Conversational Analysis

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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.

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...
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