Turn Order in Multi-party Storytelling: Do Narrators 'control Every Third Slot, from a First'?

  • Christoph Rühlemann, Stefan Th, Gries
  • Published 2014


In this paper we examine turntaking patterns in conversational storytelling. It has long been noted that turntaking in every-day narrative differs on a number of counts from turntaking in regular conversation. The differences, however, have, at best, been researched qualitatively based on casual observations and small datasets. Here, we base our analysis on two specialized corpora of conversational narrative, the SCoSe containing American English 4and 5-party stories and the NC containing British English 4to 7-party narratives. The analysis is decidedly quantitative and statistical in orientation. Specifically, we are concerned with turn order in conversational multi-party narrative aiming to examine the validity of Sacks’ description of storytelling as “an attempt to control a third slot in talk, from a first” (Sacks 1992: 18), a turn order pattern referred to as the N-notN-N pattern. We also investigate whether what we call ‘turntakersim’ (i.e., individual speakers’ rate of taking the turn in non-narrative conversation) has an impact on turn distribution (a measure intimately related to turn order). Further, given the structural differences in the data at hand (the SCoSE being raw-text, NC being densely annotated) we employ largely different methodologies particularly in addressing our main question, which is related to turn order. The results on turntakerism suggest that this factor cannot on its own account for the noticeable increase in the narrator’s turn share as soon as the conversational activity moves into storytelling. The results on turn order reveal the N-notN-N pattern’s statistical overrepresentation in all multi-party narrative types examined. The implications of this finding are far-reaching. First, Sacks et al.’s dictum that turn order is not fixed in advance does not hold true for conversational narrative. Also, turn order in conversational narrative is not locally controlled, on a turn-by-turn basis, but globally, on the basis of the activity the conversationalists are involved in, viz. storytelling. Second, a fundamental correlate of the N-notN-N pattern is the avoidance of doubleresponses, that is, of two consecutive response turns following the narrator’s turn. This avoidance suggests that the turn order system underlying multi-party narrative is that of 2-party talk. Further, the double-response avoidance suggests the possibility that the source of the turnorder bias in narrative is a tacit agreement between the recipients to promote the single-recipient filling the single-response slot to a ‘spokesperson’ taking the turn on behalf of all other recipients. We also note the possibility of there being a recipient-subsystem for turntaking at the single-response slot interacting with the narrator-recipient turntaking organization but still, to an extent, working on its own terms.

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Rhlemann2014TurnOI, title={Turn Order in Multi-party Storytelling: Do Narrators 'control Every Third Slot, from a First'?}, author={Christoph R{\"{u}hlemann and Stefan Th and Gries}, year={2014} }