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Conversation Analysis

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Martin Hajek

on 17 May 2018

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Transcript of Conversation Analysis

Conversation Analysis
J.R.Firth: "It is in [a conversation] that we shall find the key to a better understanding of what language really is and how it works."
Focus on conversation as a prototypical kind of communication and language use.
Main features of conversation as a social interaction:
* spontaneous, without explicit rules, durable, massive use, capable to handle complex meanings
* even antagonistic conversations are ordered (quarrels)
Gricean conversational pragmatics
Conversation is characteristically rational, co-operative event.
conversational maxims
Listeners and speakers must speak cooperatively and mutually accept one another to be understood in a particular way.
Cooperative Principle:
Make your contribution such as it is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged."
Conversation is a rational exchange of statements (verbal expressions).
1. Quantity
Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).
Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

2. Quality
Do not say what you believe to be false.
Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.
If one or more maxims are violated the hearer, in an attempt to preserve the assumption that the speaker is still following the CP, will try to deduce some unstated proposition that the speaker may have wished to convey by flouting a maxim.
A: Will Sally be at the meeting this afternoon?
B. Her car broke down.
A: How is your husband getting on in his job at the bank?
B: Oh quite well, I think: he likes his colleagues, and he hasn't been to prison yet.
implicature: Sally won't be at the meeting.
implicature: Working in a bank produces temptation to steel clients money but my husband has resisted it.
Implicatures in a qualitative research interview:

the researcher
should ask questions conforming all maxims in order to be uniformly understood (check your questions in the terms of implicatures)

the respondent
may violate maxims of quantity and manner, but quality and relevance is required (sometimes even the quality is not necessary - oral history interviews)

silence is a violation of maxim of quantity showing that the topic is unwelcome but without explicitly saying this (face-work)

there is more in subject's responses than just the explicit content
Ethnomethodological CA
Harold Garfinkel: seen-but-unnoticed order of everyday life, background expectations

Founders: Harvey Sacks, Emanuel Schegloff, Gail Jefferson (1960s and early 1970s)
Aims of CA: to describe ways how participants contribute to conversation and how make sense of the contributions of others
Tasks of CA: to identify, analyze and describe sequential structures, their properties and uses in specific instances of talk-in-interaction.
turn-taking system - assigns turns to the participants engaged in conversational interaction
Key notions:
Hi, Ray. How is your girl friend feeling?
What do you mean, "How is she feeling?" Do you mean physical or mental?
I mean how is she feeling? What's the matter with you? (He looked peeved.)
Nothing. Just explain a little clearer what do you mean?
Skip it. How are your Med School applications coming?
What do you mean, "How are they?"
You know what I mean.


How are you?
How am I in regard to what? My health, my finances, my school work, my peace of mind, my . . . ?
(Red in the face and suddenly out of control.) Look! I was just trying to be polite. Frankly, I don't give a damn how you are.

from meaning to structure
a conversation is not only inferentially loaded cooperation but, at the same time, a socially/morally accountable interaction
It can be compared to interactions of people who repair together a broken car.
Conversations consist of exchanges and these exchanges have a firm orderliness.
If we know all rules of conversations we could get information about how people make sense of various situations.
Language isn't seen as a system of rules and people are in/competent users, but as a system of mutual respect or regards among actors
Finally, since language is a vehicle for the living of real lives with real interests in a real world, it should be appreciated that an interest in available mechanisms for handling the troubles of rule-system integration, among others, is not only (or primarily) a theoretician's interest. Not only language integration, but also social organization, require an organization of repair. Here, at the organization of repair-though not exclusively here-linguistics and sociology meet. (Schegloff, Jefferson, Harvey Sacks, 1977)
1. because of its both inferential and moral nature a conversation entails both
to its participants;
2. to prevent inferential contingencies the process of conversation is socially
(conventionalized) in the form of conversational structure
3. the structure also facilitates
speech coordination
so as to allocate turn-taking and minimize gaps and overlapping
Opening conversations

Closing conversations
Adjacency pairs
a) greetings
b) introduction exchange
c) pre-question marker
d) small talk
e) response cries
What's up?
Lovely weather, isn't it?
What a wonderful scarf!
Ça va?
Examples of politeness driven implicatures

What do you think of Harry?
Nothing wrong with him. (= I don't think he's very good/bad.)
flouting the maxim of manner (avoid ambiguity)

How do you like Jane's new haircut?
It's all right. (= I don't particularly like it.)
flouting the maxim of manner (avoid ambiguity)

Would you like a drink?
Oh no, it's all right. (= I have good manners.)
No, I insist. (= I see, so what would you like to drink?)
OK, I'd love a double whisky.

Where’s my Bill?
There’s a yellow VW outside Sue’s apartment. (= Bill might be at Sue’s house.)
flouting maxims of relation (relevance) and of manner (avoid ambiguity)

Well didn't he ask you if uh on that night that uh::: he wanted you to be his girl
Didn't he ask you that?
I don't remember what he said to me that night
Well you had some uh uh fairly lengthy conversations with the defendant uh didn't you?
On the evening of February of February fourteenth?
We were all talking.
Examples of non-cooperative behaviour (Garfinkel's breaching experiments):

I had a flat tire.
What do you mean, you had a flat tire? (
manner: your contribution isn't clear
What do you mean, 'What do you mean?' A flat tire is a flat tire. That is what I meant. Nothing special. [there is no implicature to look for] What a crazy question!

How are you?
How am I in regard to what? My health, my finances, my school work, my peace of mind, my . . . ?(
quantity: your contribution isn't enough informative for me
Look! I was just trying to be polite. Frankly, I don't give a damn how you are.











A: Hi, my name’s Brian.
B: Hi, I’m John.
A: Hi.
B: Hi Alex.
A: Excuse me?
B: Yes?
A: [wringing his hand] SHIT!
B: Are you OK?
Closing sequence.
a) direct parting
b) pre-closing
c) summarizing
A: Bye.
B: Bye. And don't forget to email me.
A: OK.
B: Bye.
A: Bye.
A: Bye, see you later.
B: Bye.
A: OK then, I'll see you later, bye.
B: Bye.
Basic rules of turn-taking:
1) If current speaker selects next speaker, she’s obliged to take the next turn.
2a) Otherwise, any speaker may self-select the next turn.
2b) Otherwise, the current speaker may continue.
transitional-relevance place: the potential end of turn, a moment when next speaker may start speaking (e.g. gap)
John : Would you like some more drink, Jim?
Jim: Well, I'd love to.
John: You? (to Sam)
Sam: No, I am good.
is used by the listener to give signals that show that the messages are delivered
a) lexical: right, cool, great, I see
b) non lexical: um, Oh, ah, mm, wow
A: Have you ever been in Rome?
B: No.
A: It's a wonderful city.
A: Have you ever been in Rome?
B: No.
B: But I've been in Venice.
pairs of utterances in talk are often mutually dependent

thanking-response, request-acceptance, question-answer sequences
A: Congratulations on the new job, by the way.
B: Oh, thanks.

A: I've just passed my driving test.
B: Oh, congratulations.
A: Thanks.

A: Cindy, can you help me with this one?
B: Sure!

A: Hey, would you like some tea?
B: No, thanks. I'm good.
Opening conversations
Closing conversations
Adjacency pairs
Opening conversations
Closing conversations

Adjacency pairs
Opening conversations
Closing conversations
Adjacency pairs

Opening conversations
Closing conversations
Adjacency pairs
Speaker corrects things he or someone else has said.
Self Repair
A: Hi Lucy! Sorry - Lisa.

A: Hi Lucy!
B: I'm Lisa, Lucy's sister.
A: Oh, sorry Lisa.
CA - So what?
CA has an unique ability to uncover actor's (emic) view of meaning and interaction structure.
3. Relation
Be relevant.

4. Manner
Avoid obscurity of expression.
Avoid ambiguity.
Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).
Be orderly.
We assume that the speaker is following the maxims unless s/he has a reason to act differently.
controlling meaning
controlling flow
Pupil: Bogota’s in Mexico, isn’t it, teacher?
Teacher: And Madrid’s in Hungary, I suppose.

A: During the revolution hundreds of people were killed on both sides.
B: Revolution is revolution.

Son: Lend me a hundred.
Mother: You’ve already spent all your money?
Son: Forget it.

S: I’m sick of him.
E: Would you explain what is wrong with you that you are sick?

Peter: Is Jack a good sailor?
Mary: All the English are good sailors.

A: Did your treatment for stammering work?
B: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper.

Police Interview of child aged 5 years
P: When do you think it happened?
C: Yesterday ago.
P: When did you last see him?
C: Yesterday.
P: Yesterday?
C: I think it was yesterday but I don’t know when it was.

Police interview of a child aged 6 years
P: Can you remember my name?
C: Yeah.
P: What is it?
C: [Silence.]
Explain, what are implications of what was said by speakers and whether any of the implications could be considered as an implicature (i.e. a strategy how to use certain words to express another thing than what was actually said). What maxim was violated? What reason had the speaker for not talking plainly?
Homework 7: conversational principles
Daughter is leaving a home at nine p. m. Father’s questioning her:
Father: Where are you going?
Daughter: Nowhere.
Father: Who with?
Daughter: No one.
Father: To do what?
Daughter: Nothing.
implicature: Dad, it's none of your business.

A: How are you?
B: How are you?
Term paper
Carry out a textual analysis on topic and data of your choice.
You can extend and deepen one of your homework.
The paper should consist of :
background/context of the problem under study
research question
description of your data and method of analysis
discussion how your research answered the research question.
Paper due: 31/5/2017
Oral Exams will be on Thursdays:
25.05.2017 14:30
01.06.2017 12:00
08.06.2017 14:30
15.06.2017 16:00
22.06.2017 14:30
29.06.2017 14:30
Length: 3 000 - 4 000 words
A's contribution

B's contribution
m. of relation
m. quality
m. manner
Full transcript