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Margret Selting
TCUs and TRPs

The Construction of Units in Conversational Talk

The basic unit of talk as suggested by conversation analysis, the so-called 'turn-constructional unit', has been the focus of much research interest. Although the notion of the 'turn-constructional unit' as introduced by Sacks/ Schegloff/ Jefferson (1974) is now widely accepted, it has become apparent that the details involved in the interpretation of this unit are far from clear. As it seems, 'turn-constructional unit' (TCU) is still very much an intuitive and holistic notion which awaits deconstruction (or decomposition) and reconstruction of the possible constructional components and the constitutive practices or signalling resources that participants deploy in order to make "TCUs" interpretable.

  • Recently, uncertainty has arisen as to what precisely a TCU is and how it can be recognized in transcripts of conversational talk.
  • Some researchers showed some hesitation when talking about units in talk: what units are there on what levels?
  • In discussing and devising the transcription system GAT (Selting et al. 1998), our research group found it necessary to introduce the notion of phrasing unit to capture production units as transcribed from conversational talk.
  • Some of the footnotes in Schegloff (1996) suggest that Schegloff and Goodwin do not (always) agree on the criteria and the segmentation of talk into TCUs; they seem to have different notions of what a TCU is.
  • In their recent work, Thompson and her research group suggest departing from the segmentation of talk into TCUs towards the analysis of the practices which are used in order to form and make turns interpretable (Ford/Fox/Thompson 1996).
All this is evidence that the notion of the TCU needs to be clarified and related to other units in talk.

In this paper, I want to first show in detail that the notion of the TCU needs clarification, and why, and then suggest some solutions. In my view, we need to separate TCUs and TRPs more clearly, i.e. distinguish between TCUs that do not and that do end in TRPs. As a consequence, we need to clarify the relation between different kinds of units: under what conditions are what kinds of units TCUs and under what conditions do TCUs end or not end in TRPs?

 Published as:
Selting, Margret (2000). The construction of units in conversational talk. Language in Society 29, 477-517.



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