Discourse Analysis. Applied Conversation Analysis


The following study contains a transcript of spoken conversation that was subject to linguistic analysis via means of Conversation Analysis approach, centering around such linguistic features as adjacency pairs, turn-construction units, openings and closings. The study also takes into consideration the framework of conversational maxims introduced by Paul Grice and performs analysis in view of its theoretical nomenclature.

Methodology of Conversation Analysis

In examining the linguistic data within the framework of the current paper, one of the underlying approaches that will be used throughout the ongoing discourse analysis is making use of Conversation Analysis proposed by Sacks et al. and the Cooperative Principle introduced by Paul Grice. Following some of the rhetorical patterns, the paper will investigate the qualitative features of the documented linguistic data. The paper resorts to the approaches that make use of four major domains of Conversation Analysis, i.e. turn-taking, repair, action formation and action sequencing. In addition, rhetorical patterns introduced by Grice and designated as “conversational maxims” are also applied in analysis of the collected and documented linguistic data.

Elaborating on the major methodological implications of Conversation Analysis, we need to clarify the underlying concepts that will be applied to the data from that perspective. First, by turn-taking in CA, it is implied that in conversation, participants of communication use turn constructional units (e.g. lexical items, clauses, whole sentences and phrases) in order to alter the “flow” of conversation on the edge of “predicted” completion of an utterance. Thus, for instance, when speaker A “predicts” that the last utterance from speaker B was completed and needs additional information (confirmation, clarification etc.), the converser A may resort to lexical items that in their particular forms express or imply enquiry (interrogative pronouns, interjections etc.) that, apart from their propositional meaning, may involve interrogative implicature when put in an appropriate context. Thus, for instance, we can provide the following illustrative example of casual conversation:

Robert and Sam

Robert: She broke up with him a few days before.

In the aforementioned example, it is evident that Robert (who will be referred to as speaker A for convenience) expects Sam (speaker B) to be aware of the third persons to whom he provides a reference. However, speaker B, who apparently lacks the necessary background information for the communication act to be “complete”, requests for additional clarification by using interrogative pronouns, which, according to the ideas proposed in CA, can be referred to as turn constructional units (TCU). These units, in turn, drive the conversation in a manner suitable for the participants and are used differently in various kinds of communication (e.g. debate, private conversation, public hearings etc.). On par with TCUs, there appears to be another important level of turn-taking in conversation. This concerns, in particular, the “turn allocation component” (Sidnell, 2016) that, in turn, involves three major rules that govern allocation of the next speaker within single communication act. Thus, for instance, Sacks et al. (1974) introduce the two following rules that govern speech act allocation between participants within a conversation:

Rule 1 C = current speaker, N = next speaker

(a) If C selects N in current turn, then C must stop speaking, and N must speak next, transition occurring at the first possible completion after N-selection. (Sidnell, 2016)

(b) If C does not select N, then any party (other than C) may self-select at a first point of possible completion, first speaker gaining rights to the next turn. (Sidnell, 2016)

(c) If C has not selected N, and no other party self-selects under option (b), then C may (but need not) continue (i.e., claim rights to a further TCU). (Sidnell, 2016)

Rule 2 applies at all subsequent TRP (transition relevance places):

When Rule 1(c) has been applied by C, then at the next TRP Rules 1 (a)–(c) apply, and recursively at the next TRP, until speaker change is effected. (Sidnell, 2016)

These rules in particular govern the “timing” of projected completion of an utterance by the speakers, and this is where the assumption towards when the suggestion is completed serve as initial points of speaker “switching” throughout communication act.

In conversation, according to CA, participants tend to identify “misunderstandings” and inevitably try to “fix” them, and this is where “repair” pattern of CA takes place. Synthesizing the major concepts of the idea in focus Sidnell (2016) summarizes them as follows:

“A repair initiation marks a “possible disjunction with the immediately preceding talk,” while a repair outcome results either in a “solution or abandonment of the problem” (Schegloff, 2000, p. 207). That problem, the particular segment of talk to which the repair is addressed, is termed the “trouble source” or “repairable.”” (Sidnell, 2016)

Thus, for instance, repairs can be self-initiated (by the speaker who is the possible source of misunderstanding) or other-initiated (by the receiver) (Sidnell, 2016). Repairable communicative items within a conversational sequence, in addition, can be subsequently located by the speaker other than the supposed trouble source of misunderstanding. These components within CA, in turn, are referred to as next-turn-repair-initiators (hereinafter referred to as NTRI). 

As a referential tool that allows the conversers to subsequently designate the major points of misunderstanding (but not necessarily help locate the trouble component), they may resort to lexical items like “huh” or “what”, whereas interrogative pronouns like “who”, “when” etc. allow the conversers to identify the major communicative trouble more accurately (Sidnell, 2016).

Although repairs are necessary part of communication and they are given much attention within the “binary” approach to sequencing oral communication in CA, they do not necessarily 

address the configuration that is placed “above” communication, and this is where CA introduces “Action in Interaction” approach.

In understating the conversational input between the participants, CA proposes two major information types:

  1. “Front-loaded information” of prosody (e.g. pitch preset, gaze) (Sidnell, 2016)
  2. Turn-initial tokens (such as “oh,” “look,” “well,” et.) (Sidnell, 2016)

These types of information, according to CA, give information to the recipients about what is being done. In addition, these aspects involve purely linguistic information that is made manifest in, for instance, syntactic inversion, imperative forms etc. (Sindell, 2016). Although the aforementioned approach attempts to address the “above level” structure of communication, it does not clearly investigate the generic features of the practice that are independent of the particular context, situation, group of participants etc. (Sidnell, 2016)

The last major aspect of CA called “Action Sequencing” introduces the concept of “adjacency pairs” that are used in communication to exert chain communication activities. Elaborating on the concept, Sidnell provides the notion of “conditional relevance” introduced by Shegloff (1968):

“By the conditional relevance of one item on another we mean: given the first, the second is expectable; upon its occurrence it can be seen to be a second item to the first; upon its nonoccurrence it can be seen to be officially absent—all this provided by the occurrence of the first item” (Shegloff, 1968).

Thus, communicative actions may be taken in view of non-occurring communicative events (e.g. implied plea that was not verbalized explicitly within a conversational turn). These adjacent pairs, in turn, are characterized by four underlying features introduced in Shegloff and Sacks (1973), where it is implied that adjacent pair is composed of two utterances that are:

  1. Adjacent.
  2.  Produced by different speakers.
  3. (Ordered as a first pair part (FPP) and second pair part (SPP).
  4. “Typed”?, so that a particular first pair part provides for the relevance of a particular second pair part (or some delimited range of seconds, e.g., a complaint can be relevantly responded to by a remedy, an excuse, a justification, a denial, and so on) (Sidnell, 2016).

Conversation analysis of the provided linguistic data will be conducted in view of the aforementioned concepts. However, there is one more aspect of the methodology that needs to be taken into consideration. The conversation transcript presented in the paper is to be analyzed using the Conversation Analysis approach that also draws upon “maxims of conversational acts” proposed by Paul Grice. Synthesizing Grice’s concepts of Cooperation Principle, conversation can be distributed into four major maxims that can be attributed to any communicative act that takes place in both written and oral conversation. These patterns Longworth (2017) introduces as follows:

The Cooperative Principle in turn may, in general, be implemented by appeal to a number

of more specific maxims:

  1. Maxims of Quantity: 1. Make your conversational contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange). 2. Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.
  2. Maxims of Quality: 1. Do not say what you believe to be false. 2. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.
  3. Maxim of Relevance: Be relevant.
  4. Maxims of Manner: 1. Avoid obscurity. 2. Avoid ambiguity. 3. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity). 4. Be orderly. (Grice, 1989, pp. 26–27) (Longworth, 2017)

The aforementioned aspects of communication acts will also be taken into consideration while analyzing the illustrative examples of spoken conversation provided further.

Formal Limitations

The transcript provided in the paper for analysis will be completely devoid of personal data that may entail anonymity or privacy concerns. Thus, the transcript uses “Speaker A” and “Speaker B” as participant markers. The interviewee was duly informed of the endeavor prior to conducting the interview. The transcript makes use of the following designations:

= – interruptions made by the speakers and occasional overlapping instances (e.g. lexical items used for non-intrusive confirmation like “huh”, “oh” etc.). The first position designates the beginning of overlap, whereas the second position designates its content and the final position in the beginning of the next utterance.

(n) – pause duration where n is the approximate amount of seconds the pause takes.

The semi-structured interview was conducted via means of distance communication, hence, the analysis does not make emphasis on the possible extra-linguistic cues (e.g. gestures, posture etc.), since these kinds of activities are fairly restricted in that kind of communication. The range of topics covered throughout the interview includes hobbies and activities that help the individual to cope with the pandemic and its possible psychological implications. The paper only contains pieces of transcript that display certain peculiarities within the aforementioned approaches, hence, chunks of text that do not entail distinct features relevant for the current work were excluded (e.g. extended one-way narrations). For the sake of convenience, the transcript is formatted in columns, where each line in the first column contains the utterances per se, and the second column contains, namely, linguistic commentary.


Grice, H. P. (1989). Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Longworth, G. (2017). Semantics and Pragmatics. In A Companion to the Philosophy of Language (eds B. Hale, C. Wright and A. Miller). https://doi:10.1002/9781118972090.ch5

Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199384655.013.40

Sacks, Harvey & Schegloff, Emanuel & Jefferson, Gail. (1974). A Simple Systematic for the Organisation of Turn Taking in Conversation. Language. 50. 696-735. 10.2307/412243.

Schegloff, E. A. (1968). Sequencing in conversational openings. American Anthropologist, 70(6), 1075–1095.

Sidnell, J. (2016). Conversation Analysis. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics.