What is Conversation Analysis?

Hopefully you are able to realise that words in a sentence are not just randomly placed components that could be rearranged in any order and still result in the same meaning or even just make sense (if you’d like to read more about why this is the case, check out Syntax).



In much the same way, the components of an utterance in a conversation (utterances aren’t just made up of words, think about paralinguistic features that are used as well) are not just randomly placed or innocently splurted out without some process of thought. Harvey Sacks, Emanuel Schegloff and Gail Jefferson[1], whose work you can learn more about here, came up with a handy metaphor to try and visualise the process of conversation.


They said that social interaction is a result of inner ‘machinery’, so the internal process of conversation is actually a well-thought out and intersecting process procedure. So then, what are these ‘machines’ and thoughts that define and control our social interaction?

Enter Conversation Analysis to help us find out the answer! 

Have you ever stopped to think about just how complex speech becomes when you factor in social contexts and just generally the pragmatics in situations? Conversation Analysis involves examining conversations and analysing what was said, why it was said and how it was said.

Conversation Analysis then becomes a discipline that aims to explain the many intricacies and tacit knowledge (meaning everyone understands what occurs during conversation, but couldn’t implicitly state why) of social interaction.

The rest of this section will explain a bit more about the background of Conversation Analysis and also how it is primarily studied. 


[1] Jefferson. G. (ed) (1992). Harvey Sacks: Sacks Lectures on Conversation. Oxford: Blackwell

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