As I write, conversation analysis (CA) has just marked the first half-century of its existence as an established domain of research since the first of Harvey Sacks's Lectures on Conversation in 1964. While CA emerged through sociology, it has a reach that goes far beyond, into anthropology, psychology, communication, cognitive science, evolutionary theory, education, clinical research and practice, and electrical engineering.
In particular, however, this book is for linguists: students of language who may be familiar with some approaches to the study of language, but less so with investigating its use in interaction. However, it is a testament to both the centrality of language in interaction and the growing influence of CA in linguistics that the groundbreaking paper of Sacks et al. (1974) on turn-taking is ‘by far the most cited’ paper to have appeared in Language, the journal of the Linguistic Society of America since 1924 (Joseph, 2003:463).
The disciplinary scope of the book
As an overview of the methods and findings of CA, the format of the book may be unfamiliar to those expecting a textbook organised along traditional linguistic lines. So those areas within the standard linguistic compass, such as phonetics, morphosyntax and semantics, are not represented here in familiar guise, as subjects of ‘top-down’ investigation. Rather, in accordance with the ‘bottom-up’ methods of CA, interactional phenomena usually investigated within such domains are the focus insofar as they are implicated in the construction of action. Moreover, while the concern with action may be familiar to linguists, it is in the bottom-up methods of investigating action – in sequences rather than as discrete acts – that CA diverges from much familiar linguistic inquiry. A orientational overview with respect to the central concerns of CA, and its relationship to work in relevant linguistic territory, is provided in the first chapter. This makes it clear that, while CA's investigation of ‘language in context’ announces its obvious pertinence to semantics and pragmatics, its focus on the construction and recognition of action makes it relevant far beyond these domains. So, as we shall see in the chapters that follow, the concern with the construction of action is germane to investigations of its phonetic, prosodic and morphosyntactic resources; and the focus on how action is recognised speaks to central questions in both psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics.