exchange of alternating talking turns that is bracketed from other parts of the conversation, and where the bracketed exchange is seen by participants as specificallv different from adjoining conversational material, this difference being that it is to be seen as semi-serious or playtalk in contradistinction to the rest which is serious. Now let us look at the exchange under consideration here and see if we can deduce a corollary concerning the general character of the bracketing device that conversationalists may use to set off playtalk from serious talk. Consider the following account.

A's move in (3) can be seen as a reply set-up by the inquiry in (2) -- as already discussed. A's reply in (3) is the move that serves here as the opening boundary of the playtalk exchange. Note that this utterance is more than a descriptive statement. Because of its structural location in the conventional sequence it acquires additional significance that can be explicated by looking at other statements like this that have similar structural properties. Consider the following hypothetical exchanges:

CASE 1: B walks into a room and finds himself face-to-face with his friend A who is pointing his hunting gun at him.

  1. B: Hey, Man, whatcha doin?
  2. A: I am pointing my gun at you.

CASE 2: B walks to his car and finds two men tampering under the hood.

  1. B: What the hell are you doing with my car?
  2. A: (pointing a gun at him) We are stealing it. Now give me your keys and lie down on the ground over there.

CASE 3: B calls A up on the phone.

  1. A: Hello.
  2. B: Whatcha doin?
  3. A:Hmm... Talking on the phone to you.
  4. B: Glad to find you in good spirits.

Comments such as "I'm pointing the gun at you" while it is deadly clear where the aim is, or "We are stealing it" while it is threateningly clear that that's what's happening to one's car, or "Talking on the phone to you" while being engaged in doing so, and we might add, "I am tape recording you" while holding the portable tape recorder up to the visitor's face, these are sorts of comments that are seen as semi-serious by virtue of the fact that they are fake replies, paralleling the structural form of serious replies, they fail short of being serious replies because they are totally unresponsive to another's predicament in the face of a puzzlement, keeping note of the additional situational fact that the request for an explanation is legitimate given that something unexpected or out of the ordinary is happening or might be happening. In other words, when the asker has a situationally legitimate justi£ication for a request, viz. a ritually ratified sanction for requesting remedy of the other, and if then the asked acceeds to the ritual demand yet without satisfying the request it contains, viz. he gives a so-called literal reply, that utterance move will be the upper boundary marking the beginning section of the bracketed playtalk.

Thus it is that in the case under study here, talking turn (3) is seen by both participants as beginning a section of the conversation characterized by the playtalk register. Now we must consider the problem of the lower boundary of the bracketed playtalk section. As indicated by the intuitive observation in Step 1, the playtalk ends with talking turn (12). We must ask: How does this come about? Why does it end there, rather than somehere else? How do participants know when playtalk ends and serious talk begins? These sorts of questions will be more fully considered in Chapter 3. For the moment, we shall assume, without trying here to establish the assumption, that it is the internal sequential structure of the bracketed section that allows participants to bring off successfully, the insertion of such and other bracketed materials within a conversation. In this particular case, A and B could be heard to trail off with their utterances as they entered the kitchen, with the last utterance of the bracketed material, being almost inaudible as both participants were reorienting towards the new physical setting. Consider, too, the fact that, part of the definition of the setting was A's getting ready to go, hence the topic of her readiness provides one suitable entry point back into serious talk. In this case, A's utterance (13) is interrupted by C. We now turn to the last section of the part-record we are considering.

(D): The last section, i.e. utterances (14) to (18) is, in fact, the beginning section of the rest of the full conversation which now includes two additional participants (A's parents). 0ff hand, knowing what we know about conversations, we might suspect that greeting exchanges that come at the very beginning of a conversational episode (here: talking turns (1) and (2) have a different structure than greeting exchanges that occur inside an episode, as when one or more participants join a group of co-conversationalists. And, possibly, still a third different structure might exist when the case is as it is here, i.e. where two conversationalists jointly walk into a room where two others are present and possibly conversing; somehow, the two sets of independent conversations must be stopped and a new one started with the larger composition. Our task is to give a structural description of this "somehow". Consider, now, Hypotheses 5: the internal structure of an embedded transaction (e.g. greeting, etc.), i.e. its bound- ary characteristics and the nature of the joint coordinated work of participants in the talking turn sequence, is a partial function of (i.e. is contextually determined by) the locus of that embedded section within the larger conversational episode, i.e. its contextually relevant features. This hypothesis extends considerably the nature of the claims we are thereby making about the general structure of conversation. We may indicate this by phasing Corollary 5 as follows: the significance of a conversational event derives from (is given by) its contextual features, viz. the transactional properties bestowed upon it by its structura1 properties (e.g. where in the conversation it occurs, what other events occur simultaneously, what other events have occurred just before, as well as long before, etc.)

In the present case, utterance (14) is at least a greeting (whatever else it may be in addition) by virtue of its positioning: it is a move within a talking turn whose sequence in the conversation is that of the first talking turn of the larger re-constituted group, and this status is ordinarilv occupied by a greeting. Just about anything said at such a place (i.e. content wise, or the particular surface phonological shape of the utterance) would be seen by participants as filling, at least, the function of a greeting. As it turns out, here, utterance (14), in addition to having a greeting function, also serves to set up a round of playtalk exchange between A, B, and C, which naturally yields to the requirements of completing the greeting ceremony, which is done between D snd B in (17) and (18).

We have now completed our discussion of Step 2 and to keep track of the main thread, we shall recapitulate briefly before going on to a discussion of Step 3.

We have been discussing the sorts of systematic answers that can be adduced to the question of "What's going on?" in talk within the ethno- methodological restrictions that no part of the answer may refer to events or features of conversation which do not demonstrablv have the status of participant based oriented features. We have argued that a central task in the development of a systematic account of talk consists of the identification of these oriented to conversational features. This discovery task overlaps with the traditional search for an adequate definition of the "context of an utterance", since, as will become clear later, contextual features is another way of talking about oriented to features. We described Step l in this endeavor as a close intuitive study of a particular conversation, and Step 2, as a generalized elaboration of the first order observations in the form of hypotheses, and their corollaries, about their general basic theoretical significance for the structure of conversation. In the next step, to be described presently, we shall be concerned with the attempt of providing a first-level approximation to the task of identifying the structural elements of conversation. In practice, it will have been necessary to run through Steps l and 2 with a number of other particular conversations, but at one point, it being an unpredictable element of creative discovery procedures, Step 3 will become a compelling-next step in the endeavor.


Step 3: Hypothesis 1, previously elaborated, states that there is a class of conversational events to which participants are oriented in such a way as to "recognize" particular utterances as being members thereof. Our question now is this: if this hypothesis were considered true, what sorts of theoretical notions--elernents, components, processes, mechanisms, and the like, would we need to account for it? Let us break the hypotheses down into more elementary propositions that seem to be contained in it:

  1. Pl: Conversation (talk) is made up o£ events called conversational events.
  2. P2: Utterances are conversational events that are particularized instances of underlying classes of events.
  3. P3: participants to a conversation are engaged in joint coordinated activity which includes, at least, a common orientation to the underlying significance to be attached to a surface utterance.

These three propositions jointly imply the need for a number of theoretical mechanisms: (a) sequencing devices, whose structural function is to order conversational events in time. Given that talk proceeds through time, the events that take place in it must be ordered in some way and a description of these ordering procedures is what's called for in the elaboration of conversational sequencing devices; (b) boundary limits, whose structural function is to indicate to participants where some event begins and where it ends. Boundary limits apply to both surface utterances and gestural displays as well as to underlying classes of events, recognized as there but not overtly displayed, such as talking turns, rounds, exchanges, adjacency-pairs, beginning sections, closing sections, to mention those we have already discussed; (c) transactional moves, whose structural function is to indicate to participants the significance of an utterance or gesture for their relationship and for their conversational and behavioral implications.

Thus, sequencing devices, boundary limits, and transactional moves are theoretical mechanisms minimally implied by Hl and the three propositions derived from it. Hypotheses 2 posits the existence of a transactional code which defines the proper standards of the conversational ritual and which participants are expected to know and abide by. The theoretical mechanisms need to explicate the operational steps of interpersonal exchanges with reference to a transactional code have been perspicaciously developed in the work of Sociologist Erving Goffman over the past two decades and we shall rely upon his experience, particularly his most recent book (Goffman, 1971). In particular, we shall be concerned with a type o£ analysis of conversational records that establishes boundary limits for sets of talking turns, whereby the composing utterances are grouped sequentially in terms of the transactional work participants are seen to be engaged in: displaving recognition (e.g. greeting), ratifying a request (e.g. giving permission), supporting another's claim (e.g. legitimizing, agreeing), providing a remedy for an offense (e.g. apologizing), and the like. Throughout this, our interest is to show how conversational displays, i.e. particular utterances and gestures, are to be seen as transactional moves whose significance derives from their structural properties, viz., their locus of occurrence in the conversation: where, by "locus" we mean such things as sequence of talking turns, boundary limits of the section they belong to, place of that section within the overall episode, and type of relationship of participants as implied by previous history of joint conversational episodes.

A particular contextual application of Hl, as it has been taken up earlier in Corollary 1, assigns a forced structural significance to the first talking turn of a conversational episode, and we have labeled it as a "greeting opener". Any "unmarked utterance" (see, presently) that appears in that structural slot will be "read as" (see, presently) a transactional move that initiates a greeting exchange sequence. More needs to be said about what's involved structurally in this joint recognition process.

We define a conversationalist or participant as a person who has a competent grasp of the transactional code in force in a particular speech community. What this competence includes is the ability to orient to the standard reading assigned an utterance by its structural function. "Standard reading" means the structural function or significance of a surface utterance assigned to it by the transactional code. An utterance, therefore, is always seen, as a particular transactional move, whose significance is standard, or prescribed, or given by the overall conversational structure, which includes adjacent transactional moves. Thus, in this system, particular transactional moves are to be seen as sequential members of a transactional exchange, the overall exchange being assigned a standard reading by reference to the code. One particular transactional exchange or, in short, transaction, prescribed by the code is the greeting transaction; the greeting transaction will be composed of a particular prescribed sequence of transactional moves, the first of which, the greeting opener, has its prescribed slot as the first talking turn. Thus, when a participant utters "Hi", the code will insure that it is given a common joint standard reading by participants by virtue of its location as within the first talking turn, and constituting an initiating transactional move. The utterance now needs publicly to be ratified for what it is, namely a greeting opener, by another participant now supplying the second half of the greeting exchange. This may routinely be accomplished in the second talking turn by the other participant who can supply the standard prescribed response, i.e. an utterance that falls in the category of a greeting move. This second move in the greeting exchange is then read by all participants present as both confirming the structural status of the first utterance as a greeting opener, and simultaneously, completing the greeting exchange.

The above is the standard version. Specific systematic variations are then allowed by the code, but these are to be seen either as derivative mechanisms or additionally available mechanisms to supplement the standard version. For example, the code provides for the possibility of recycling a greeting exchange such that when the first two--move greeting exchange is run off, it may be recycled so that the third and fourth talking turns represent a second greeting exchange on top of the first. Similarly, the code provides for the possibility of short-circuiting the second move in the first exchange by substituting for it an utterance of another permissible category (e.g. A: Hi.; B: What's up?), in which case, the first utterance . is still seen as a ratified greeting opener.

The notion "standard reading" as described here is implied by H2. When considering the significance of conversational utterances in terms of transactional moves, it appears that what is involved here, as argued by Goffman (1971), is that participants will assign to a move "the worst possible reading" relative to its ritual implications. That is, in connection with greeting openers, the participant initiating the utterance is seen to be putting himself in a state of vulnerability vis-a-vis his face as a conversationalist in good standing, i.e. as a person to whom others owe respect by engaging in protective interchanges on his behalf. Thus, responses to first moves are conditioned by such supportive and remedial obligations. If a participant makes an utterance which can be read as a first move in a particular transactional exchange, he can count on the other to cooperate in this possibility by ratifying it through providing a second move that will be seen as a reply to the first move, establishing and confirming its ritual significance. The structure of transactional exchanges will be better appreciated if it is remembered that the sequence they embody is partly governed by such face-saving obligations. (More on this, below)

The latter comment ties in specifically with the processes described in H3 and its two corollaries. To wit: certain utterances have a specific content which are seen as a first move, initiating a transactional exchange that relates a conversational event to an environmental event. This possibility is provided for by the code as a topic raising device. For instance, the utterance "What's up?", which is a member of a larger class of utterances that includes "What's new?", "What's going on?", etc., which we have called "general purpose inquiries", is to be seen as a first move initiating a transactional exchange that has a special function in conversational episodes, which we shall refer to as first topic raising. This particular device is routinely available just in case the physical environment provides a ready oriented-to feature, such as the presence of some unusual event (e.g. a tape recorder, an accident, a prior event that can be assumed to be "on the other's mind", etc.). In the absence of the ready availability of such an environmental event, an alternative class of utterances is available, such as "What's new?", "How are you?", etc., which are seen as setting-up moves for the other participant to be doing first-topic raising.

The notions of setting-up moves and directed responses turn out to be conversational work horses. Upon their operation rest the major routines of the "daily round"--the conversational settings a person habitually finds himself in his daily interpersonal encounters and the ritual work they entail: "small talk", keeping others informed of newsworthy events, keeping abreast of what's happening where the action is, extending invitations to

(continue here)