Turn Taking Mechanisms in Conversation Essay

Turn Taking Mechanisms in Conversation Essay

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Turn Taking Mechanisms in Conversation

From the amount of conversations we witness on a daily basis we can
see that they are governed by some sort of mechanism or rules. From
these observations, it becomes clear that turn taking is a major
constituent of conversation, with the arrangement of talk across two
participants. Levinson (1983: 296) explains that, despite the
‘obvious’ nature of turn taking (i.e. A speaks, then B speaks, then A
speaks again) the way in which distribution is achieved is “Anything
but obvious”. He states that “Less (and often considerably less) then
5 per cent of the speech stream is delivered in overlap, yet gaps
between one person speaking and another starting are frequently
measurable in just a few micro-seconds”. This phenomenon is of
interest to pragmaticians who, through the practise of conversational
analysis have studied conversation on the micro-pragmatic level and
have sought to theorise the mechanisms responsible.

In order to study the turn taking system operating in conversation I
transcribed three brief conversations from Big Brother 2 (Appendix).
Big Brother is a popular ‘reality T.V’ game show where contestants are
invited to live in a house for up to 8 weeks where they are constantly
monitored and filmed. The public evicts each week one contestant, with
the winner being the last contestant left. I decided to use
conversation from Big Brother for several reasons. Firstly, the
conversation was easily accessible and could be replayed repeatedly to
study the conversation in detail. Another advantage was that I was
able to see facial expressions and body language of the participants.
Knowing th...

... middle of paper ...

...alyse the
system of turn taking in respect of Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson’s
theories (1974). I found their rules for the turn taking mechanism to
be relevant to the conversations I analysed with sufficient evidence
to support their rules. I also identified other points of interest
within the transcripts and attempted to account for these using the
theories of Mey (2001), Levinson (1983) and Tannen (1990).


Levinson, S.C. (1983) Pragmatics. Cambridge. CUP.

Mey. J (2001) Pragmatics: An introduction 2nd edition. Oxford.

Sacks, H. E.A. Schegloff and G. Jefferson (1974) A simplest
systematics for the organization of Turn taking for conversation.
Language 50; 696 – 735.

Tannen, D. (1990) You just don’t understand: men and women in
conversation. London: Virago

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