Conversation Analysis and the X Factor
Part 1 I have selected an interview with X-Factor judge Kelly Rowland, in which she finds out that contestant Frankie Cocozza has been ‘kicked off’ of the show. Transcription methods vary depending on what the analyst chooses to investigate. In this particular case, as I was interested in, not only how the speakers perform social activities through language (Seedhouse, 2008), but also the contribution of their non-verbal actions, I chose Conversation Analysis (CA). However, one must point out that, although CA emphasises empirical, data-led research “to guard against building speculative theories,” (Hewings, 2008, p. 4), it is futile to suppose one single, authoritative version of the original event exists (Graddol, 1994). Furthermore, not all features of spoken interaction can be captured, nor can specific motives be attributed to a certain non-verbal action. 01Reporter: of course we are a:bsolutely huge fans of you on the[x factor 02Kelly: [thank you 03Reporter:(loving watching [you 04Kelly: [thank you 05Reporter: um (. ) but b. but (. ) w. we’re sho(cked to hear today ((fiddles with hair)) that Frankie’s (. ) gone (. ) what can you tell ? us ? w. hat do you make of that 06Kelly:(0. 2) what(= 07PA:= I don’t we don’t we’ve been lo(cked in a room [all day 08Reporter: [oh re::ally( hah hah (. ) oh gosh yeah( th. they released a statement saying that he um (. ) that he’s decided to leave 09PA:(. ) oh I don’t know I think we’ll have [to ( ) 10Reporter: [oh I’m sorry I ( ) 11Kelly: ((holds up hand as if to stop)) [yeah cos that would be quite the face to have from [that oh my god 12Reporter: [I’m so sorry I didn’t realise it like broke all over twitter (. and I um we got a ? statement ? about it 13PA:((Kelly looks at her PA)) (0. 2) I don’t know we’ll have to cos (Ellen’s not (here from (. ) talkback we haven’t we’d need to get that [verified 14Kelly: [ye: :ah [I’m sorry 15PA:[ ( ) music interview [today 16Reporter: [like no no I’m sorry I didn’t mean to= 17PA: =well hahhah 18Reporter:I I didn’t mean to [like 19PA: [ ( ) 20Reporter:Yeah sorry I didn’t mean to [like um I didn’t realise that you (. ) didn’t know 21Kelly: [ ((she sighs loudly)) (0. 3) (poor guy( 380 words Part 2
Conversation Analysis is based on the idea that what is said draws a vast amount of meaning from what is left unsaid (Maybin, 2007). Seemingly incoherent conversations are actually organised in an orderly fashion, centred around the cooperation of participants (Hewings, 2008). The excerpt I have chosen is particularly interesting as, although it stems from a potentially scripted situation, due to Kelly’s misinformation, the entire conversation immediately shifts to unscripted. The conversation begins with informal ‘small talk,’ known as phatic communion (Malinowski, 1923. Its primary purpose is not its content, but rather to bind the reporter and Kelly together before ‘getting down to business. ‘ The reporter’s opening comment of being an absolutely huge fan of hers on the X-Factor establishes an interactional framework for the encounter. As the interviewer, she is expected to lead the conversation, yet her continuous opening compliments – “loving watching you”- show that she is aware of Kelly’s higher status and, thus, is paying far more attention to face needs (Levinson, 1987). “Face” is a term coined by sociologist Goffman (1967) for people’s public self-image.
Here, the reporter, keen to obtain a successful interview, uses compliments to focus on positive face needs, fitting with Holmes’ (1994) research that women are more likely to give compliments as a way of gaining popularity through ‘egalitarian norms. ‘ Although turn-taking may be taken for granted, it is actually managed through a complex range of linguistic and social signals. In the transcript, we can see that normally one person talks at a time, and any instances of overlap are quickly repaired (lines 15-16).
Early conversation analyst, Sacks (1974), suggests this is due to people’s shared cultural knowledge of the kind of ‘script’ used in certain speech events. Therefore, turns can be roughly predicted. Furthermore, this intuitive knowledge is based on adjacency pairs, where particular utterances and responses tend to occur together – e. g. , lines 1-4, where each compliment is answered with “thank you. ” Through this dialogic comprehension, turns can easily be allocated. In addition to adjacency pairs, Sacks noticed that speakers unconsciously respond at the end of a grammatical unit, rather than in the middle.
In lines 5-7, we see clear examples of transition relevance places (TRP), where the reporter pauses for a response, allowing both other interlocutors to speak. Sometimes, one can slightly overlap the previous speaker or break in before a TRP (e. g. , lines 9-10), which is classed as an interruption. The concept of maintaining face is a constant reference point throughout the interaction, especially when the journalist discovers that Kelly does not know that Frankie has left the competition.
Determined to both satisfy Kelly’s face needs, as well as to protect her own, the journalist begins apologising profusely (lines 10-20), in addition to hedging expressions (line 18) to avoid a face-threatening act, personifying the British ‘negative politeness’ culture (Brown, 1987). Line 12 even shows an example of typical political rhetoric whereby the journalist immediately changes her usage of the pronoun ‘I’ to ‘we’ in order to give collective responsibility (Beard, 2008) for the news on Frankie’s departure. This signal of inclusiveness is another device used to save face and ensure that conversation continues running smoothly.
It is interesting, however, that, contrary to the belief that a person will use ‘I’ when wanting credit for an idea, the journalist still uses ‘we’ (line 5). Given that ‘we’ can have various potential meanings, here it would appear to be a mechanism to emphasise with the British public – ‘we,’ as a whole, are shocked at the news. Even so, when apologising, the journalist shifts back to the first person singular, almost as if she feels she has the sole responsibility to maintain face, both for personal and professional motives.
Spoken conversation is filled with inexplicit references that are understood by a considerable amount of shared knowledge between speakers. In line 13, when replying to the journalist, the PA announces that ‘Ellen’ is not here – we can assume that the journalist knows who Ellen is but, just to make sure, the PA adds ‘from Talkback’ (X-Factor’s Production Company). As well as justifying why they cannot answer the question, this response also subtly signals solidarity by communicating surreptitiously that there are no ‘hard feelings’ between them.
As Levinson’s (1987) study shows, people are remarkably adept at interpreting these inexplicit nuances and, thus, it should serve to put the journalist more at ease. These references are closely linked to elliptical structures, such as in line 3 where, although the clause lacks some words, its meaning is inferable from its context. These half-finished sentences are a key part of everyday interactions, yet would seem highly inappropriate in written English. As all speakers are women in this transcript, it is easy to identify their specific style features.
According to Lakoff (1975), women are more cooperative and work harder to make conversations run smoother. This aspect is clearly detectable throughout the extract by both the journalist’s repeated apologies and Kelly and her PA’s attempts to casually move away from the issue. This non-confrontational collaborative speech style also centres around an interest in people’s feelings (Goodwin, 1990). However, as opposed to Lakoff’s suggestion that women use more tag questions and weaker vocabulary, we see no examples of this in the conversation.
One reason may be that the women have no reason to show deference, as there are no men involved and, thus, they do not have to conform to the belief that they occupy a less powerful position in society. One predominant metaphor comes in line 7 of the text when the PA states that they have been “locked” in a room all day. This device both emphasises that they truly have no idea about the news, as well as serving as a pointer to guide the conversation into a different direction. In response to this metaphor, we see continual repetition from the journalist (in particular, “yeah” and “sorry”).
Although repetition is typically used to persuade, here it performs the dual function of consciously expressing the journalist’s nervousness as well as unconsciously signalling how the other speakers should respond. The repetition of “sorry” is used to indicate the journalist’s desire to not impose upon them and avoid any act that may threaten face. In terms of prosody, the use of intonational shift is very significant, as it highlights particular key words, as well as prompting the other speakers when to reply (Atkinson, 1984).
In line 6, Kelly’s voice rises up on “What? ” to express disbelief and concern at the information that she has been given. Similarly, we see a fall in intonation on the last remark “Poor guy,” which signals completion as well as sadness. Likewise, the lengthy stress on “yeah” (line 14) shows acknowledgement of the PA’s utterance and provides a sense of cooperation with her. A related concept is the function of softly spoken words. In line 5, ‘us’ is murmured softly in order to place the journalist on the same level as the interviewee.
Despite the typical image of a journalist, this lady wants to show that she is truly interested in how Kelly feels about Frankie’s departure on a personal level. In line 12, ‘statement’ is pronounced quietly to perhaps ‘soften the blow’ of the news. As a statement is something official, it highlights the fact that the news is real, and not just a rumour. Therefore, in order to save face, the journalist tactfully pronounces the word. This conversation extract is filled with various meaningful pauses. A lot of these pauses occur within a syntactic unit before an important content word (e. g. line 20) to subtly inform the speaker that they are not finished yet. However, there are also prolonged pauses, such as in line 21 – in this case, Kelly is genuinely shocked at the news and needs to carefully plan her answer before speaking. For celebrities, this is even more important, as anything they do say can be subject to scrutiny. The journalist’s utterances are also classified by filled pauses, such as ‘um’ and ‘hahhah’ – this shows hesitancy on her part and a caution to ensure that she does not make the situation anymore awkward than it already is. This also explains the reasons for her continual cluttered speech (e. . , line 5) – on breaking the news, she cannot predict Kelly’s reaction, and so she nervously brings up the topic, not sure of the best approach, eluding the usual self-assured journalistic persona. Finally, when looking at body language, it appears that it communicates a lot non-verbally. Firstly, in line 5, the reporter fiddles with her hair as she relates the announcement. Although we cannot claim 100% what this means, it is highly likely that this is a comforting action in a tense situation. In line 11, Kelly’s raising of the hand signals that she wishes to stop and does not want her reaction recorded.
Line 13 similarly expresses uncertainty on Kelly’s part when she looks at her PA for reassurance before speaking. Finally, in line 21, the prolonged sigh emphasises with Frankie’s grief. Overall, this particular extract fascinated me, as it shows how scripted conversation can quickly turn unscripted when typical conventions break down. Non-fluency features are common and evident – there are excessive hesitations, stuttering and repetition by the journalist and spontaneous turn-taking procedures seen by the interruptions and overlaps of Kelly and her PA (Edwards, 2007).
Furthermore, irregular supra segmental features are present, as well as fillers and echoes. Syntax is irregular, with convoluted utterances and incomplete sections as well as mid-sentence pauses. In my opinion, Conversation Analysis was the best method to transcribe this conversation as, without it, it would have been impossible to convey the specific emotions of each interlocutor as well as their non-verbal communication. Also, I felt that the false starts and fillers were incredibly relevant to the spontaneity of the extract, and provided an insight into each speaker’s thought process.
I specifically chose to omit gaze in my transcript as CA has been criticised for over-analysing simple gestures – e. g. , blinking could merely be something in the eye, rather than lying. Using this transcription method, I have been able to analyse both ideational and interpersonal meaning (Halliday, 1978) and how it specifically relates to my chosen example. 1706 words (2086 words in total) References Atkinson, J. M. (1984) Our Master’s Voices: The Language and Body Language of Politics, London, Methuen Beard, A. 2007) ‘Using English to persuade’ in Maybin, J. , Mercer, N. , and Hewings, A. (eds) Using English, London, Routledge/The Open University, pp. 43-81 Brown, P. and Levinson, S. (1987) Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press Crystal, D. (1985) ‘Things to remember when transcribing speech,’ Child Language Teaching and Therapy, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 235-239 Edwards, V. (2007) U211 Exploring the English Language, DVD 1: Language Play in English, Block B, Unit 11, Section 5, Milton Keynes, The Open University
Goffman, E. (1967) Interactional Ritual, Harmondsworth, Penguin Goodwin, M. H. (1990) ‘Tactical use of stories: participation frameworks within girls’ and boys’ disputes’, Discourse Processes, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 33-71 Graddol, D. , Cheshire, J. , and Swann, J. (1994) Describing Language (2nd edn), Buckingham, Open University Press Halliday, M. A. K. (1978) Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning, London, Edward Arnold Hewings, A. 2008) U211 Exploring the English Language, ‘Conversation Analysis,’ Resource and Reference Materials, Unit 9, Section 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University Holmes, J. (2001) Introduction to Sociolinguistics (2nd edn), London, Longman Lakoff, R. (1975) Language and Women’s Place, New York, Harper & Row Malinowski, B. (1923) ‘The problem of meaning in primitive languages’ in Ogden, C. K. and Richards, I. M. (eds) The Meaning of Meaning, London, Routledge &Kegan Paul Maybin, J. (2007) ‘Everyday talk’ in Maybin, J. , Mercer, N. , and Hewings, A. eds) Using English, London, Routledge/The Open University, pp. 5-41 Percival, A. (2011) What? The moment Kelly finds out Frankie has been axed [online] London http://celebrity. aol. co. uk/2011/11/08/kelly-rowland-frankie-cocozza/ (Accessed: 29th Nov 2011) Sacks, H. , Schegloff, E. and Jefferson, G. (1974) ‘A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking in conversation’, Language, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 696-735 Seedhouse, P. (2008) U211 Exploring the English Language, DVD 1: Everyday Talk, Block B, Unit 9, Section 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University
Vaid, V. (2011) 4 rules of Verbatim Transcription [online] Gurgaon http://www. indianscribes. com/4-rules-of-verbatim-transcription/ (Accessed: 2nd Dec 2011) ———————– Key to transcription methods used in this excerpt (. )Short untimed pause (0. 6)Timed interval [ ]Overlapping utterances or actions ( )Transcription doubtful (Marked rising shift in pitch (Marked falling shift in pitch : :Extension of sound or syllable .Stopping falling tone ? ? Talk that is quieter than surrounding talk