Saturday, March 21, 2009

ID FMP: Conversation Turn-Taking Model

Holding a conversation is a basic human activity. It requires a large amount of coordination between participants, a fact that is often unnoticed. People need to know when to listen, when they can start talking, and when to cede the floor. Conversation mechanisms facilitate the coordination of conversations by helping people know how and when to start and stop speaking. These mechanisms enable people to effectively negotiate the turn-taking required carry out a conversation.

Harvey Sacks, Emanuel Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson have developed a model that aims to explain how people manage turn taking during conversations. The focus of their research was to create a framework that can be applied across cultures and contexts, and that can accommodate several key observations about the structure and dynamics of conversations. Here is an excerpt from the abstract of their paper The Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation.

“The organization of taking turns to talk is fundamental to conversation, as well as to other speech-exchange systems. A model for the turn-taking organization for conversation is proposed, and is examined for its compatibility with a list of grossly observable facets about conversation [outlined below].”

The Foundations
Before we explore the model itself let’s take a look at its foundation. Here is a list of the “grossly observable facets about conversation” that was referred to in the quote above:
  1. Speaker changes will always occur and often recur.
  2. For most of the time only one party talks at a time.
  3. More than one person will often talk at a time, but these occurrences are brief.
  4. Most transitions occur with no gap or overlap, or with slight gap or overlap.
  5. Turn order varies throughout conversation.
  6. Turn size or length usually varies.
  7. Length of conversation is not specified.
  8. What parties say is not specified.
  9. Relative distribution of turns is not specified.
  10. Number of parties varies considerably.
  11. Talk can be continuous or not.
  12. Turn-allocation techniques are used to facilitate the conversation.
  13. Sometime turn-constructional units are used to facilitate conversation.
  14. Repair mechanisms exist for correcting turn-taking errors.
The Model
The general model that they developed, which is pictured above, is composed of the three basic rules that govern the transition of turns in a conversation. These rules are:
  1. The current speaker chooses the next speaker by asking a question or making a request.
  2. If the speaker does not choose the next speaker, then another person can self-select to start speaking.
  3. The speaker can decide to continue speaking if no other person self-selects to start speaking.
[source: Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction; and Harvey Sacks, Emanuel Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson’s paper The Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation, 1974]

** What the hell is ID FMP? **