The Conversation Analytic Approach to Transcription


Loughborough University


Rutgers University


In 1965, as an undergraduate student enrolled in Harvey Sacks’ lecture course and later in her position of ‘clerk/typist’, Gail Jefferson undertook the task of typing out everything that was said in the tape-recorded conversations Sacks had collected (Lerner, 2004c). By the late 1960s, this apparently simple task had generated most of the comprehensive system1 for transcribing talk and other conduct in talk-in-interaction that conversation analysts now rely on.

A key insight of conversation analytic research is that various features of the delivery of talk and other bodily conduct are basic to how interlocutors build specific actions and respond to the actions of others (see Drew, this volume, on turn design; Levinson, this volume, on action). It is for this reason that Jefferson developed, and other conversation analysts continue to develop, ways of representing talk and other conduct that capture the rich subtlety of their delivery. Jefferson’s system of conventions evolved side by side with, and was informed by the results of, interaction analysis, which continues to show that there are many significant things going on in talk that parties to the interaction treat as relevant, and that simple orthographic representation misses. However, transcripts are necessarily selective in the details that are represented and thus are never treated ...

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