be underlined, and a colon is added just behind the underlined vowel (Psathas, 1995).


Hailey: I was awarded a reference boo:k(0.8) for having good results in the exam..

Joanna: If you were awarded the newly released photo album of Rain, you would have been much happier.

A rise in pitch

To show a rise in pitch, the stress is marked on the prolongation (Psathas, 1995).


Joanna: My mother gave me a big surprise:::!

Hailey: Buying you the photo album of Rain?

Joanna: Yes::


Increased Volume is indicated by capital letters (Wang, 2011).


When Joanna is talking to Hailey, suddenly a dog appears.

Joanna: Have you finished the wiki-book project? (.) A DOG’S RUNNING TOWARDS US!

Hailey: Calm down, Joanna.

Decreased volume is indicated by degree marks (Wang, 2011).


When Venus is telling Hailey something bad about Paul, suddenly Paul approaches.

Venus: Paul never hands in his homework on time.

Hailey: ËšPaul’s approachingËš

8. Sound uttered

There are not only words within a conversation. Sometimes, when the speakers produce some sounds, they are also recorded.


Hailey: Oh! I’ve dropped my mobile phone into the toilet!

Venus:(laugh) Why are you so careless?

8.7 Conclusion

Conversation is an exchange of information between people in real-life situations. The aim of conversation analysis is to give an analytic description of the organization of interaction. We can understand how people carry out conversation in the society. In addition, we know more about the secrets behind the conversation, such as silence and preference.


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