Chapter 11: Naturally Occurring Talk


(D = doctor; M = mother)

  1. D: It sounds as if generally you’re having a difficult time
  2. M: Her temper is vile
  3. D: She with you and you with her
  4. M: Yes. And her control of the diabetes is gone, her temper then takes control of her

Using the analysis already given of Extracts 11.2 and 11.3, consider the following:

  1. What interpretative repertoires do M and D use to organize their talk?
  2. How is D’s interpretation on line 3 of M’s utterance on line 2 hearable as a charge?
  3. How does M’s utterance on line 4 respond to D’s interpretation? Is it hearable as a rebuttal?
  4. Can we learn anything from this extract about:
  • M’s attitude to her daughter?
  • Cultural assumptions about motherhood?

Lindsay Prior studied the ways in which people who work in and use a cancer genetics clinic in the UK talk about the ‘gene for cancer’. His first source of talk (Prior, 2007) relates to clinic consultations between cancer genetics specialists (CG) and patients of the cancer genetics service. The following talk was directed to a male patient at risk of colorectal cancer.

EXTRACT 11.9 (Prior, 2007: 990)

237. CG3: [So] the correct building block doesn’t follow. So then, sort quality

238. control comes along and looks at this protein and says, ‘you’ve

239. made a terrible mess up here’ and it destroys it.

The second type of talk arises from exchanges between laboratory scientists (LS) and a social scientist concerning the identification of genetic mutations in the laboratory. In the following extract, LS is talking about a slide:

EXTRACT 11.10 (Prior, 2007: 992)

320. LS3: This one here which is 14. She [the image of the mutation in a patient’s

321. DNA] is faint. The reason that she is faint is that she [the patient] is

322. dead, and we have extracted DNA from a paraffin block. So it’s less high

323. quality. And she does work eventually if you change the PCR conditions

324. and things. And then she is beautiful. We do have to go back and do

325. her on her own. Always fails; [Mary]. [Mary] fails all the time.

326. We do them [the gels] in blocks of 30. And this I will have to do again

327. because I didn’t run it long enough

Using the DA concepts of ‘stake’ and ‘script’ how can you analyse these two extracts? In what ways are they organized differently or similarly?

How far does it matter that these two extracts do not show any response by a hearer?

This is a task designed to help you familiarize yourself with the transcription conventions used in conversation analysis. As a consequence, you should start to understand the logic of transcribing this way and be able to ask questions about how the speakers are organizing their talk.

You are asked to tape-record no more than five minutes of talk in the public domain. One possibility is a radio call-in programme. Avoid using scripted, drama productions as these may not contain recurrent features of natural interaction (such as overlap or repair). Do not try to record a TV extract as the visual material will complicate both transcription and analysis. Now go through the following steps:

  1. Attempt to transcribe your tape using the conventions in the Appendix to this book. Try to allocate turns to identified speakers where possible but do not worry if you cannot identify a particular speaker (put ‘?’ at the start of a line in such cases).
  2. Encourage a friend to attempt the same task independently of you. Now compare transcripts and listen to the tape recording again to improve your transcript.
  3. Using this chapter as a guide, attempt to identify in your transcript any features in the organization of the talk (e.g. adjacency pairs, preference organization, institutional talk).

Below is an extract from an HIV-test counselling interview. Read it through carefully in terms of the transcriptions set out in the Appendix.

EXTRACT 11.16 [Excerpt no. SS/2/16: DG]

1.   C: Okay. (0.7) It may sou:nd (0.5) perhaps a dumb question but if you did

have HIV how: might you have got it.


4.   P: I’m sorry?

5.   C: If you did have HIV how might you have gotten it.

6.   P: How might I have er gotten it.

7.   C: Mm=

8.   P: =er: Through gay se:x.

9.   C: Okay:.


11. C: [Uh:m:

12. P: [How I- exactly how I don’t know:, (0.5) uh::: (3.0) I am (.) really notsure.


14. C: Okay..hhh When you say through gay sex I mean how long have you

bee:n (0.4) having relationships with other guys for.

16. P: Okay: er:::: (1.0) s-well (0.3) since I was a little kid.=As long as I

c(h)an reme(h)mbe(h)r..hhhh er::: (1.5) Bu:t (0.4) before I got my

jo:b I: (0.3) I started seeing someone, (0.4) a:nd it was the only

relationship for two and half year:s.

20. C: Mm hm

21. P: And might add a stormy relationship so: (0.2) I was not (.) the faithful


(.) The entire two and a half years.

24. C: Both of you [were unfaithful or you weren’t.

P: [er::

26. P: I: (0.6) I was no:t. I’m sure he wa:s (0.5) er::: (0.2) I mean we had

several periods of falling ou:t. (0.6) er::


29. C: Mm hm

30. (1.0)

  • List the devices from ordinary conversation that C and P use to monitor each other’s talk.
  • In what ways do C and P produce their talk as ‘institutional’?