how to analyzing conversation?

topic posted Fri, January 12, 2007 - 10:07 PM by  Jules
Thank goodness for tribe....somebody- please! :)

I'm having trouble writing my final paper for my Language and Culture class. The assignment is to write a 10-15 page research paper based off of conversations I have recorded. I'm supposed to include looks at morphemes, phonemes, syntax, slang, tone, gender relationships, etc. Any and everything is fair game.

I'm lost! I don't know how to begin looking at this. I typed up portions of the conversations (frustrated at the tedious task of pressing play, listing to each word uttered, pressing pause, typing and starting again). I'm trying to go through again and circle and add notes where something is happening beyond words, but really, I'm feeling nothing.

Does anyone have any words of advice or a good way to go about this?

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  • Re: how to analyzing conversation?

    Sat, January 13, 2007 - 11:38 AM
    Yeah, transcription is really tedious. The assignment sounds pretty open-ended - it sounds like you could analyze any aspect of the speech. A lot would depend on what you managed to record, and who the participants were - is there anything interesting in their dialects, use of slang, etc.? Are they native speakers of English (or the language you recorded)? Or if bilingual, do they code-switch? But if you want to look at the conversation as a whole, you could look at things like interruptions - who interrupts who, is it 'cooperative' or not; how the participants take turns, who speaks more, etc. (Look for references on "Conversation Analysis", which has a very specific methodology.) A lot has been written on the different conversation styles of men and women, looking at these factors. (But I find it hard to accept any sweeping generalizations based on a few conversations!) People also look at how power differences are reflected in who dominates conversations, based on age, status, etc. This all falls under the subfield "Discourse Analysis". Good luck!
  • Re: how to analyzing conversation?

    Sat, January 13, 2007 - 12:00 PM
    One thing you might try is finding a conversational analysis "theory" about something (e.g. how men and women speak differently, as in the post above), and test it to see if this theory is working in your example convos. You could first write about the theory itself, test it out with your convo, and decide whether or not the theory is bunk for the paper.

    Hope this helps,
  • Re: how to analyzing conversation?

    Tue, January 16, 2007 - 4:44 PM
    hi :)
    try to look at pragmatics books.
    it examines beyond the speech.
    some intended meanings and like this... :)
    • Re: how to analyzing conversation?

      Tue, January 16, 2007 - 10:52 PM
      Does anyone know what words such as "like" "um" and "uh" are called? Interjections? Words that express mean (often uncertainty) that can stand alone and are not a part of the syntax?
      • Re: how to analyzing conversation?

        Thu, January 18, 2007 - 12:02 AM

        um and uh are often called hesitations or hesitation markers. They can be used for different purposes in conversation (one that comes to mind is 'holding the floor' while thinking of what to say), and also can have different meanings depending on intonation. 'like' is more complicated - sometimes it is used as a hesitation marker, but it is generally more than that. Although people often describe it as just a meaningless filler word (especially in the speech of young people), it is used systemmatically in certain contexts. For example, it is used to introduce quoted speech. I think you would call it a discourse marker.
  • Re: how to analyzing conversation?

    Wed, January 17, 2007 - 12:36 PM
    Jules, I analyze conversations and it isn't a simple thing to do or explain. Having said that, perhaps some simple distinctions applied to the particular conversation you mention might help you. Could you classify the conversation as: one of 'action' (were commitments or declarations being made); one of 'specualtion' (not knowing what action to take consideration of possible actions); or one of 'relationship' (the telling of personal stories and opinions, or paving the way for a future conversation--"before we can talk about X, you must apologize.")

    What was the 'context' of the conversaton? Did perticipants seem to agree on the context? Did all participants behave consistently or outside the expected norms of the context?

    To look for power relationships; who's declarations were granted authority by other participants. For example: saying "no" is a declaration. Saying "no," is like declaration of forgiveness, love, apology, or hate--every individual has the personal authority to make them. However, that doesn't mean others will grant them authority. Often when women say "no," it is not granted authority by others (rape is an extreme example). Look to see if there are gender differences there.

    Linguist, Deborah Tannen is probably the most recognized author on gender differences in conversations. She claims men generally communicate for the sake of status (men don ask for directions because it puts them one down) and women for the sake of relationship. You might look for patterns there.

    I have also used the basic rules of games as a way to analyse conversations. All games have five types of rules that define the game. I have found one can analyze any interaction or cultural practice using the structure of the rules of games as a template. First, there is the rule of purpose: this rule defines what it takes to win the game. The rules of inclusion: define who's in/out and the boundaries. The rules of action: define what the players can, can't and must do (what's required, allowed and prohibited). There are rules for setting conflict within the game, and rules of strategy or the historical knowledge of how to win. It takes a little thinking but if you try and look at the conversation as a 'game' and analyze it using the rules of games, it might show something interesting enough for a 10-15 page paper.

    If you'd like to talk about it, I'd be happy to. Send me a personal message and I'll send you a number to call. Hope that helps. Sincerely, Tony

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    Re: how to analyzing conversation?

    Thu, January 18, 2007 - 8:42 PM
    There are plenty of great responses already, so this maybe superfluous...

    Perhaps you could examine articulatory phonetic differences. Something simple like average length of voicing onset, burst frequencies, etc between genders. I would probably be best to keep the recording samples to a few words to make it manageable. It might be interesting to use words or phrases that might raise emotions (such as 'Iraq war', 'Animal Rights', etc) and contrast them with potentially less emotive words.

    I did a project for my undergraduate degree looking for L1 interference on a common L2 (Latin in my case). If you have a pool of subjects to pull from, it was a really fun project and great practice.

    Good Luck - !
    • Re: how to analyzing conversation?

      Sat, January 20, 2007 - 12:38 PM
      I know that those who have come before me have given great advice, but I just wanted to toss my two cents into the ring. I had to do a paper like this last year, and it was really daunting at first. The easiest way to get it done, is to pick something small that you find really interesting in the data you have collected, and write about it, and then fill in the rest of the pages with things that are related to that core.

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