Turn-Constructional Units and the Transition-Relevance Place
Spoken interaction ordinarily unfolds in accordance with the norm that participants should take turns at talk, with speaking rights thus restricted to one party at a time. The practice of taking turns is massively commonplace and intuitively familiar, and it warrants investigation both for its consequentiality and its intrinsic significance. It is consequential in constraining opportunities for participation in interaction, while also shaping the design of particular turns and the actions they implement (see Drew, this volume). It is intrinsically significant as an elementary form of social behavior in its own right, for a precondition of turn-taking is that interactants must act not as independent agents but in close coordination with one another.
The coordination necessary for taking turns at talk is indeed very finely tuned. As an empirical matter, turn-taking is remarkably orderly, with the transition from one speaker to the next recurrently managed with a minimum of silence between turns and with little overlapping speech. How is this state of affairs achieved and maintained? In certain specialized speech exchange systems associated with formal occasions (e.g. ceremonies, debates, interviews), the turn-taking process is guided by a prearranged format that partially constrains and in some cases precisely specifies the order of speakership and ...