Turn Taking and Conversation:
A Study of Turn Taking and
Conversation within Discourse Analysis
Linguistics 347.3 – Web
1- Turn Taking:
3- Turn Taking
4- Turn Taking
Works Cited and Referenced
– Turn Taking: Introduction
is not chaos.
From a very young age we are
taught how to take turns: this helps shape conversations for the rest of our
lives (Coates 111).
of a baby already learning/displaying turn taking skills: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKD6jzUxkek&feature=related
Turn taking is a cyclical
process. It begins with one person
speaking, and continues as the speaker gives up control to the next
person. The second speaker now has
the conversational floor. When the
speaker is finished, they give control back to another speaker (in this case,
the beginning speaker), thus creating a cycle. The turn taking cycle stops when there
is nothing left to say (Woodburn, Arnott, Newell, and Procter 5).
Turn taking has two central aspects: 1)
Control of contribution
Frequency refers to the amount of turn taking within a
conversation. For example, a
conversation between two people has high frequency, and a lecture has low
frequency, as show in diagram A below (Woodburn, Arnott, Newell, and Procter
Low Medium High
Frequency of turn taking
Diagram: (Woodburn, Arnott, Newell, and Procter 8).
The control of contribution refers to the amount of control a person
has over what to say and how much to say.
For example, a letter allows the person complete control over what is
written in the letter, which is known as a free for all. A religious ritual
provides less control over what a person can say therefore, it is seen as
rule-dependent. Diagram B below
illustrates this point (Woodburn, Arnott, Newell, and Procter 8).
Free for Negotiated
B) Degree of control of
Diagram: (Woodburn, Arnott, Newell, and Procter 8).
What is a turn?
A turn is the essential factor within turn taking, which is attached
to a speaker. Each speaker takes turns within
What is a speaker?
A speaker is someone creating some sort of utterance or speech act
directed towards an audience of one or more people.
What is a conversation?
A conversation is a combination of organized utterances and turns,
used with purpose among speakers.
No gap, no overlap model:
This model refers to the notion
that ideally when one speaker stops
speaking, the other begins in a predictable manner with no gaps or overlaps. In
doing so, the listener interprets a variety of cues from the speaker, including
semantic and syntactic units, which enable them to take part in smooth
conversation (Coates 112).
This is an ideal model, but in reality it does not always go so easily…
following is an example of both good and bad turn taking according to the no
gap, no overlap model (special attention to 4:30 where all turn taking rules
are forgotten) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VhkPJM7WEQ
Interruptions: When an interrupter inhibits the speaker from finishing
their turn, viewed as a turn taking violation (Coates 111).
Overlaps: When the next speaker overlaps the first speaker’s turn;
an anticipation before speaker is finished. The first speaker is still able to
finish their turn with the overlap (Coates 113).
Grabbing the floor: When a listener interrupts the current holder
of the floor, thus taking over (Coates 113).
Hogging the floor: When a speaker takes a long time on the floor
and ignores others attempting to take the floor (Coates 113)
Silence: Often a sign of turn taking violations, and can follow
interruptions or when someone hogs the floor for too long (Coates 122).
Turn Taking Tools:
Self Selection: When multiple people start to talk at the same
time, and one person dominates and selects his or herself as the next speaker
Turn Taking Cues:
-When the current speaker asks a
question it might be a cue for someone else to take over
- If the current speaker trails
off, it could be a cue for someone else to take over
-If the speaker indicates that
they are done speaking with a closing statement ex. And
so that’s all…
-Marker words: but, so…, well…
(O’Grady and Archibald 480)
– Cross-cultural Turn Taking
have a second language is to have a second soul." –Charlemagne
What is culture? Some definitions…
Culture: the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social,
ethnic, or age group. (Dictionary.com)
Cross-cultural: involving or bridging the differences between
Turn Taking and Culture
There are several different
aspects taking place between conversational turn taking and culture. Culture
plays a significant role in conversation and whether the conversation succeeds
or fails. However, when people from multiple cultures engage in conversation it
is very easy for miscommunications and confusion to occur. (Boroditsky 1)
Similarities across culture…
-Avoidance of overlapping talk
-Minimal amounts of silence are
preferred between speakers (ex. awkward silences)
-Speed of the listener’s
response is important
Differences across culture…
-Turn taking cues are different in ordinary conversation across
-Many different body language
-Different gestures add to
conversation (ex. hand usage in Italian)
-Different verb tenses are used
for gender politeness and differences
-Honorifics are used in some
cultural conversation (ex. Korean)
-Vowel and consonant systems
(O’Grady and Archibald 292,294)
Political, cultural, social,
historical and religious factors frequently interfere when determining
linguistic boundaries. (O’Grady and Archibald 287)
Languages are made up of:
Absolute Universals: structural patterns/traits that occur in all
languages (O’Grady and Archibald 291).
Universal Tendencies: structural patterns/traits that occur in all
languages (O’Grady and Archibald 291).
is discourse which creates, re-creates, modifies and fine tunes both culture
and language and their intersection, and it is especially in verbal artistic
discourse such as poetry, magic, verbal dueling and political rhetoric that the
potentials and resources provided by grammar, as well as cultural meanings and
symbols, are exploited to the fullest and the essence of languages-culture
relations becomes salient.”-Joel Sherzer (Johnstone 50).
Language is determined by culture, and culture is determined by
Culture and Non-Verbal Communication
Even though two speakers cannot
speak the same language, it does not mean they are unable to communicate with
each other. It is possible to communicate without using any words at all.
Instead the communicators use body language and hand gestures. There are a few
universal body languages, but many gestures are not universal. This causes
confusion between the communicators and unintentional insults, which leads to a
This video shows how body
language may lead to a communication failure.
This video shows how gestures
are very important to communication and if misunderstood, how they may lead to
insult between the communicators.
In Summary-Turn taking and
non-verbal communication are greatly influenced by culture. When having a
cross-cultural conversation it is important to be aware of the customs and
politeness rules within the culture in order to avoid accidently insulting the
– Turn Taking and Gender
question, women and men have the tendency to use language both the same and
differently, especially when taking turns.
some of the following may seem to be stereotypes (and may prove to be
stereotypes with further research), current research makes the following
Examples of Different Language Strategies by Men and Women (Coates
Minimal Responses: Also known as a backchannel, these include terms
such as mhm, yeah and right. They are
typically used more by women than men, especially when showing agreement and
support of a current speaker. Men tend to use these terms to assert dominance.
Hedges: Include terms such as I
think, perhaps, like etc. While it is claimed women use these more than
men, it may be argued that the use is centered more closely to context and
could be used by either gender.
These terms express levels of uncertainty.
Tag Questions: Include terms such as isn’t it? These terms relay tentativeness, and while some
researchers claim they are more specific to females, there is no conclusive
evidence that this is true. It is argued that these depend on attitudes and
Questions: It is believed women use more interrogative questions
than men, seemingly as a method to keep conversation active. It is also believed that people
with more power use more questions in conversation than those with less.
Commands and Directives: It is believed that males and females use
commands and directives differently, especially when used in same-sex groups.
Males tend to use more explicit commands ex. Gimme, while girls tend to be more inclusive ex. Let’s play.
Swearing and Taboo Language: There is widespread belief that males
use more taboo forms than females. Research shows that male-male conversation
uses substantially more taboo words than female-female, while mixed
conversations tend to accommodate both sides.
Compliments: Research shows that women give more compliments, and
also receive more. Women tend to compliment each other on appearance, while men
tend to compliment each other based on skill and possessions.
men and women participate in conversations and turn taking situations
used by men and women differ for turn taking, and examples can be seen in both
mixed gender and same gender conversations.
Mixed talk: Men and Women having conversations:
women and men have equal speaking rights?
following is an example of gendered conversation from the movie ‘Garden state’
Holding/Hogging the floor (Coates 116-119): Research states that
men tend to dominate conversation (especially in the public sphere) more than
women, contrary to popular belief.
Within a sociolinguistic
context, it is argued that since men are dominant in social settings, women may
be expected to be more silent; therefore, when women talk it is perceived as
talkative. Research shows that rank
holds less power than gender in conversation dominance: men dominate
conversation more than women.
Non-cooperational speech (Coates 120-121): Can be seen when one or
more people do not cooperate in conversation.
Typically, females try harder
to keep a conversation going, using terms such as you know(?), in places where pauses are not being filled by
whomever they are speaking with.
Generally, males fail to give
responses at all in non-cooperative speech, and participate in more delays and
pauses than females.
In a study conducted by
Victoria DeFrancisco (1998), seven couples were studied regarding
Turn-taking violations in the
daily interaction of seven couples (based on DeFrancisco 1998:179) (Coates
No response 32 68
Delayed response 30 70
Inadequate response 40 60
Interruption 46 54
Same gendered talk:
do men and women Converse differently in same gendered groups?
following is an example from the TV series, ‘Friends’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGoC8FTLKSI&feature=related
General characteristics and Turn Taking (Coates 126-138):
-Cooperative/collaborative rather than competitive
-Problems: discuss more
-Talk about people and feelings
-Often violate one person at a
-Open up conversational floor
-Overlapping and minimal
-Simultaneous speech is
understood: multilayered conversations
-Hierarchies emerge in
conversation: submission and dominance
-Problems: discuss more
-Talk about current affairs,
travel and sports
-Ask questions to gain
-Wish to achieve solidarity
-Prefer one at a time, little
-Playing the expert: hold floor
and talk for a long time about a subject
-Verbal sparring: rapid-fire
summary – As far as current studies allow us to believe, men and women
use language in a variety of ways, some similar and some different.
question, there is much more to learn on gendered conversation tactics, and in
particular gendered turn taking.
– Turn Taking and technology
Turn taking happens not
only in oral conversations, but also through technology programs, such as live
chats. While turn taking may not seem prevalent in technology, it still exists
to bring order into a conversation.
Computer-mediated communication (CMC): A conversation that is not
face-to-face. No verbal or
non-verbal cues (Garcia and Jacobs, 1999).
Oral communication: A
conversation that involves two or more people talking face-to face (Garcia and
Verbal cues: The
utterances of the speaker (Garcia and Jacobs, 1999)
Non-verbal cues: The actions of the speaker (Garcia and Jacobs,
Main differences between oral communication and CMC:
In CMC, turn taking is not
specified as it is in oral conversation.
The person who claims the next turn is the one who posts their message
first (Garcian and Jacobs, 1999).
Oral communication includes two separate roles:
A) The speaker: The person creating the utterance (Garcia and
B) The listener: The person listening and interpreting the
utterances of the speaker (Garcia and Jacobs, 1999).
In oral communication, each
person can assume only one role at a time.
Therefore, one person cannot be the speaker and the listener at the same
time (Garcia and Jacobs, 1999).
CMC includes multiple roles:
A) Message constructor: The person typing (Garcia and Jacobs,
B) Message poster: The person who sends the message (Garcia and
C) Waiter: The person waiting for the message (Garica and Jacobs,
D) Reader: The person reading the message (Garcia and Jacobs,
E) Worker: The person who is not working directly at the computer.
For example, reading a book instead of working on the computer. (Garcia and
In CMC, each person can assume
multiple roles at the same time.
For example, one person can be typing a message while waiting for a message
from the other person (Garcia and Jacobs, 1999).
Verbal and non-verbal cues:
Oral communication involves the
use of verbal and non-verbal cues.
What a person says is a verbal cue that can be interpreted by a
listener. What a person does is a non-verbal
(visual) cue that can also be interpreted by a listener. Verbal and non-verbal cues can be useful
in determining the correct response as well the appropriate time to start the
In CMC, there are no verbal or
non-verbal cues. The listener
cannot interpret verbal cues because they are reading text on the computer, not
listening to someone’s speech.
Non-verbal cues are also non-existent because the listener and speaker
cannot see one another. Thus, it is
harder to determine if the present speaker is finished which makes it harder to
determine the next appropriate turn (Garcia and Jacobs, 1999).
Competing for turns
Oral communication can involve
competition for turns, such as talking louder, interrupting, etc. CMC does not involve competition for
turns. This is because everyone
involved in a computer conversation can type and post their messages at the
same time (Garcia and Jacobs, 1999).
The only competition in CMC is
where something will be typed. The
faster you type, the faster you can post your message. Therefore, your message
will be the first to be displayed (Garcia and Jacobs, 1999).
Length, order, and content
In oral communication, the
length, order, and content of a conversation are determined ahead of time. In CMC, the length, order, and content
are not determined ahead of time.
For example, in oral
conversations, a person may stop themselves mid-sentence, whereas in CMC, once
a message is posted, it cannot be stopped or deleted. In CMC, what a person decides to say
depends on the order of conversation.
If someone enters text before you can get your point across, the topic
may have changed and your point becomes irrelevant (Garcia and Jacobs, 1999).
How does a person self-select themselves in CMC?
1) By typing faster (Garcia and
2) By typing a shorter message
(Garcia and Jacobs, 1999).
By typing and entering the first half of the message, and then typing the rest
of the message right after (Garcia and Jacobs, 1999).
– Suggested Further Reading
General Turn Taking
- An Introduction Contemporary Linguistic Analysis By William
O’Grady and John Archibald (Print)
Turn Taking, Language
- Women, Men and Language By Jennifer Coates (Textbook)
Turn Taking and
- A Study of Conversational Turn-Taking in a Communication Aid For
the Disabled By R. Woodburn, J.L. Arnott, A.F. Newell, and R. Procter
The Eyes of the Beholder: Understanding the Turn-Taking System in
Quasi-Synchronous Computer- Mediated Communication, Research on Language &
Social Interaction By Angela Cora Garcia and
Jennifer Baker Jacobs (Electronic).
– Works Cited and Referenced
Boroditsky, L. “Lost in Translation.” Dow Jones & Company, Inc.Web.
18 Oct. 2011
Jennifer. Women, Men and Language, 3rd
Ed. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2004. Print.
Dictionary.com, "culture," in Dictionary.com
Unabridged. Source location: Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/culture.
Web. 18 Oct. 2011.
Garcia, Angela and Jacobs, Jennifer. “The Eyes of the Beholder:
Understanding the Turn-Taking System in Quasi-Synchronous Computer- Mediated Communication,
Research on Language & Social Interaction.” Research on Language & Social Interaction. 32:4 (1999). 337-367.
Web. 24 Oct. 2011. http://www.tandfonline.com.cyber.usask.ca/doi/pdf/10.1207/S15327973rls3204_2
Holmes, Janet. An
Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 3rd Ed. Harlow: Pearson
Education Ltd, 2008. Print.
Johnstone, Barbara. Discourse
Analysis, 2nd Ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2008. Print.
and John Archibald. An Introduction
Contemporary Linguistic Analysis. Toronto: Pearson Education Canada,
Arnott, L., Newell, A.F., Procter, R. “A Study of Conversational Turn-Taking in
a Communication Aid For the Disable.”
1-8. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.