Turn-Taking in Conversation Analysis


In conversation analysis, turn-taking is a term for the manner in which orderly conversation normally takes place.

The underlying principles of turn-taking were first described by sociologists Harvey Sacks, Emanuel A. Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson in "A Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation" in the journal Language, December 1974.

Examples and Observations

  • Christine Cagney: I'm being quiet now. That means it's your turn to talk.
    Mary Beth Lacey: I'm trying to think of what to say.
    (Cagney & Lacey, 1982)
  • "Once a topic is chosen and a conversation initiated, then matters of conversational 'turn-taking' arise. Knowing when it is acceptable or obligatory to take a turn in conversation is essential to the cooperative development of discourse. This knowledge involves such factors as knowing how to recognize appropriate turn-exchange points and knowing how long the pauses between turns should be. It is also important to know how (and if) one may talk while someone else is talking—that is, if conversational overlap is allowed. Since not all conversations follow all the rules for turn-taking, it is also necessary to know how to 'repair' a conversation that has been thrown off course by undesired overlap or a misunderstood comment.

    "Cultural differences in matters of turn-taking can lead to conversational breakdown, misinterpretation of intentions, and interpersonal intergroup conflict."
    (Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes, American English: Dialects and Variation. Wiley-Blackwell, 2006)
  • The Wolf: You're Jimmie, right? This is your house?
    Jimmie: Sure is.
    The Wolf: I'm Winston Wolfe. I solve problems.
    Jimmie: Good, we got one.
    The Wolf: So I heard. May I come in?
    Jimmie: Uh, yeah, please do.
    (Pulp Fiction, 1994)

Turn-Taking and Parliamentary Procedure

"Absolutely fundamental to following parliamentary procedure is knowing when and how to speak in your correct turn.

Business in deliberative societies cannot be conducted when the members are interrupting each other and when they are speaking out of turn on unrelated subjects. Etiquette calls interrupting someone else rude behavior and unfitting for people in refined society. Post's book of etiquette goes beyond this to describe the importance of listening and responding to the correct topic as being part of good manners when participating in any form of conversation.

"By waiting your turn to speak and avoiding interrupting another person, you not only show your desire to work together with the other members of your society, you also show respect for your fellow members." (Rita Cook, The Complete Guide to Robert's Rules of Order Made Easy. Atlantic Publishing, 2008)

Interrupting vs. Interjecting

"To be sure, a debate is as much about performance and rhetoric (and snappy one-liners) as it is about meaningful dialogue. But our ideas about conversation inevitably shape how we perceive the debates. This means, for example, that what seems an interruption to one viewer might be merely an interjection to another. Conversation is an exchange of turns, and having a turn means having a right to hold the floor until you have finished what you want to say.

So interrupting is not a violation if it doesn’t steal the floor. If your uncle is telling a long story at dinner, you may cut in to ask him to pass the salt. Most (but not all) people would say you aren’t really interrupting; you just asked for a temporary pause." (Deborah Tannen, "Would You Please Let Me Finish . . ." The New York Times, October 17, 2012)

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Turn-Taking in Conversation Analysis." ThoughtCo, Apr. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/turn-taking-conversation-1692569. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 25). Turn-Taking in Conversation Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/turn-taking-conversation-1692569 Nordquist, Richard. "Turn-Taking in Conversation Analysis." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/turn-taking-conversation-1692569 (accessed February 22, 2018).