Conversational Analysis

Conversational Analysis I: Definition of “conversational Analysis” Treatment of conversation developed by sociologists in the early 1970s which concentrates on relations between successive “turns” on the operation of a hypothetical turn-taking system. ” This system ensures (according to the hypothesis) that at any moment a specific speaker will have the floor, and that when their turn ends that of the next speaker will follow smoothly without (according to those proposing the hypothesis) an appreciable overlap, or intervening period of silence, or confusion as to who, in a conversation with several participants, it will be.

Hence attempts to identify “transition relevance places”, specific devices by which one speaker selects the next, etc. II: Developments in the study of “conversational analysis” The study of the conversational analysis did not get developed until the end of 1970s. Before that period of time, the research of the field was mainly focusing on such areas as “greetings”, “encounter”, “insult”, all of which are clear in their structure.

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Starting from 1960s, some sociologists, ethno-methodologists started their earnest study of the natural conversation.

The most important people in this field of the research were 1) H. Sacks; E. A. Schegloff and G. Jefferson.

They were not so much interested in the study of the language itself, instead they showed a great deal of interest in finding out the fact of how human beings were interacting with each other. However, the result of their analysis is of great significance to those who are interested in the study of the structure of the conversation, therefore, their result can be applied in the study of discourse.

As Levinson (1983) put it well:” Conversational analysis got started with a group of sociologists. ” 2. 1: Turn-taking The most important feature of a natural conversation is understood through the “turn-taking” process, that is to say, both the addresser and addressee play their roles in the natural conversation, that is, the initiator will become the respondent, and this process will continue until the conversation ends.

The basic unit of the conversation is termed “turn”, and “turn” is made up of various elements, ranging from a word, a phrase, a clause, a sentence or an even larger unit.

In the conversation there is an underlying principle which goes like this: “In a natural conversation, the participants of the conversation will automatically or unconsciously follow such a rule that each time there is at least one person speaking. When there is no one speaking or making utterance, there should or must be someone who comes out to “remedy” such an embarrassing situation or break the silence. Thus the conversation will naturally come back to the first state of one person speaking.

However, if there is such a situation when several people want to take the floor, one or more than one of the people who want to speak will naturally let one of the speakers go on. Again if there is no one who wants to say something, then the silence will fall, then someone might come out again by saying such kind of fillers as “er, mm, well”, each of which will indicate that he/she wants to say something in this situation.

Natural non-fluency According to Sacks, the person who is speaking will exercise three kinds of degrees of control: 1) he will be able to choose the next person to go on in the conversation: “What do you think, John? “John probably disagrees with me there. ” “John may have better ideas on this issue, I suppose. ” Eg: A: What do you think of Mary, John? B. She is a good dancer, but…. Eg: A.

Hello, Mrs. Brown. B. Hello, Mr. Smith. A.

Hello, John. C. Hello. 2) he will choose the next speaker by asking a questions or making a request without directly asking someone, he leaves the decision upon the person who wants to say something “Who would like to say something on this issue? ” “Can any of you tell me how to handle that stuff? ‘ ) he will neither ask someone nor choose anyone to continue, instead he leaves the decision onto someone who wants to contribute to the ongoing conversation Eg: A: …. That’s what I think of it. B.

Well, I’d like to say a few words about it…. In a natural conversation, there is often such a situation when the conversation comes to the “possible completion” on the part of the speaker, this implies that all the participants should be able to understand this kind of conversation implicature to make conversation a smooth process.

Jefferson said in this regard that the speaker should possess the abilities in the following three aspects: 1) they should be able to add a completion to the previous speaker. Eg: Ben: An’ there— there was at least ten miles of traffic bumper to bumper. Ethel: –because of that.

2) They should be able to find an appropriate opportunity to add a proposed completion to what has not yet been finished Eg: Louise: No, ah so she is someone who- Roger: is a carbon copy of their friend. Drinks Pepsi.

In this example, the utterance of “drink Pepsi” by Roger is a proposed completion to what Louise said “she is someone who…” 3) They can predict the end part of the utterance and say exactly or almost the same thing/utterance as what the speaker is saying Eg: Dan: The guy who doesn’t run the race doesn’t win it, but he doesn’t lose it. Roger: lose it. If the speaker wants to cross the end part and continues his speech, he/she may adopt what Sacks called “utterance incompletor”, that is, what is named the adverbial expressions that play the function of conjunction.

but, and, however, besides, nevertheless, as a result, on the other hand, that is to say, what’s more…” or the speaker may use another method, that is, use the “incompletion marker” like “if, since, when”, for the appearance of these words will show that there is at least one or two sentences/clauses appearing in between. Sometimes, the speaker may also make it quite explicit by saying “I’d like to make two points, firstly, first of all, to begin with…” so as to enable the addresses to know that he is going to cover two points in his speech, thus reducing the chance of being interrupted by others.

Besides, the speaker may also use some of what are called “paralinguistic features” to prevent others from interrupting his speech such as 1) by raising the volume of speech; 2) by quickening the speed of his speech; 3) by changing the tone of the speech; 4) with the help of gesture; 5) through showing his ideas or intention through facial expressions 2. 2: Adjacency pair By adjacency pair, Sacks stressed that in the natural conversation there should be at least one or two people taking their turns to initiate the conversation.

For example, the initiator will first make the greetings, warning, threatening, apologies, complaints, invitations, and the addressee will make his/her decision as to what to say according to the real situation. For adjacency pair, there must be the following features: 1) an adjacency pair must be one in which the initiator and respondent will take their respective turns; 2) such initiation and response must be appearing in the vicinity, that is to say, they are structurally close to ach other, each of which being uttered by the participants in the conversation; 3) in some situations, the adjacency pair is only suitable to one potential speaker, that is to say, only one person in the situation is required to contribute; 4) in some other situations, when one person initiates the utterance, one or more than one person is required to pick up the floor; 5) if the initiations is making an invitation, the response can be varied: “accepting the invitation; declining the invitation along with the explanation of the reason; complaining about the decision….

6) If the initiation is making the complaints, the response can be one of the following or several from different people: “apology, explanation, sympathy, criticism, dissatisfaction, disgust…” Adjacency pair is considered as the basic unit for the natural conversation, which can be usually used at the beginning and end of the conversation. Eg: A: Hi, John. B. Hi. / Oh, hello. Eg.

A. Good-bye. B. See you. 2.

3: Choosing what to continue according to the relevance or level of importance to the conversation Very often, in the adjacency pair, for one initiation there may be several responses.

But these responses are not exactly important in the same level, therefore people proposed the concept of “preference organization”, maintaining that there should be at least one “preferred” (??? )utterance or response and one that is considered as being “dis-preferred”(???? ). The one that is considered as “preferred” should be “unmarked”(???? ), which is structurally simple whereas the “dis-preferred one” is a “marked(??? ) one” with the complex form in its structure. Eg: A. Sit down and have a cup of coffee, please. B.

Thank you. According to Levinson (1983), before the appearance of “dis-preferred esponse” there are usually three features: 1) there should be some delay for a period of time; 2) there should be some mark of “dispreferred (???? ) elements”: “well…” 3) there should be some kind of explanation for being unable to give “preferred elements”; 4) there may be some elements of showing “declination”. Eg: A. Uh if you’d care to come and visit a little while this morning I’ll give you a cup of coffee. B.

hehh (?? ), Well (????? ) that’s awfully sweet of you. I don’t think I can make it this morning (?? ) , hh uhm I’m running an ad in the paper and uh I have to say near the phone. ?? ) In the conversation, in order not to let the addressee lose face, the speaker very often will use “pre-request sequence” or “pre-invitation sequence” to find out the possible response on the part of the addressee in order to find out the possibility of the success of his initiation. Eg: (pre-request sequence) A: Do you have any pecan Danish today? B. Yes, we do.

(request) A: I’ll have one of those. B: O. K. (???? ) Eg: (pre-invitation sequence) A: Say what you are doing? B: Well, we’re going out. Why? (invitation) A: Oh, I was just going to ask you to have coffee with us. 2.

4: Insertion

What we have discussed so far is of the conversation of the linear structure, but in reality, in the natural conversation, there may be some situations in which some insertion sequence may happen. Eg: A: I don’t know where this address is. (Q) B: Well, which part of town do you live? (Q1) A: I live four ten East Lowden (A1) B: Well, you don’t live very far from it. (A? ) Between the Q (question) and A (answer), there appear Q1 and A1, which is another adjacency pair. Eg: A: Are you coming tonight? (Q) B: Can I bring a guest? (Q1) A: Male or female? (Q2) B: What difference does it make? (Q3) A: An issue of balance.


B: Female. (A2) A. Sure. (A1) B: I’ll be there. (A) By Schegloff 2.

5: Side sequence (???? ) In the natural conversation, sometimes the addressee will interrupt the addresser by asking a question, giving a reminder, supplying the complementary remarks, making the corrections or demanding the clarification. Such a practice is called “side sequence”. Eg1: A: One, two, three, (pause), four, five, six (pause again), eleven, eight, nine, ten. B: Eleven? —- eight, nine, ten. A: Eleven, eight, nine, ten.

Q1 B: Eleven? A1 A: Seven, eight, nine, ten. Q2 Eg2: A. From New Zealand we flew to Austria which you know is the nearest… B.

Austria? (Q1) A: Yah, Austria. Don’t you… (A1) B: Austria or Australia? (Q2) A: Ah, sorry Australia. Then we flew to… Here in this sample, Q1,, A1, Q2 are the examples of Side Sequence.

Eg3: A. I don’t know where this address is. B. Which one? (Q1) A. The one you just gave me. (A1 ) B.

Oh yeah, yeah. (T) B. Well, you don’t live very far from me. In this conversation, Q1, A1, and T (termination) are all examples of Side Sequence. In the Examples 1 and 2, the sequence of the conversation is S(Statement) – Q1—A1—Q2—S. In the Example 3, the sequence of the conversation is Q –Q1—A1 –T (T: indicating the end of the Side Sequence)-S.

The example of Example 3 is often called “misapprehension sequence” (???? ). 2. 6 Question and answer Generally speaking, the initiator will ask some questions, and the addressees will answer the questions, which is considered as the normal way of the communication. Such conversation can take place in the form of “yes-no question”, “wh—question” or in some other types of questions or forms. For yes-no questions, the addressee will give the answer of “yes” or “no” or sometimes even if there is no clear indicator of “yes” or “no”, there might be some other devices indicating this information.

Eg: A.

Is your father at home? B. Yes. / Sure / I think so. (B: No. / I don’t think so.

/ He is out. ) Eg. A. Do you mind my sitting here ? B. No.

/ Yes. In conversation, it often happens that there is no one-to-one relationship, so there is often such a situation that it appears in the form of a question, but actually it is not a question by nature, it is rather a request, invitation,…. For such so-called questions, we can not answer them by using “Yes. ” or “No. ” Eg: A.

Can you pass me the salt? B. Yes. / No. For “wh-questions”, the answer should be referring to what has been asked for.

Eg: A. Where is John? B.

In the pub. / At ten o’clock. (wrong) Eg: A. When will he be home? B. At ten o’clock.

/ In the pub. (wrong) Eg: A. When did this happen ? B. In the pub. / At ten o’clock. The answer actually conveys the information of “When I was/ they were/ we were in the pub.

” Eg; A: Where did you see John ? B. At ten o’clock. It may appear that B does not answer the question, but if A knows where B was at ten o’clock, then the answer makes sense and therefore B’s answer can be accepted in the situation. Eg: A. Susan is a clever girl. B.

Yes. Eg: A. John Brown is a novelist. B. No.

He is a poet.

These two examples tell us that B’s answers are used to express his attitude and judgment. In the first one, “yes” implies such a meaning as “I agree with you/ You are right. ” In the second one, “No” has the same meaning as “He is not a novelist. ” 2. 7: A-, B-, and AB In the conversation, if there are only two person involved in the conversation, then A- refers to the situation in which only Speaker A knows what is being talked about; B- refers to the situation in which only Speaker B knows what is being talked about and AB- refers to what is being known by A and B together.

In such a situation, B can not give the answer like Yes/No towards A event, because B does not know much about A event.

Eg: A. I am very tired. B. *Yes. / *No. Eg: A.

Well, what’s been happening to you ? B. I told my classmates to paint me. And one of them did! All over! Then the Headmaster came in. A. I bet he was furious.

B. No, no, on the contrary. He said…. In this example, B said “No. “. This “No” does not negate “I bet he was furious”, rather Speaker B was negating “He was furious.

“, “No, no, on the contrary” was equal to “No, he was not furious. ” Eg. A. Good morning, Doctor. B. Well, what’s the trouble? A.

I feel hot and feverish, Doctor. I’ve got a terrible sore throat. B. Yes. A. It’s probably only flu, but I thought I’d better see you.

In this conversation, “I feel hot and feverish, Doctor. I’ve got a terrible sore throat. ” by A is used to state a fact or an event, but B said “Yes”, and this “Yes” is not used to affirm the statement by A, instead it is used to imply such a meaning as “uhm/ I’m listening…”. If in the conversation speaker A makes a statement of B event, Speaker B should give a clear answer to what is being said, giving the answer of “yes, no, or negation. ” Eg: A: You went to the park last Sunday. B.

Yes. / No. But if Speaker A happens to be the boss of Speaker B, then the situation will become quite different. Eg: A. You are leaving for London tonight. B.

Yes. Status, relationship and the roles of the speakers and the implications of the utterances 1) If Speaker A and Speaker B are equal in social status, when Speaker states B event, the answer of “Yes” by B is to affirm the statement of Speaker A; of course Speaker B can also use “No” to negate the Speaker A; 2) If Speaker A is the boss of Speaker B, what Speaker A says is A event, implying that Speaker is giving a demand (Tonight you will be going to London. or some other communicative actions. In such a situation, when Speaker B says “Yes”, this does not mean that the Speaker B affirms what Speaker A says, rather it is an indication of “obeying the order or accepting the task/ mission”. Generally Speaker B is not supposed to say “No” unless he wants to express his disagreement deliberately.

3) Of course, if the situation changes a little bit, that is, Speaker A is the boss of Speaker B, what Speaker A says can be understood as B event, because there are some possibilities:

A) Another boss of Speaker B asked the Speaker B to go to London; B) Speaker B is taking a break or having a holiday these days and he is getting ready for the trip to London; In such a situation, what Speaker A says is B event, and B’s answer of “Yes” is used to affirm what Speaker A has said. Sometimes, misunderstanding may occur when Speaker A is stating the B event, but Speaker B misunderstands it as A event. Eg. A. There is no playgroup next week then.

B. Oh, isn’t there ?

In this conversation, Speaker A is expressing B event, the intention of Speaker A is to wish Speaker B to tell Speaker A his ideas, either the positive one or the negative one; but Speaker B misunderstood what Speaker A has said as A event, thinking that Speaker A is conveying the new information. Cultural knowledge also plays a vital role in the natural and smooth communication. Eg: A. Hi, John, haven’t seen you for a long time, how are you? B. Hi, Li, I’m very well and how are you? A.

Your new dress looks quite beautiful and good on you. B. Really, but actually it is quite cheap. I bought it when it was on sale.

Can you believe it is only 55 yuan? A.

They say that there will be an excellent concert in our school auditorium next Friday evening. Have you heard about it? B. Oh, yes. Professor Huang told me this yesterday when I met her on the way to the school library. A. That would be great.

Are you planning to go and watch it? B. I am not sure about it because I am going to have the defense of the graduation thesis. A. Anyway, if you decide to go, please let me know. B.

Sure. Well, I have got to go as the bank is close in about twenty minutes. A. See you then. B. See you.

III: Sample discussion

Generally speaking, the conversational analysis will be conducted around the following aspects: a) initiation b) response c) closure d) the coherence of the conversation sequence e) the role of the participants in the conversation (questioner, answerer) f) the choice of the language structure by the speaker g) the topic change during the conversation h) the topic conflict during the conversation 1. The opening sequence of the conversation The opening sequence of the conversation usually take the following forms: A: Good morning. B: Good morning A. Hi. B.

Hi A. Hi B. Oh, hello A.

How do you do? B. How do you do? Eg. Mrs.

Evens: This is my niece, Caroline. I’m sorry, I forgot to introduce you. Caroline: How do you do! Mrs. Simpson: Hallo! So you’re Caroline! I’ve heard so much about you! In this conversation, Mrs. Simpson did not use “How do you do”, because she thought that she knew Caroline already. She used “Hallo” to reduce the social distance/gap between herself and Caroline.

Eg: A. Hello. B. Good morning, John. A. Oh, hi, How are you ? B.

Pretty good, how are you ? From this conversation, we understand that certain expressions usually follow the others in a certain order.

We don’t say “How are you? ” and then we say “Hello”, because if we do so, this appears rather unusual. Eg. A. Hi, John. B.

Good morning, Professor Short. This is a good example of the conversation and the social status. Eg: A. Excuse me. Can you tell me the way to the Palace Museum please? B.

Well, go down this street and …. Here the expression of “Excuse me” is to attract the other’s attention. Eg: A. Hey. You’ve dropped your book. B.

Oh, thank you very much. Here the expression of “Hey” is also used to attract the other’s attention. Eg: Woman: Hi. Boy: Hi. Woman: Hi, Annie.

Mother: Annie, don’t hear someone say hello to you? Woman: OK, that’s okay, she smiled hello. Mother: You know you’re supposed to greet someone, don’t you ? Annie: Hello. (hangs his head) 3. 2. The closing sequence In many cases of conversations, there are some special devices indicating the closing sequences. A: Good-bye.

B. Good-bye. A. Bye bye. B. Bye bye.

A. See you tomorrow. B. See you then. Sometimes there are some pre-closing sequence.

Eg: A. Yeah, well. Things always work out for the best. B. Oh, certainly.

A. Alright, John. (pre-closing sequence) B. uh, huh. Okay. pre-closing sequence) A.

G’bye. (Closing sequence) B. Good night. (Closing sequence) Sometimes, the pre-closing sequence is only used by one party. Eg: A. What time shall I meet you ? B.

I’ll be ready at half past seven. A. O. K. See you then.

I really must do some work now. ‘Bye! In this example, “O. K. / See you then/ I really must do some work” can all be taken as the examples of “pre-closing sequence”. Remember when one party wants to bring the conversation to an end, he/she usually uses some signs like “Well, … Okay… Anyhow,…So,…” ” Well, I’m really glad I ran into you. ” So, you agree on the election question.

” “I have to go, the office closes in half an hour. ” “Well, have a good time during your holiday abroad. ” 3. the social status of speakers in the conversation Generally speaking, both parties or the participants in the conversation enjoy the equality in terms of the social status, in other words, both speakers or all the participants in the conversation may have the accessibility or chances to act as initiator or respondent, but the reality is that this is nothing but a kind of theoretic assumption. Eg. A.

Have anything to declare? B. No. A.

Would you mind unlocking this suitcase please? B. Not at all.

4. Cooperative principles and conversation Cooperative principles were proposed by Grice: a) Maxim of Quantity Make your contribution as informative as required (for the current purpose of the exchange) Do not make your contribution more informative than is required. b) Maxim of Quality Do not say what you believe to be false; Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence. c) Maxim of relation Be relevant. d) Maxim of manner 1) avoid obscurity of expression; 2) avoid ambiguity; 3) be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity) 4) be orderly.

These are the four basic principles that we abide by during our conversation, however in real conversation we do not follow these principles strictly, sometimes we may disobey these rules deliberately, hence “the conversational implicature”.

(???? ) It has to be pointed out that the conversational implicature often appears when the violation of the four maxims occur. But sometimes even when there is some conversational implicature implied, the maxim has not been violated at all. Eg: Jane is unmarried. Jane is a spinster. (Generally they have the same meaning.

But “Jane is a spinster” can carry the meaning that “Jane is unmarried” can not. “????????? ” “????????? ” Their denotative meaning remain same, but the latter conveys the extra meaning that the former cannot. Examples of the violation of the four maxims: Eg: Dear Sir, Mr. X’s command of English is excellent and his attendance at tutorials has been regular. Yours, (Signed) Eg: (Conversation between two men.

) A. I understand you had an argument with your wife. How did it end up ? B. Oh, she came crawling to me on her hands and knees. A.

Is that so ? What did she say ? B. She said, “Come out from under that bed and fight like a man. “

B did not give sufficient amount of information with regard to the end of the argument that A was interested in. A case of the violation of Quantity. This is an example of the communication with humor.

Eg: A. Did Mary go to town yesterday? B. Yes. She spent a whole day shopping in town. She bought a yellow dress, and bought a green dress, and bought a white dress, and bought a red dress. In this conversation, there has been a case of the violation of “quantity” and the use of “bought” appears for four time, indicating the dissatisfaction on the part of the speaker towards what Mary did, an endless shopping!

Eg: A.

Do you think John is a brave soldier? B. Yes, he’s a lion in battle. It often appears that we use some figure of speech , say “irony, metaphor, meiosis(?? ), hyperbole, rhetorical question to make the conversation appear more colorful. In this conversation, B does not address the question of A directly, but uses “a lion”. So this is the case of the violation of the quality with the application of metaphor.

Eg: (After a two-week vacation, a man returned to his office and one of his fellow workers asked him what kind of time he had had. A. I spent the whole two weeks helping my wife paint the rooms in our house. B. Does she do that often ? A. Well, when we moved in a few years ago, the guest room was nine by twelve.

Now it’s eight by eleven! This is an example of the violation of relation. From the answer A provides, we can deduce the answer to be :” She paints the rooms very often. ” It should be noted that A has used the hyperbole (?????????? 9? 12? ,?????? 8? 11? —???????????????? ) Eg: A: Hey Sally, let’s play marbles. B. How is your homework getting along, Johnny?

Johnny wants to play marbles with his mother, but the mother asked if Johnny had finished his assignment yet, a case of the violation of relevance. Eg: A.

Let’s get the kids something. B. O. K. But I veto I-C-E-C-R-E-A-N-S.

A case of the violation of manner. The purpose of B’s is to make it difficult for the kids to understand it completely so as to avoid such a situation in which kids all want to have one. Sample analysis A1. (Woman): Hello, sir. Can I help you? B1.

(man): Yes…Er, have you read about the World Cup in today’s newspaper, Miss? A2: Yes, I have. B2: Are you interested in football?

A3: Well, yes. B3: I am. Wonderful game, football. A4: Yes, it is.

Now, what shoes can I show you, sir? B4: I like sports and games. A5: Oh, yes. B5: Yes. Football, cricket, swimming. Can you swim? A6: I’m not a good swimmer, but I go swimming sometimes.

B6: Tennis. That’s good game. A7: Yes. B7: I’m interested in tennis. I never miss Wimbledon, you know.

I see it every year. A8: Oh? B8: And what about running? The oldest sport in the world. Wonderful, one man is trying to run faster than other men. Do you run? A9: No, I just play table tennis, and swim, and I walk quite a lot.

Now, what kind of shoes do you want, sir? B9: You don’t play golf, then? A10: No, never. B10: I really like golf.

Mind you, I like all sports. Games as well. A11: You’re a real sportsman, sir. Perhaps you want some tennis shoes or running shoes? B11: Er…no. A12: Football boots? B12: No. I want some carpet slippers…like those.

A13: Carpet slippers? B13: Yes, I want to be comfortable when I’m watching television. Sample analysis A. Well, it’s good to see you again. Hope to see you soon at my new house. B.

When can I come then? Sample analysis A1: (Places a call. ) B1: Hi, John. A2: Hi, General.

How are you? B2: Pretty good, how are you? A3: How was the golf? B3: Half good and half bad. A4: First half good? B4: Well, the middle was good and…..

A5: I want to bring you up today on what I have been doing. For about the last three weeks… A16: …. And I find that I now have very little to add to what Magruder had already given the U. S. Attorney. B16: That’s not good.

A17: I felt that I should go forward and at least advise you of this and to… B17: John, at this point, it seems to me that you are going to have to be very careful. A18: Let me spoil your afternoon completely, will you?

One of the things Magruder told me was… A35: A list. OK, my boy. I just wanted you to have a nice time this evening. B35: (Expletive removed.

) A36: Don’t forget my tender that if there is any way that any of this hearsay of mine that I have collected is in anyway useful, I would be glad to make it available. My present thinking is that it could add very little to what Magruder just told me. B36: Thinking of Magruder as a primary witness type. You better be very careful what you do from here on out, John. Don’t put yourself in the position of… A37: Prejudicing anybody’s rights.

B37: With respect to the commission… A38: That’s why I am calling you, my dear. B38: Yours is a very goddamn delicate line as to what you do to get information to give to the president and what you can do in giving information to the Department of Justice, you know, to enforce the law. A39: Well you are a favorite law enforcement officer. B39: (Unintelligible) A40: Do you want me to give you anything additional on Monday? A41: Those are the only two? A42: Well, no. I have been talking to people for three weeks, I have talked to everybody but the milkman.