Conversation analysis and its different aspects

conversation analysis definition

Conversation analysis

The term analysis of the conversation was introduced by H. Sacks and disseminated by EA Schegloff in 1968. In the studies of anthropology and sociology of that time, the origin of interest in the conversation is in the United States within the limits of anthropology and sociology; hence its connections with ethnography, and, more specifically, with the ethnography of communication , which takes as an object and as a source of study analysis the linguistic activities that characterize a given community, and relates them to its social context and The communicative situation.

The central issue of this perspective is how the participants cooperatively use the conversation to carry out social actions. It works for this with empirical data and inductively. Conversational interaction is conceived as an institutionalized social practice subject to laws with empirical regularities. This constitutes an autonomous field of research, which is accessed through scientific observation techniques. The analysis of the conversation is based on the recording of natural interactions in varied situations, which explains that in the relevant works of this research stream ample space is dedicated to describing the procedures for the constitution of the corpus (recording and especially transcription) . This methodological basis is essential since, decidedly inductive,

Conversation analysis is based on the observation and collection and analysis of a large number of conversations that occur in everyday life in a real way. It is therefore an inductive method that aims to study the mechanisms and actions that speakers use when having a conversation, as well as the analysis of the means used to do so. On the other hand, the analysis of the conversation also seeks to explain the importance of the conversation in social relations.

Whenever a conversation occurs, the interlocutors who participate in it share a series of elements that allow them to understand what the other is saying, as well as share their thoughts with others. Let’s see

Assume the following conversation:

INTERLOCUTOR 1: What are we going to eat today?
– INTERLOCUTOR 2: I warned you not to act like this or it would end badly.

It is clear that this conversation is weird and meaningless, since there is no connection between the question of the interlocutor 1 and the answer of the interlocutor 2. And it is that one of the essential things in a conversation is that if someone makes a the interlocutor who receives it asks to answer it in some way.

Thus, if we observe the following conversation:

– INTERLOCUTOR 1: How much did this carpet cost you?
– INTERLOCUTOR 2: Do you think it’s pretty? I bought it on the trail.

Although the question is not answered directly by the interlocutor 2 and the information requested by the interlocutor 1 is not propitiated, there is some kind of connection between question and answer.

Think of a common question like Do you know where the Palermo Hotel is? This question can be answered in two ways :

– Saying no .
– Saying the place where the hotel is located.

But we would find it very strange that someone answered with a yes to this question and left without providing the required information. In this way, we observe how a response can be correct from a grammatical point of view, but still be inappropriate.

Something similar occurs in the following example:

INTERLOCUTOR 1: Could you tell me where there is a police station?
INTERLOCUTOR 2 (appropriate response): Go straight ahead and turn right on the first street and at the bottom you will find the police station.
INTERLOCUTOR 2 (unexpected response): There is a police station in all the cities of Spain.

With this, we see how we do not always have to understand the questions literally, but we must know how to distinguish the intention of the speaker when asking the question, that is, what is said in technical words is called implicature .

Also, when we are faced with a question we must take into account the context in which it occurs. By speaking we not only decode the message that is transmitted but we infer the meaning and strength of what was said by the other person. This occurs thanks to the collaboration agreement that all speakers have previously established.

In short, a conversation is not something without coherence and chaotic, but has a coherence that allows any speaker to distinguish a conversation from a series of sentences without any connection.

Aspects of conversation analysis

when we talk about conversation analysis we include verbal aspects, paralinguistic aspects and nonverbal communication .

Verbal aspects

To analyze the verbal aspects of a conversation we can use both recordings on video and audio , but in both cases it will be necessary to have the transcript of what is said there.

The transcription is fundamental since it allows us to return to the content as many times as necessary, to group the discourse in sequences of interest, such as a specific topic and to apply the three levels of discourse analysis: conscious, preconscious and unconscious.

When the researcher works the verbal aspects, he focuses on:

  • The terminology The words that participants use to refer to the object of study is rich in information. This is the first level of analysis that speech analysis programs incorporated. They are the famous word clouds and their distinction between positive, negative or neutral interventions.
  • The formulation of the phrase. That is, the way of referring to the object of study. For example, in a study for a law firm we differentiate between the participants who referred to the center using the proper name of the lawyer who takes their case, those who used the expression “my lawyer” or those who referred to the company as “the cabinet of lawyers.” The first two cases show us the personalization of the service and a certain emotional bond, an issue that we do not identify in the third.

Paralinguistic aspects

The analysis is carried out on the video or audio recording, with the transcription on the side as a means of support.

When analyzing the paralinguistic aspects, the researcher characterizes the actions of the participants. In other words, he answers the question “what does this participant do with his turn of speech?” Disagree, add information, complain…?

In addition, the meaning and meaning of each participant’s contribution in the conversation depends entirely on the context.in which it has occurred. For example, in a focus group whose object of study was international transport, one of the participants mentioned the number of containers he transported a week, from that intervention, the rest of the participants began to give figures on their own loads of goods in a spiral in which it was tried to demonstrate to the rest of the participants who was the one who carried the most cargo. Given this, we can ask ourselves if we are facing false information, the researcher’s answer is that we are facing relevant information, we may not know how many tons they transport per week, but we do know that “transporting a lot” is prestigious for the participants.

Non-verbal communication

Finally there is the non-verbal conversation, what the participants have told through their gestures .

The analysis of nonverbal communication is based on a series of conventions that allow us to interpret human behavior. For example, we understand a certain movement of the head as an affirmation, we can interpret a laugh quite successfully as ironic and we are also able to interpret a sigh in context.

In research involving individuals from different cultures, we must be careful with the interpretation of these conventions and have the support of researchers who know the cultures involved.

In addition to gestures, in the analysis of nonverbal communication, we also analyze the word shifts . The times that each participant intervenes, the way they take their turn (by invitation, as a response, on their own initiative …) and also the way in which it ends. This will allow us to contextualize interventions, determine relationships of power and relations established between participants.

The analysis of the conversation starts from the basis that human behavior is reasonable and meaningful and this is the most effective method to understand the representation of the world from the perspective of the participants.


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