An Introduction to Conversation Analysis

| November 28, 2012

A. J. Liddicoat. London: Continuum, 2007. Pp. ix + 319.

Reviewed by Hayriye Kayi
University of Texas, Austin

An Introduction to Conversation Analysis by Anthony Liddicoat is an excellent source which provides a comprehensive overview of conversation analysis (CA). Although the book is intended for undergraduate and graduate students of sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, sociology, and applied linguistics, anyone interested in analysing talk will find something in this text, as the author adopts a broad perspective to CA by saying “Conversation analysis legitimately investigates all areas of socially motivated talk.” (p. 6).
The book consists of ten chapters. After a very brief introduction to conversation and CA in the first chapter, the author traces the history of CA and locates it as a method for studying interaction. In chapter 2, Liddicoat provides a detailed presentation of how conversation is represented in the form of transcripts (e.g. words, prosody, speech sounds, contiguous and simultaneous talk, pauses, problems of hearing and comprehension, non-verbal elements of talk, and translation). Each feature is introduced with a sample transcript (e.g. stress, long sounds, quiet talk, etc).

The next five chapters cover three broad areas of conversational organization: turn taking, sequence organization and expansion, and repair. Turn taking, which the author explains is both context-free and context-sensitive, is discussed in chapters 3 and 4 with a specific focus on possible models and features of turn-taking, turn allocation, turn taking errors and violations, and gaps and overlaps. How turns at talk become sequences and how these sequences are coherently expanded are the main focus of the chapters 5 and 6. The following chapter, chapter 7, covers repair systems which deal with breakdowns in conversation. The author concludes that repair is “an interactionally sensitive mechanism which is constrained by social as well as linguistic considerations” (p. 212).

The rest of the book is devoted to three areas of conversational difficulty. Chapters 8 and 9 address how people start and end a conversation. The final chapter, chapter 10, focuses on story-telling with a specific focus on beginning and ending stories, story structure, second stories, and stories of shared experiences. The author argues that “stories are not simply told by tellers who in some sense take a long turn at talk; rather, they are collaboratively achieved by the participants through and in the telling of stories” (p. 302).
An Introduction to Conversation Analysis, with its comprehensible yet accessible overview of CA, is an invaluable addition to the existing literature. There are a few places which might be challenging for the novice reader as he/she engages the terms and skills applicable to this field. Acknowledging this, the author offers helpful suggestions along the way. Accepting this, readers will find the book to be to the point, engaging, and an excellent reference for applying conversational analysis in any social setting.

Category: Book Reviews