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 the context in which conversation occurred and the
participant’s reactions enabled me to give a more accurate analysis.
One major disadvantage is that ‘natural conversation’ may have been
effected as a result of the program being broadcast to a national
audience. Participants must have been aware of the presence of the
cameras and may have altered their speech accordingly. However, the
observers’ paradox would occur in any other situation where
participants knew they were being recorded so I did not consider this
to be a major problem.
I thought that it would be of interest to use the transcripts to study
the Turn-taking system operating in the speech of the participants and
to observe how the participants are involved in sequencing, or in some
cases how they fail to correctly observe the TRP of other participants
I decided to analyse the conversation with reference to previous
analysis completed in this field of pragmatics.
Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson (1974: 700) proposed a model for the
organisation of turn taking in conversation. They identified how turns
in conversation were systematic and observed the following rules
applicable to the...