As Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson note, turn-constructional units (TCUs) are formed, inter alia, by syntactic units such as sentences, clauses, and phrases (1974:720). In this chapter we will systematically explore these structures as resources for building turns and implementing actions in talk-in-interaction.
Analyzing Sentences, Clauses, and Phrases in Talk-in-interaction
In linguistics, the sentence has traditionally been viewed as the basic unit of description, as the largest syntactic entity that can be captured with traditional linguistic tools, and as the unit with respect to which smaller component units such as embedded clauses and phrases function (morpho)syntactically. Linguistics, however, has often had a fundamental bias toward written language (see, e.g., Linell 2005). It has dealt primarily with written texts, which are fully present in a visual medium and are prototypically produced well before they are read, in the absence of direct interaction between writer and reader. Spoken language, however, is by nature fleeting and ephemeral; in talk-in-interaction it arises from a continual moment-by-moment exchange between participants, who have little time to think or plan between contributions. Thus, the syntactic units deployed in conversational turns – sentences, clauses, and phrases – need to be fundamentally flexible, adaptable to the local exigencies of interaction. If we deal with these units here, it is not because linguists have traditionally thought them relevant, but because they have been shown to be oriented to as relevant by participants in social interaction.
When referring to sentence and/or clause, researchers in general mean to denote a grammatical unit formed with a predicate, most often a verb or a verb complex, and the grammatical constituents or phrases that need to accompany it in order for it to be interpreted as complete. Yet the terms sentence and clause do not have the same status in the grammars of all languages. Different linguistic traditions may have reason to make different distinctions. To take English and German as examples, English grammarians generally conceive of sentence as a superordinate category only, and refer to the simple sentence with a special term, namely clause (see Figure 6.1). For analyses of syntactic units in English, thus, clause is the basic term.