Current projectability of TCUs plays a fundamental role in

research into talk-in-interaction focuses on the turn-taking system and
extracts interest from the way in which participants observe the course of a
turn in progress and predict the end of that turn. This paper presents a Conversation
Analytic study of the distribution of pauses and gaps throughout the
turn-taking system, instances of overlap and the behaviour of participants in
speech exchange systems. This article will review literature on the basic
turn-taking mechanism and research that focuses on the implications of CA work
for how we think about language processing. It will analyse both the process of
comprehension and production and the constant shift between the two in
conversation. The micro level of analysis this paper will provide allows for a
more fine-grained understanding of turn projection. Finally, this analysis will
demonstrate how the notion of turn projection is a key component in the
organisation of turn-taking.

turn-taking, turn projection, prediction, conversation analysis,

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to CA, the projectability of TCUs plays a fundamental role in the ways in which
conversation is structured and in the process of listening to talk in progress
(Liddicoat 2004). Listeners must process the turn in progress in advance in
order to be aware of speaker change and to achieve a smooth floor transfer, two
essential properties of a successful speech exchange.

In terms
of temporality, participants do not process a previous utterance once it has
occurred and wait until it finishes prepare their own. Conversation would be
much more drawn out with substantial gaps after every turn. Rather, the model
of turn-taking proposed by Sacks et al. (1974) involves considerable projection
of what the other interlocutor might utter and when their turn may end.

evidence exists in speech exchange systems for predictive language
comprehension and for gaps in language production. As Pomerantz (2012)
describes participation in a conversation and assessment of that talk are
closely related processes. One way to account for inter-speaker gaps often
being shorter than intra-speaker latencies is the process of overlapping in
conversation. Participants demonstrate an assessment of this occurrence by
keeping any competing turns they may produce brief with one participant often
dropping out.

For the
purpose of this paper, it is important to differentiate between pauses, gaps
and lapses and to define between-overlaps in comparison to within-overlaps. Silences
can be distinguished according to their length, the preceding turn and the turn
which follows the silence. Pauses, therefore, refer to silences within turns
and on average last around 600ms and higher according to Levinson and Torreira
(2015). Turns with such pauses usually consist of a grammatically incomplete
turn or an “um” demonstrating place-holding behaviour (Mushin and Gardner
2009). Gaps, however only average around 200ms and refer to those that require
a floor transfer between participants occurring at transition-relevance places
(TRPs) or between turns. Finally, extended silences between turns are known as
lapses (Sacks et al. 1974) which often occur when no-one has selected to speak.
With regards to overlaps, we can differentiate between two kinds according to
when they occur in conversation. Between-overlaps can be defined as floor
transfers that occur without any gap between participants and within-overlaps
are those with overlapping inter-pausal units that don’t cause floor transfer
(Heldner and Edlund 2010). The following sections will present examples of such
features extracted from a corpus of data and demonstrate how they are
significant features of talk-in-interaction.

2. The Corpora

The data
used for analysis in this research is of naturally occurring conversations sourced
from a British reality television show and compiled into a corpus of
recordings. These recordings were collaboratively transcribed by a class of
students using CA practices. The transcriptions have thus provided evidence for
the claims made by this paper.

Turn-taking as a system

Sacks et
al. (1974) provide the foundational work on turn-taking and define it as a form
of organization for conversation demonstrating this system using a model with
various rules and observations. The model consists of TCUs which can be
described as potentially complete turns (Schegloff 1996) which end with a space
known as a TRP which makes relevant a speaker change but does not require it. In
CA, projectability is seen as being fundamental to the turn-taking model.
According to the model, a complete TCU must be understood as such by another interlocutor
within a given sequential context implying therefore that the other participant
must be able to project the action of the preceding turn and when that turn may
end (Liddicoat 2004).

The model
claims that social interactions are regulated by social norms which suggest
that one party talks at a time however do allow for open participation. This
refers to the fact that talk-in-interaction is highly flexible and occurs in a
moment-by-moment fashion and therefore overlap may occur. According to the
rules of the model, overlap is expectable and contributes to the vast majority
of transitions (Sacks et al. 1974). One such rule of the model claims that two
participants may self-select themselves as the next speaker resulting in
overlap. This may also be the case if a participant tries to demonstrate an
understanding of the current turn where exactly the same words feature in the
overlap as in (1).

McLaughlin – First Dates


Sarah:          >thats
good that they were there for ya< .hhh >cause like lads can be< (0.6) ?like ither (0.3)- 2. Phil:           the $?MA(h)d jo(h)kes ºorº- 3. Sarah:          >?Yeah the like<

Phil:                                                        yeah its:

5. Phil:           (0.4) ?I think it helps that (0.6
scratches brow) (h h h-)


In (1),
the word “yeah” feature twice in an overlapping nature between lines 3 and 4.
In this case, the two participants seem to agree on a single understanding
without saying much about it. Phil has just explained how his friends were
there for him after the loss of his mum when Sarah states that this was a good
thing by implying something about “lads” however she doesn’t actually make any
statement. Phil seems to make a guess at what she might be referring to at
which point the two of them form a kind of agreement or mutual understanding
with the overlapping “yeah”s. This may be due to the fact that Sarah hasn’t
made any direct observations herself and neglects to do so in line 3 where Phil
makes an attempt to show that he understands self-selecting himself to take the
floor, perhaps before Sarah was finished.

may also occur if a participant misinterprets the end of a turn. This is common
in conversation however the rules also predict that latencies during a turn
will be longer and more frequent than those gaps between turns as participants
can actually often predict when speaker-change may occur, the main focus of
this article. This is shown in example (2), suggesting that participants do have
a good understanding of when a turn may end, that is, they are able to predict
the end and can therefore prepare and swiftly produce their own response but
with no overlap (Levinson 2015). (2) is an example of latching in conversation
where one turn occurs immediately after the previous turn without any pause.

(2) McAllister
– First Dates

6. Stu:  (0.8) what sort of women do you go for


10. Stu:                   i’ve
had a run with a few (.) ?gingers
I guess they would    call themselves


Line 8 demonstrates an example of a pause at the end
of a syntactic unit but within a single turn: “ (0.8)” This pause constitutes a TRP. This suggests that Jen has made
an attempting to leave the floor open for Stu to self-select for the next turn
however when he doesn’t do so, she continues, producing a wh-question and thus
explicitly selecting Stu to respond. While the purpose of this example is to
highlight a substantial gap between turns, note that the focus of this paper is
still evident in that the first pause is still slightly longer than the
inter-speaker gap, supporting . Referring now to the effect of the wh-question
and addressing the question of how such action was accomplished, we can observe
that quite a long gap was produced implying that the response in line 9
required some preparation, more so, than that for a simple yes/no question.  

4.1 The role of silences in dispreferred responses

Sacks et
al. (1974) suggest that a preference exists for no gap between turns in
conversation however it is evident that silences do occur in this way in a
number of instances. With questions, for example, if an interlocutor asks a
question they will expect some kind of response and as participants are very
sensitive to timing, extensive gaps in this TRP can be seen as problematic. In
other words, a delay in transmission often causes disruption in conversation
and silences of 700ms or longer after a question constitute as dispreferred
responses (Kendrick and Torreira 2015).

It is also
important to note that gaps between turns do not only represent participants
still in the progress of preparing what to say. Other reasons exist for these
silences, for example, as a politeness strategy. In other words, gaps may occur
between turns in an interaction if one participant wants to avoid any
imposition, confrontation or embarrassment (Brown and Levinson 1987; Nakane
2007). The context of extract (4) presents a typically uncomfortable setting
where both participants of the date are asked whether they’d like to see each other
again by a third interlocutor. It is important to note that Ben has already
answered the question with a yes and the extract below demonstrates Tamzin’s
turn to answer.

(4) Reid –
First Dates

11. Ben:                  $I think
let’s face it (1.3) its more (h) about (h) =

whether (h) she’s gonna? See me? $

12. Tamzin:                                                     (h)

13. Tamzin:            (h) (0.6)

14. Ben:                         She’s the one with the (.) fussy

15. Ben:                  (h)

16. Tamzin:            (h)

17. Tamzin:            It’s not a no. (h)

18. Ben:                  It’s not a

19. Tamzin:                             (h)

20. Ben:                  Is it a yes
though? (1.0)

21. Tamzin:            That’s not what I’m saying.


The silence in this extract can be viewed as a
negative politeness strategy where Tamzin appears to use silences as a form of
distancing tactic (Nakane 2007) as she avoids providing a yes or no answer to
the question of seeing Ben again. The first gap in line 13 is 600ms almost
meeting the time proposed for a dispreferred response and in fact, resulting in
Ben self-selecting again. In line 20, Ben poses another question: “Is it a yes
though? (1.0)” explicitly selecting Tamzin to speaker next which is followed by
a longer, quite extensive gap of 1 second. This implies that Tamzin may want to
avoid answering with a definitive yes or no in attempt to avoid any

Extract (4) also suggest ordered rules within the
turn-taking system. The inter-speaker gaps already mentioned demonstrate how
typically it is expectable for Tamzin to have rights to the next turn unit especially
as both turns beforehand are questions however as she does not speak at all,
Ben continues with rights to the turn unit (Levinson and Torreira 2015).

5. Overlap

evidence claims that 80% of the transitions in face-to-face conversation are gaps
and 20% are partial overlaps (Levinson and Torreira 2015). Overlaps are most
likely to occur at turn transitions however they are brief and subject to
repair in that when two participants speak at the same time, very often one
will drop out quite quickly thus repairing the trouble. Overlap can occur in
many situations, some of which are already discussed in section 2. Another brief
but very common instance of overlap is a setting where a participant may enter
some environment and several other participants greet them simultaneously
creating an instance where a vast number of speaker utterances may overlap with
each other.

to Sacks et al (1974), simultaneous starts may occur as an example of overlap
when both participants self-select at some possible TRP, for example, in
extract (5).

(5) O’Hanlon
– First Dates

22. Toby:         You
alright, (.) nice to meet you

23. Bree:          yeah
nice to meet you


24. Bree:          ?hi

25. Toby          what’s
your name sorry?

Lines 24 and 25 illustrate an overlap where both
participants have self-selected at the same time. Interestingly, Bree was the
last participant to speak before they kiss and she still self-selects to
continue after they do so. In this case, both participants project possible
completion points of the other and one will drop out. In this instance, Bree
may only have planned to say “hi” however there is also the possibility that
she dropped out as she predicted that Toby’s turn was a question not close to

6. Turn projection

Ten Have
(2007) suggests that conversational flow is responsible for turn projection
which he claims is vital for both language production and comprehension in
situ. This suggests that as a conversation progresses, there will be less gaps
between turns as participants have a mutual understanding about what they are
talking about. They have also been able to assess the conversation so far and according
to Schegloff (2000), turns between participants are often co-ordinated with their
response times often changing to match their interlocutors’.

instance which very clearly demonstrates that participants often predict the
others’ upcoming utterance and when they may stop is illustrated in conditional
clauses of the form ‘if X then Y’. The following example highlights this idea.

(6) Lerner

26. Rich:       if you bring it intuh them

27. Carol:
-> ih don’t cost yuh nothing

that Rich agrees that line 27 is what he was meaning or what he would’ve followed
with in his next turn, example (6) demonstrates how his use of a conditional
clause allowed Carol to project the content of the second clause (Levinson and
Torreira 2015).

proof that substantial projection occurs in conversation is at word level, the
instance of one participant pausing as they are searching for a word that the
other interlocutor can provide.

6.1 Turn-final cues

The CA
approach to turn-taking analyses what may be regarded as a complete turn and
how participants are able to recognise it as finished (Sacks et al 1974). The
sources that participants use for projectability depend on various properties known
as turn-final cues. These sources include syntactic closure, pragmatic actions
or gestures and prosodic cues (Ford et al. 2003) which can all mark possible
TRPs. With regards to prosody, certain intonational contours occur which are
consistent with the ends of turns such as phrase-final syllable lengthening as
shown in extract (7).

(7) Reid –
First Dates

28. Tamzin:     I
might just nip to the toilet:

29. Ben:           You’re
not gona leg it are ya?

Tamzin, in line 28, ends her turn with a stretched
sound, lengthening the final syllable, illustrated with “:”. This seems to
signal to Ben that her turn is complete and he is able to project this and have
a response prepared with no gap or overlap between the turns.

Another example of completion marking exists in the
form of tag questions (Sidnell 2010).

(8) Tougher – First Dates

30. Jessica:             >?Charmer
you are< aren't YA? 31. Will:                                                          ?oh (1.0) >I don’t #know<

In extract (8), Jessica turns her statement into a
question which Will seems to orient to as a completion marker as he begins his
turn with no gap. In fact, his response even overlaps Jessicas’ turn slightly illustrating
how tag question allow for the listener to project the end of the preceding

7. Experimental studies of turn-taking

methods involved in CA involve acquiring data that is naturally occurring and
mechanically recorded. This is important as hypothetical or reinvented
instances of talk are difficult to construct in the same way that they occur in
actual conversation and therefore they may not be thought to be reasonable by
an audience (Sacks et al. 1974). The next step is to then transcribe the data
and make observations such as those made in this paper. As CA is typically
inductive, it is then these observations that help to provide a theory. In
other words, conversation analysts often extract turns from their
transcriptions of talk-in-interaction and observe fine details. While the
corpora for this work is somewhat restricted in the nature of videos from YouTube,
data of this kind allow for the actual temporality of the conversation, including
pace and silences which can now be analysed.  However, with regards to projectability and language
processing there have been many experimental studies carried out which
eliminate the constraints that this restricted corpus faces. One example, from
De Ruiter et al. (2006) employed the use of a button by participants when they
detected the end of a previous turn. Other studies involve picture naming tasks
and eye movement tracking which suggest that planning is required for
production and provides a way to time this process. Processing speed can be
seen as the main difference between language production and language
comprehension with the latter occurring at three or four times the speed of
production (Levinson and Torreira 2015). While these methodologies are less
constrained, they also lack free interaction and in contrast to CA approaches,
the participant’s response is often of non-linguistic nature. As this paper
aims to present a conversation analytical study in the way of examining data
from actual conversational practices, it will view the listener as an active
participant in the interaction rather than a passive recipient of incoming
speech items (Liddicoat 2004).

8. Conclusion

This conversation
analytical study has aimed to provide analysis of certain features of conversation
such as gaps, overlap and intonation at a micro level in order to give evidence
for projection within turn-taking. It provides evidence that anticipation plays
a key part in language comprehension looking closely at the role of the
listener in conversation. The paper demonstrates how smooth speech exchanges
take place with minimal gaps and overlaps between turns and how participants
collaboratively achieve this. Making the claim that participants not only
predict the end of a preceding turn but also the content of that turn, this
study demonstrates how the mutual understanding formed between interlocutors
and the cues that they provide each other with make this a less demanding task
than it seems.


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