Turn Allocation: Rule 1
Current speaker selects the next speaker
Transition rules operate at transition relevance places (the rules that follow are adapted from Levinson (1983, p. 298)). The first rule recognizes the fact that it is possible to indicate within a turn-constructional unit that at its end another person is invited to speak. That is to say, it is possible to specifically allocate a following turn.
This is explained in the following rule.
If the CURRENT SPEAKER selects the NEXT SPEAKER in his or her turn at talk, then the CURRENT SPEAKER must stop speaking and the selected speaker must speak next. The transition occurs at the first transition relevance place after the NEXT SPEAKER has been selected.
Let us investigate the application of this rule by considering an example in which the next speaker is selected by the use of their name. Look at the following two-line extract taken from a conversation between three people, Kathryn, Meera and Karen.
1 Kathryn: where did you put it, Meera?
2 Meera: it’s on the table
Starting from the beginning, Kathryn is the current speaker and she specifically selects the next speaker by appending their name to the utterance in line 1 where did you put it, Meera? It is relevant, therefore, that Kathryn, as the current speaker, should stop speaking and Meera, the selected speaker, should speak next. According to Rule 1, Meera should speak at the first transition relevance place after she has been selected. This she does by uttering it’s on the table in line 2, immediately after the transition relevance place following Kathryn’s turn-constructional unit. Now, for example, if Karen were to have spoken next and not Meera, this would have been interpretable as a violation of the turn allocation procedure and it is likely to have led to Kathryn intervening with something like, ‘I was asking Meera’. In summary, if the current speaker selects the next speaker, then the current speaker should stop speaking and the selected speaker should speak next at the first transition relevance place at end of the turn-constructional unit. The above analysis can be outlined diagrammatically as follows.
1 Kathryn: [TCU where did you put it, Meera?] [TRP-Rule 1]
2 Meera: [TCU it’s on the table]
A further example of the application of Rule 1 by naming the next speaker is provided in the following conversational extract.
1 Carol: John, did you have to go abroad?
2 John: I needed the money, didn’t I Chris?
3 Chris: give him a break
Again we see that the current speaker Carol selects the next speaker within her current turn at talk. She does this in line 1 by specifically naming the next speaker with John, did you have to go abroad? That the name John is tagged to the beginning of the utterance and not the end, as in the previous example, is irrelevant. What is relevant, however, is that Carol should stop speaking at the end of her turn-constructional unit and that John should speak next at the first available transition relevance place. This John does in line 2 with the utterance I needed the money, didn’t I Chris? Now, this utterance also selects the next speaker by nominating Chris. It is, therefore, relevant that John should now stop speaking and that Chris, as the selected speaker, should speak at the next available transition relevance place. Indeed, this is what happens, as Chris takes up his turn at talk in line 3 with give him a break. We can now summarize this analysis as follows.
1 Carol: [TCU John, did you have to go abroad?] [TRP-Rule 1]
2 John: [TCU I needed the money, didn’t I Chris?] [TRP-Rule 1]
3 Chris: [TCU give him a break]
We see once more, therefore, that turns at talk may be specifically allocated within one’s current turn at talk and that a useful technique for doing so is to nominate one of the interlocutors. There are, however, other means of selecting the next speaker in a conversation. For example, it is possible to select the next speaker through the use of certain questions. Consider the following extract from the same conversation between the three people, Kathryn, Meera and Karen.
1 Kathryn: that’s a nice one, Meera
2 Meera: sorry?
3 Kathryn: it’s a nice car
In this brief sequence Kathryn first takes a turn at talk in line 1 by uttering that’s a nice one, Meera. Under Rule 1 as described so far, this nomination specifically serves to allocate the next turn at talk to Meera. However, it would appear that Meera has either not heard Kathryn properly or has not understood what she meant, as Meera responds in line 2 with sorry? It is this request for clarification that specifically allocates the next turn at talk to Kathryn and not Karen. This is because it was Kathryn who first made the utterance that’s a nice one. Consequently, the subsequent sorry? is seen as being directed specifically towards Kathryn’s immediately prior utterance. Accordingly, it is Kathryn who should speak next. In fact, this is exactly what happens, as Kathryn takes up her turn at talk in line 3 with the explanatory it’s a nice car. This analysis is summarized below.
1 Kathryn: [TCU that’s a nice one, Meera] [TRP-Rule 1]
2 Meera: [TCU sorry?] [TRP-Rule 1]
3 Kathryn: [TCU it’s a nice car]
A further, slightly longer, example of the use of questions to select the next speaker is drawn from the same three-participant conversation.
1 Meera: mind you, it’s not all that Kathryn
2 Kathryn: what?
3 Meera: it’s not all that Kathryn
4 Kathryn what do you mean?
5 Meera: it’s not all that…you know…it’s not fab
A similar analysis may be made of this extract to the previous one. At the beginning it is Meera who is the current speaker. She takes a turn at talk in line 1 with the turn-constructional unit mind you, it’s not all that Kathryn. This utterance specifically allocates the next turn at talk to Kathryn by nominating her. It is, therefore, relevant that Meera should stop speaking and that Kathryn should speak next. This Kathryn does in line 2 with the request for clarification what? As before, this request for clarification is interpretable as being specifically directed towards Meera and not Karen, as it was Meera who made the immediately prior utterance. This query, therefore, serves to specifically allocate the next turn at talk to Meera. Meera does indeed take up the talk at the next available transition relevance place and responds in line 3 with a part-repetition of her previous utterance it’s not all that Kathryn. The fact that Meera partially repeats her previous utterance suggests that Meera has interpreted Kathryn’s request for clarification as a signal that Kathryn did not fully hear her comment. Again, Meera’s line 3 utterance specifically selects the next speaker as Kathryn and it is once more relevant that Meera should stop speaking and that Kathryn should speak next. Kathryn does speak next in line 4 but, again, she responds with another request for clarification. This time it is the more specific what do you mean? The fact that Kathryn’s response is an expansion of her previous what? suggests that it was not the case that she did not hear Meera’s previous comment but that she did not understand it. This question again serves to select the next speaker as Meera, and not Karen, and so Kathryn stops speaking and Meera takes up the talk at the next available transition relevance place in line 5 with the explanatory it’s not all that…you know…it’s not fab. This analysis may be summarized as follows.
1 Meera: [TCU mind you, it’s not all that Kathryn] [TRP-Rule 1]
2 Kathryn: [TCU what?] [TRP-Rule 1]
3 Meera: [TCU it’s not all that Kathryn] [TRP-Rule 1]
4 Kathryn [TCU what do you mean?] [TRP-Rule 1]
5 Meera: [TCU it’s not all that…you know…it’s not fab]
Levinson, S. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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