Conversation Analysis Essay

This transcription is taken from the radio show podcast called Midweek: Diverse Conversation hosted by Libby Purves on Radio 4. This is a conversation based radio show that normally has three or four guests who share their own experiences as entertainers in the arts world. The conversations are led by the presenter Libby Purves who encourages the guests to join in each other’s conversations. The part of the show that I have chosen to transcribe is close to the beginning of the show and is six minutes into the programme.

Prior to the start of my transcription Libby Purves, the host has introduced each of her guests and explained who they were and what they did. She has just explained that she has recently been to see Klause Kruse’s theatre show ‘Cart Macabre,’ which is an interactive audience participant show where they audience are pushed through the tunnels under the ‘Old Vic’ theatre in London in carts completely in the dark. This is how the audience experiences the performance.

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Klause,(.) er do you allow (.)for the audience interaction with what you are doing (.)and with what the mechanics are doing?

Er to a certain extent yes but erm (.) but your very much being moved. Its, its not like in other emersive workswhere people are erm taking their own routes. We are definitely moving you on a route

Oh, and it does give you a sense that we’re all juddering slowly towards a tomb on routes we do not know

(…) what was different about this experience being an audience member as opposed to sitting in a conventional theatre?

Oh there totally different because you are quite helpless. You are completely helpless and you cant , you cant see anything. You don’t really know who’s next to you. No, I like that helplessness; I thought it was good, the, the sea is really important metaphor in all of it, isn’t it?

Yeah, it is yeah

Erm, its and at one stage the carts sway as if they are on a sip and of course they creak and I assumed that you had some incredibly complicated mechanism to do this but (.) erm I found out afterwards that is not the case, is it?

END

Key

Libby Purve – Radio Show Host (LP)

Patrick Stewart – Actor (PS)

Klaus Kruse – director of ‘Cart Macabre’ at the Old Vic Tunnels (KK)

(.) Indicates a pause

(…) indicates inaudible speech

There appears to be very little shared knowledge between the participants although they have an understanding of who each other are and they are addressed by name rather than any phrase that would indicate a particular relationship or that a specific personal status exists between them.

Although the transcription starts with the actor Patrick Stewart asking the theatre director a question regarding this production, the majority of the prompting comes from the host, Libby Purve. Whilst the host engages in the conversation the majority of her utterances end in a question. For example in line 5 ‘isn’t it? And also in line 7, ‘is it’. Both of these examples show the host directing the conversation and inviting the others to respond and participate in the conversation. This evidences that the host has the superior status within this conversation and leads the other participants through the course of the conversation.

Among the guests Patrick Stewart demonstrates his dominant status within this group when he asks his questions in lines 1 and 4. This was an interruption in the speech that Klause Kruse was previously making prior to the start of the transcription. This defines the conversation based on Patrick Stewarts own needs and agenda and how the performance experience relates to his own experiences as an actor.

This is what Sacks et al call ‘adjacency pairs, where particular kinds of utterance and response tend to occur together’ (Sacks et al, cited in Maybin, 2007, p21). This allows for a natural management of turn taking and this is repeated throughout the course of the show. It is interesting to note that this turn taking is not used the remaining guests. As such they do not provide this same degree of input to the conversation. They respond either to the questions from the host or Patrick Stewart. This is a repeated strategy used by the actor of interacting with the other guests throughout the course of the radio programme.

Within this transcript there isn’t any evidence of overlapping speech and this may well be because this is relatively close to the start of the radio show and the two dominant participants have yet to allow for turn taking of the other guests. Although in later stages of the show there is evidence on the part of the host which show their desire to bring the other participants into the conversation by asking their opinion on the contrasting genres that are being discussed. This in turn would prompt a natural response and give that individual an opportunity to engage in the conversation.

In this transcript we can see the use of a tag question by the female host in line 5 with the use of ‘isn’t it?’. This is could be an attempt for the host to use the more female face saving strategy to ensure that the conversation runs more smoothly and that the participants engage in a more structured manner. Researchers such as Robin Lakoff have observed this trait in women when they are in mixed company and by using this strategy of using tag questions the host is ‘encouraging others to talk'(Maybin, 2007, p21)

The interruptions evidenced by the actor Patrick Stewart in the transcript would also seem to support Lakoffs research that ‘men tend to dominate the topics and management of mixed gender conversation, interrupting more and giving less feedback and support’. (Maybin, 2007, p21).

There is no evidence within this transcript of closings which would show additional face saving strategies within a normal conversation. It was noted that at the end this radio programme there no natural closings that we would normally find in conversations such as repetition instead the host thanks her quests and says goodbye without any audio from her guests. This would suggest that the ‘conversation is not as unscripted as it first appears and that there is more structure to the content than initially thought.

We can see by the lengthy questions asked by the host in lines 5 and 7 that she is providing the structure for the conversations and is giving the guests a specific context with which to respond to. This strategy is repeated throughout the course of the radio show and repeated with each guest in turn. There is no evidence of conversational narrative in this transcript and as such we cannot refer to Labov’s structure of oral narrative. This would only really apply if one of the participants was to move into story telling mode.

In the conversation transcript there is a particular style of speech demonstrated by the actor Patrick Stewart as he using pauses and emphasis to highlight particular points that he wishes to make. In line 1 he pauses twice whilst asking his question and his second pause comes directing after the word ‘doing’ which he emphasises by using a high rising terminal inflection. The purpose of this is to encourage the director to respond to the actor in what his intentions were in relation to the performance.

His tone of voice is quite drawn out and relaxed and gives the impression that he has considered what he is saying before speaking. Obviously this characteristic could just be an aural representation of the actors training and the distinctive sound of the actor’s voice. Also his way of asking questions seems to request that the participant offer a personal viewpoint which is evidenced in the example above and also again in line 4 when asking the host to tell him what was different about experiencing the performance in this non conventional way.

There are some conversational analysis techniques that are not evidenced within this particular transcription. They are:

Interpersonal meaning.

Whilst there is ideational content in the transcript I have selected there is a lack of Interpersonal meaning here. So ideas are expressed among the participants we do not see evidence of the interpersonal meaning and how this relates to the group on a social level. There is little in what they say which conveys this social connection.

Codeswitching

This is not evidenced in this transcript that has been selected but there is evidence of this in an earlier segment of the show when the actor Patrick Stewart ‘codeswitches’ to a Yorkshire dialect to emphasise how a dialect word was used in a Shakespeare play. The more commonly associated use of codeswitching is that of switching from English to another language to identify with another person of group of people. Janet Maybin (2007,p8) states’ Multilingual speakers often switch to another language to signal shared group membership and ethnicity with the person they are addressing’ This is a way of communicating that shows a connection to a particular social group

Positive and negative face saving

Is a way of verbally presenting ourselves as either in a way in which we want to be liked and thought of as a nice person and generally accommodating to others (positive face saving) or a way of presenting ourselves so others do not impose on us for example not being persuaded to comply to requests made to us by others and turning down invitations to events that we may not wish to attend.

Face Threatening Acts

Is a direct way of showing that we do not want to do something and could come in the form of a direct decline of wishing to discuss a particular subject or forbidding somebody else from discussing the same subject.

The use of transcription allows us to look a conversation in a very orderly fashion by putting it into columns. There are various types of transcription methods available and which type we choose to use will demand on the type of observation that needs to take place. For example there may be very little speech and more visual interaction between the participants so that additional information can be recorded.

I choose to use a standard transcription method for ease of understanding so that the speech of the participants could be followed easily. The type of transcription method used would also vary depending on the medium used and in my transcription is radio. So we are unable to see how the participants are visually interacting with each other. Using a transcription process allows us to observe and analyse the techniques and strategies we all employ in everyday conversation.

References

http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/midweek

Mabin, J. (2007) ‘Everyday Talk’ in Using English, Maybin, J., Mercer, N. and Hewing, A.

‘Everyday Talk’, Unit 9 U211 DVD 1