Turn-Taking System as Described in Conversation Analysis

Topics: Conversation analysis, Conversation, Michael Howard Pages: 8 (1556 words) Published: December 9, 2012
Outline and illustrate the turn-taking system as described in Conversation Analysis

Introduction to Discourse

Student Number: 12022165
Academic year 2012/2013





3.1Techniques for selecting the next speaker







In conversation people seem to follow a certain rule of communication which is often perceived as effortless as breathing but not many people are aware that turn-taking system as described in conversation analysis is deeply structured, organized and has a predictable pattern. It is also one of the basic mechanisms in conversations. This essay will illustrate how talk-in-interaction is constructed from the choosing of the topic, how the next speaker is chosen, how to recognize when it is appropriate to take turn and how long the pauses should be in the on-going conversation. Since some conversations do not follow the rules of turn-taking system it is important to know how and if the ‘repair’ is needed.


Turn-taking system is one of the methods in conversation analysis which is focused on how people interact with each other and how they perceive their experience. People follow a sequence of utterances and converse with each other by interpreting the conditions which surround them during the conversation itself. Since speaking usually occurs in ‘real-time’ the responses we receive are measured in micro-seconds and the response itself can not be delayed which is the case in written feedback. It is vital that you know when your turn to speak is and that you know how to speak. Interaction would not be successful with interruptions and speaking out of context as it is considered impolite in most societies.

“By waiting your turn to speak and avoiding interrupting another person, you not only show your desire to work together with the other members of you society, you also show respect for your fellow members.” (Rita Cook, 2008)

Structure of the turn-taking system

Conversation is started when the first speaker selects a topic and provides some information that will be discussed. Turn-taking is usually structured with an A-B-A-B-A-B model but it is not necessary for the speakers to follow this pattern. This system provides talk between two or more speakers. The turns are not pre-determined as they are a part of local management system which is embedded in individual cultures and societies.

Length of the turn varies from speaker to speaker but there is a tendency to minimalization.

“There is a set of rules that govern the turn-taking system, which is independent of various social contexts” (Sacks, Schegloff & Jefferson 1974: 704):

a) when the current speaker selects the next speaker, the next speaker has the right and, at the same time, is obliged to take the next turn;

b) if the current speaker does not select the next speaker, any one of the participants has the right to become the next speaker. This could be regarded as self-selection;

c) if neither the current speaker selects the next speaker nor any of the participants become the next speaker, the current speaker may resume his/her turn.

The problem arises when the speakers do not follow these patterns in which case the conversation breaks down. Examples of conversation breakdown:

• Does not take turns to talk

• Has poor eye contact

• Does not keep or know the topic of the conversation

• Does not know when to stop talking

• One of the speaker continuously interrupts the flow of the conversation

1 Techniques for selecting the next speaker

Current speaker can choose the next one with different methods such as gaze or in a form of adjacency pairs:

• Question/answer

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