Guest blog: Jason Turowetz on “I just thought…”

“I just thought… ” is one of those phrases whose meaning we think we know, but there are intriguing subtleties in what people do with it in conversation. In a recent article for the journal, Jason Turowetz delved into some of its main uses. Here he gives the background to the story. 

Jason Turowetz

My article on ‘I just thought formulations’ has its origins in a study of speed dating I conducted with a colleague, Matthew Hollander, in 2009, when we were graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It seems a long way back, but that shows how a phenomenon can lodge in your head and inspire a continuing thread of research.

An interest in the incipient stages of relationship formation led us to set up three speed dating events between college students. We made audio- and video-recordings of the dates (126 in total), as well as rough transcripts, and did post-event follow-up interviews with the participants. Initially, our focus was to be on relationship-relevant talk: flirting, mentions of past relationships, expressions of romantic attraction, etc.

Image from Chronicle Live

But when we looked again at what was going on, we saw that the participants spent very little time on romantic topics as such. Instead, they chatted about things that made sense to them locally: classes, homework, dorm-living, parties, and so forth. Further, when they did talk about dating, it almost always concerned the event in which they were taking part, and they seemed oriented to changing topics as soon as possible. So, we revised our question, which now became: how do these speed daters manage the topic of speed dating when it comes up, and what clues might this provide as to their reluctance to speak more about it?

Our answer (see Turowetz and Hollander 2012, 2013) was that college-age speed daters treat the activity as accountable in two senses. For one thing, meeting people through speed dating is accountable as such, a finding that seems to hold for older daters as well (see Stokoe 2010). But speed dating as a college-student, specifically, is also accountable – that is, it is not a normative way for students to meet prospective partners, who are ordinarily found through friends, in classes, at parties, etc.

So when asked why they “decided to do speed dating,” not a single participant answered “to meet someone.” Instead, they produced category-normative reasons (i.e. having a new experience, for fun, to learn more about research, to earn the ten dollar stipend they got for participating, etc.). That way they could deflect the inference that they were somehow desperate to meet someone and could not do it via more conventional channels.

That’s the environment of our “I-just-thoughts” 

It was in these accounts-for-participation, through which students minimized their stake in speed dating and disclaimed investment in the activity, that the ‘I just thought’ phenomenon first came to my attention. Consider the following extract, in which ‘Dave’ is responding to ‘Sally’s’ why-question about his reasons for speed dating:

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As Bolden and Robinson (2011) observe, why-questions which solicit accounts imply that the target action is non-normative and challengeable. Dave produces a knowledge-disclaimer + defensive I-mean utterance (Maynard 2016), then prefaces his casual account (‘funny’, ‘interesting’) with an ‘I just thought’  formulation. Like the other I-just-thought formulations in the speed-dating corpus, this one strongly implies that there aren’t any other reasons. So that rules out the more risky disclosure that Dave was interested in ‘meeting someone to date’. Moreover, Dave’s I-just-thought disclaims investment in the activity: he did not think too hard about participating – indeed, his ‘I dunno’ indicates that his reasons are not immediately accessible, but require some effort to retrieve – thereby contributing to the casual stance he is enacting.

I-just-thoughts are everywhere

Having observed that all the I-just-thought tokens in the speed-dating corpus operated this way, the question arose as to whether they also did so in ordinary conversation. This prompted a search through five widely used CA collections – NB, Rahman, Holt, Heritage, and SBL – that yielded an additional 19 instances of the phenomenon. Further analysis confirmed that I-just-thoughts do much the same thing in ordinary conversation as in speed dating, allowing the speaker to disclaim investment in a target accountable action while retaining some ownership of it. Moreover, it became apparent that while they are often produced on behalf of the speaker, they can also be produced on the interlocutor’s behalf: for example, by minimizing the speaker’s investment in a current activity, I-just-thought can deny that the other party is imposing (i.e. interfering with the activity by, say, phoning or making a request).

There’s plenty more to say about I-just-thought, and how people use that seemingly innocent phrase. I am continuing to collect examples from ordinary and institutional settings, with a view to further refining my understanding of how – and where – they operate.


Bolden, G. and J. Robinson. (2011). Soliciting accounts with why‐interrogatives in conversation. Journal of Communication 61(1): 94-119.

Hollander, M.M. and J. Turowetz. (2013). ‘So, why did you decide to do this?’ Soliciting and formulating motives for speed dating. Discourse & Society 24(6): 701-724.

Maynard, D.W. (2016). Defending solidarity: Self-repair on behalf of other-attentiveness. In Robinson (Ed.). Accountability in social interaction (Pp. 73-107). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stokoe, E. (2010). “Have you been married, or…?”: Eliciting and accounting for relationship histories in speed-dating interaction. Research on Language and Social Interaction 43(3): 260-282.

Turowetz, J., & M.M. Hollander. (2012). Assessing the experience of speed dating. Discourse Studies 14(5): 635-658.




Guest blog: Gareth Walker on how acoustic data are represented

Quite often a ROLSI article touches on a matter than will interest a very wide range of readers, and Gareth Walker‘s account of how acoustic data is represented is a very good example. The range of representations is wide, and not all are equally good for the same things; some may even be misleading. I’m delighted that Gareth has agreed to go into some of the thinking that prompted him to write the piece.

Gareth Walker, University of Sheffield

In a new article in ROLSI I talk about how visual representations of acoustic data (pitch traces, waveforms, spectrograms etc.) have been prepared and used in ROLSI articles, trying to encourage researchers to think about their construction, purpose and use. For me, the main purposes are to provide corroborative evidence for the researcher’s claims, and to allow the reader to independently verify those claims.

I’m interested in the ability of visual representations to efficiently convey relevant information. Along with a dialectologist colleague, Chris Montgomery, I am currently leading a theme within a module for MA students in the School of English at The University of Sheffield on visual representations of linguistic data (graphs, tables, maps, charts etc.). Students bring along to each session visual representations they have found for themselves in published research.

Where things can go wrong

Boo-boos we have identified so far include tables where the numbers don’t add up, graphs which are harder to read than the accompanying tables (and sometimes at odds with them), and other graphs which are fundamentally meaningless because of the way they have been prepared. (I’m pleased to say none were from ROLSI!) We have also noted that redundancy in visual representations – the same data being presented in several different ways – is rife. Remember: part of the point of a visual representation is that it conveys relevant information more efficiently than a textual description. The sample is of course skewed: given the context of the discussions, students are no doubt drawn to visual representations that are deficient in some way. But the point is that it is not at all difficult to find visual representations which are deficient in some, often major, way.

Phoneticians being visual

A funny thing about being a phonetician is that nowadays as well as listening, we spend a lot of our research time looking at pictures of one type or another. In part this is because of advances in desktop computing, and the ready availability of software to assist with phonetic analysis. Praat is the obvious example but there are others: Wavesurfer, for example. A lot of the time we are looking at pictures to see if we can locate corroborative evidence for our auditory impressions. It’s almost inevitable that (hopefully!) corroborative evidence will be provided for our colleagues, audience-members and readers in the form of some kind of visual representation. So we have to do what we can to ensure that the visual representations we offer are doing their job. As I point out in my article it’s through those visual representations that we ‘get at’ the data.

In their excellent article in ROLSI, Steve Clayman and Chase Raymond provide pitch traces and spectrograms of portions of their examples to help the reader ‘get at’ their data and verify their observations. I’ll talk about just one, and quite a specific aspect. The transcription and analysis of their example (10) is accompanied by this visual representation with a labelled pitch trace at the top and a spectrogram at the bottom. (Incidentally, anyone interested in beefing up their knowledge of phonetics, including reading spectrograms, should read Richard Ogden‘s wonderful An Introduction to English Phonetics.)

From Clayman and Raymond (2015)

One of the points that they make is that there is no break in voicing between “turkey” and “you know”. They are, as we would expect, exactly right in making this observation. You can listen to the whole call on Talkbank; the utterance in question is at line 133. We don’t normally have the luxury of listening to the data being discussed, and instead have to rely on the visual representations provided by the researchers to verify their claims. But does their image do its job? As a phonetician when I’m looking for evidence of the continuation of voicing (vibrations of the vocal folds) I look for two main things: periodicity (a repeating pattern) in a waveform, and striations (vertical lines) in a spectrogram. In the case of this particular join I would be looking at a display something like this, listening to the join as I looked.

A portion of the above data, re-presented

different look at the same data

“From this display of a portion of the same data (“key yih” of “turkey yihknow”) it’s clear that the waveform across the join is periodic, and that there are striations in the spectrogram. All great evidence to support the original claim of continued voicing across the join. But this is not so obvious from the visual representation in the original article: there is no waveform, and the spectrogram presents so much information discrete striations can’t be identified.

The usefulness of representations

I’ll finish with one last point which might provoke a bit of thought concerning visual representations. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is an accurate likeness of Lisa Gherardini. If we could travel back to when and where she lived, we would expect to be able to identify her from that visual representation. On the other hand, if what we had to go on was this charming line drawing by Melissa we surely wouldn’t stand a chance. The point is not that all visual representations of acoustic data should be as detailed as possible, but that the nature of the visual representation we are given has a significant impact on its usefulness to end-users. And with that we are back to thinking about the purpose of visual representations: in the case of visual representations of acoustic data in ROLSI, to provide corroborative evidence for the researcher’s claims, and to allow the reader to independently verify them.


Clayman, S. E., & Raymond, C. W. (2015). Modular pivots: A resource for extending turns at talk. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 48(4), 388-405.

Guest Blog: The 8th biannual EM/CA Doctoral Network meeting

Twice a year, UK postgraduates meet to thrash out issues in ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis, generously hosted by staff at a University. The second meeting this year was held at Newcastle. Jack Joyce tells the story, and Marc Alexander muses on the pros and cons of parallel sessions.

Jack Joyce, Loughborough DARG

The 8th biannual EMCA Doctoral Network event was hosted at Newcastle University. It brought the marvellous event to the land of Applied Linguistics, and gave us EMCA researchers a further opportunity to explore different ways with which EMCA is employed around the UK. The collegial and supportive spirit highlighted at past EMCA Doctoral Networks was again, present, giving us the chance to meet old friends and make new connections.

Our host, Chris Leyland, welcomed us all to Newcastle and promptly handed over to local PGRs to run an ice breaking event (pictured). The meeting proper began with parallel sessions,

Merve Bozbiyik’s (Ufuk University) paper explored the implementation of the software ‘VEO’ in an English language education context,highlighting the practitioners’ own recordings of their questioning; in the other session, Louise White (Loughborough University) employed Discursive Psychology to explore criminal accusations/responses in non-legal settings, highlighting deflection strategies of suspects. Reem Al Abbas (Newcastle University) showed us some examples of second language test-takers selecting next speaker during an assessment, making us question, in multimodal terms, when does a ‘turn’ begin? Meanwhile, Julie Wilkes (University of Manchester) presented her findings on kinship care identities and peer support groups which involved some heated discussion in the audience.

How can EM/CA deal with ‘power’?
Lunch was kindly provided by Newcastle University, over which we mingled, networked and made new friends. After lunch, we went straight into data sessions, with Jehana Copilah-Ali (Newcastle University) sharing her entre-taining data – think Dragons’ Den, or Shark Tank, which included a discussion to problematise CA’s relationship with ‘power’. Veronica Gonzalez Temer (University of York) was next, sharing her data of food assessments in Chilean Spanish.  After a quick break, we jumped into further presentations with Martin Porcheron (University of Nottingham) presenting fascinating data on digital speech devices (Alexa, Google Home) with innovative recording. Marc Alexander (Loughborough University) followed, briefly interrupted by a localised power outage before presenting on neighbourhood complaints across different institutional settings, demonstrating the emergence of institutional business in callers’ accounts of their troubles. The other parallel session kicked off with Bogdana Huma’s (Loughborough University) paper on the strategies ‘cold’ callers employ to get appointments; the presentation session finished with Marion West (University of Wolverhampton) whose paper explored advice sequences in undergraduate supervisions.

Eric Laurier, courtesy estate of Francis Bacon

The day concluded with a fantastic plenary by Eric Laurier (University of Edinburgh) who investigated the socio-logics of road traffic, presenting some wonderful data of a members’ point-of-view and an analysis of how offers, appreciations and the right of way are interactionally organised.

Shortly thereafter we visited a local restaurant where we enjoyed a wonderful tapas buffet and, over drinks, we ‘networked’, talked PhD life and our experiences using EMCA.

Post-human perspectives on Social Interaction?

Spencer Hazel, Newcastle University

We began day 2 plied with tea and coffee; Spencer Hazel (Newcastle University) introduced us to CLAN, showing us the basics and its potential for analysis. In the other session, Marina Cantarutti (University of York) presented her data on the sequential and prosodic design of (dis)association. Following his first skills session, Spencer followed with a second session on the various ways which social interaction may be presented, he lead a discussion on the implications of how we present our data for analysis, showing us a rare clip of Gail Jefferson and noting that “how you make the everyday strange is how we produce the research objects we work on”. The final plenary talk, and final session of the event, like at the Cardiff meeting ended with an insightful speaker: Alan Firth (Newcastle University), who examined the direction of research into social interaction and shared some theoretical questions from a post-human perspective: Is CA logo-centric? Is ‘context’ a humanist construct in CA’? and where is agency located in CA?

The event closed with a quick wrap up session and the customary group photo. The meetings are usually described using a number of positive adjectives, and this meeting is no different, Newcastle were great hosts and, the EMCA Doctoral Network shows no signs of slowing down. We all look forward to the next event, to meet new EMCA people, and go to a space where we can spend a couple of days talking about ethnomethodology. What could be better?

More pictures, and details (including the clip of Gail Jefferson) can be found in the twitter moment here.

Marc Alexander, Loughborough University

Marc Alexander adds:

Love, un-laterally

While I’m certainly no veteran when it comes to attending these types of events, my experiences thus far have caused me to think about ‘parallel sessions’ (i.e. two or more presentations/data sessions occurring simultaneously) with some degree of regularity, and consequently, my apparent issue with them.

Now, I’m not about to suggest the banning of parallel sessions (well, not yet!), or that they are always a bad thing. I’m also aware that they are sometimes unavoidable at conferences, not only as organisers seek to accommodate a diverse selection of panels, topics, and methodologies, but also that parallel sessions afford a greater number of academics, at various stages of their careers, the opportunity to present their work, which is of course, a good thing.

My overriding concern is that parallel sessions may offset the intended outcomes for the sessions themselves. Commonly, there can be a large disparity between numbers of people attending parallel sessions, which may occur for a variety of reasons, such as room size, speaker popularity, topic interest, etc. However, maybe this impacts the sense of what is shared (or rather, not shared) experience of sessions.

My concern isn’t so much that parallel sessions exist, but that they mitigate the sharing of an experience – not only the presentation content, but also, the ability to discuss the same topic or approach with the presenter, to develop ideas, and to forge new interests (potentially with others). As an early-career researcher, getting experience of presenting is, of course, valuable for my development. However, it is also beneficial to receive as much feedback as possible ‘post-presentation’, and so, at least numerically, more attendees represent a better chance of comment, critique, or advice. While I’m not so naïve as to expect the ending of parallel sessions altogether, maybe sometimes, less (sessions) can be more, more (choice) can be less, and even, more (people) can be more! And so, it seems to me that, although parallel sessions are a practical way of dealing with multiple presentations simultaneously, they may be at the detriment of the very business we are engaged in exploring; that being interaction, and its accomplishments.

Newcastle EM/CAS meeting Sept 2017

Guest blog: Jack Joyce on Loughborough’s “Resistance Day”

The community of interactional researchers in Loughborough’s Discourse and Rhetoric Group occasionally put on an informal themed day of presentations and data sessions. In September this year the theme was “Resistance”, meant to encompass all kinds of practices. Doctoral student Jack Joyce takes up the story.

Jack Joyce, Loughborough DARG

On 13 September 2017, the first ‘Resistance in Talk-in-Interaction’ seminar day was hosted at Loughborough University as a joint-DARG event, funded by the Loughborough Doctoral College.

The one-day seminar, organised by Bogdana Huma, Claire Feeney and I came about after we noticed that we were all looking at a similar theme in our data; resistance. The day was originally planned as an internal ‘get-together’ to talk about resistance in DARG, but we attracted interest from farther afield so we decided to arrange something a little more formal but with an informal ethos. The aim of the seminar; come up with some kind of definition for ‘resistance’.

The day featured a number of data sessions which demonstrated the breadth and depth of work being done on Resistance-in-interaction, delegates had the opportunity to receive, and provide their own analytic contributions towards data across a range of institutional contexts. These contexts were often challenging to hear/see such as, people resisting help in suicide crisis negotiations (Rein Ove Sikveland), or the strategies people with profound intellectual disabilities are able to employ to resist being cajoled (Charles Antaki). Each session posing the question: in this interactional context, what does resistance look like?

Sue Widdicombe, Edinburgh University

Categories for living

The seminar was well-rounded with invited speaker Sue Widdicombe from the University of Edinburgh giving an insightful talk on how categories are ascribed in conditions of multiple identities. We were all excited to be shown some seemingly ‘lost’ data from her ground-breaking studies on subcultures (see: Widdicombe, 1995). In her talk, Sue shared her analysis of question-answer sequences in interviews about nationality and religion with men and women in Lebanon and Syria.

Using various Conversation Analytic approaches, she identified four patterns of modifying or resisting categories: (1) accounting for the upcoming talk, (2) invoking a contrasting category to modify a membership claim, (3) through nominating an alternate, often more general, category, (4) denial of a previously relevant category. After her talk, we jumped straight into a data session to see these patterns in action through analysing Jeremy Corbyn doing resisting being described as ‘middle class’.

The day also featured work from other researchers; Bogdana Huma on the ways call-takers resist prospecting ‘cold’ callers, Marion West presented data on how, in supervisions, undergraduates may resist advice, Emily Hofstetter (and Liz Stokoe) showed us an example of office health and safety inspections can be a site for subtle resistance, and how of institutional failure can be invoked to resist an institutionally-mandated change; and Jack Joyce concluded the day with some data of an extreme case of resistance, showing one way medical patients can resist treatment recommendations (by simply getting up and walking out).

More resistance next year?

In planning Resistance Day we purposefully avoided widely advertising the event, treating the day as a test event to talk about our interests, and more generally, to see if other people were interested in resistance. The answer was a resounding yes, the day was fully booked and a few people missed out on places. So, we are in the process of planning a second, larger event some time in 2018 so if you’d like to be informed of any announcements keep an eye on EMCA Wiki, or contact Jack ( to be added to the mailing list.

If you want to learn more about the conference, you can search #DARGresistance on Twitter or find the Twitter moment here.

Why ROLSI uses double-blind review

Many journals in our field, perhaps most, anonymise the submissions they send out for review, and pass comments back to authors anonymised in turn: a “double-blind” system.  This has always been ROLSI’s practice  (at least, it has been under the editorship of the last five editors). But occasionally a reader or potential reviewer raises the question as to why this is preferable to signed reviews, or indeed submissions with the author’s name attached.


Charles Antaki, ROLSI Editor

I thought readers might be interested in a recent e-mail dialogue with a reader on just these issues.

They have kindly allowed me to reprint their questions (italicised below) and my answers, though they prefer to remain anonymous.

Q. As all linguists know, context is crucial in the interpretation of any text. Removing the name(s) of the author(s) deprives the reviewer of the most important piece of the context. Thoughts that come to mind: What else has the author written on the topic? What are the influences on the author?

A. I’m not sure that the issue of ‘context’ is helpful here. Or if it is, then the proper context is (I would say) the context of the extant literature on the subject, not the author’s record.

Q. Being asked by the author to comment on the paper: On a visit to a university I met a young man and as we chatted he talked about a paper he’d like my comments on. He said it had received not-so-good reviews from a journal. I agreed to take a look. When he sent it I realized that I was one of the reviewers who suggested major revisions. I had no choice at that point but to say I was one of the reviewers, so I sent him the review and said I stood by it. If the authors’ names had been revealed to me when I reviewed the paper, I would have been able to avoid that tricky situation.

A. That is indeed a delicate situation, but a rare one, I should think. And if the reviewer has written a collegial, respectful and scholarly review (as all ROLSI reviewers do!) then there should be, if the recommendation was negative, only the awkwardness of managing a bit of bad but useful news.

Q. Being able to guess the author. It is natural to try to guess who the author is. Sometimes this is even possible. One can Google key words in the title. So the reviewer might waste a lot of time on this project rather than focusing on the paper. So why not just let the reviewer have this information up front?

A. I doubt that a reviewer will spend much time trying to track down the identity of the author. Either they think they know or – much more usually – they don’t, or don’t feel the need to know.

Q. Making a wrong guess about the author. Again, because it is natural to want to know who the author is, one can make an erroneous guess and this can get you into trouble, too. Or not knowing, but perhaps suspecting, that the author is someone I know.  This is the worst situation because then you spend a lot of time worrying about how to handle this, rather than actually working on the paper.

A. I think that most reviewers are wise enough to know that their guesses (if they make them) are quite likely to be wrong, so don’t let such a guess, if made, colour their comments. The reviewer may, or may not, be well-disposed to an author they recognise and like, or the converse. But the danger is obviously greater if the name is given, removing all doubt; then the well- or ill-disposed reviewer is not held back by uncertainty.

Q. Going even further, I also think that the referees should be identified to make the process maximally transparent. Some referees are not very civil in their comments; it is possible that if their names were associated with their comments they might be kinder and more helpful. Also the submitting author always tries to guess who the reviewers are and is often successful!

A. Just on my own experience: ROLSI reviewers are almost without exception respectful in their comments; indeed even when making negative recommendations their tone is on the whole constructive and supportive (I can call to mind only two occasions, out of many hundreds, where this was not so; and even then it would be a rogue phrase or a regrettable adjective, easily amended after consultation) . And as far as guessing the reviewers’ identity, I doubt if that is successful in one out of 50 cases.

To finish off with a couple of general observations about ROLSI’s policy:

The positive case for double-blind can be put in two arguments, which I think are strong:

  1. it liberates reviewer and reviewer from ad-hominem considerations, both favourable and unfavourable; and
  2. it makes some effort to diminish the gender, and perhaps ethnicity bias in un-anonymised assessment (for which evidence admittedly comes mostly from undergraduate essays and the like, but is nevertheless suggestive).

Guest blogs: Reflections on IPrA 2017, Belfast (part 2)

In this, the second report on the busy International Pragmatics Association conference, we have the reflections of the organiser, Catrin Rhys, intercontinental visitor Chase Raymond, and Twitter follower Saul Albert.

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Catrin Rhys, University of Ulster

The organiser’s view: Catrin Rhys #IPrA2017

Hosting IPrA begins with creating the bid and an appropriate theme and ends, after everyone has left, with report writing for the local sponsors. In between is a three-year rollercoaster with periods of intense busy-ness and quiet periods where you wake up in the middle of the night panicking that you’ve forgotten something.

Conference organising on this scale certainly takes you out of the normal routine of academic life. From site visits in hard hats, to being treated like royalty at a formal food tasting, we were temporarily “valued clients” generating significant income for the local economy. It was satisfying, in that context, to be able to choose a local cooperative and a social enterprise as suppliers.

What I hadn’t expected was how much time I would spend agonising over mundane details like numbers of bottles of wine/beer and ratios of red wine versus white wine for the reception. Thanks to the generosity of the publishers John Benjamins, I could overestimate and we introduced a great new tradition of the closing drinks reception!

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Candy and Chuck Goodwin, flanked by volunteers Carol Stitt-Richie and Chen Chi

Academically, I was very excited at the prospect of hosting IPrA. In my naïveté, I envisaged getting to influence the programme so that I could enjoy a week of fabulous CA sessions. It almost worked! We had brilliant CA plenaries who took the conference theme seriously and were generous in their communication of CA research to the wider IPrA community. The programme overall offered an embarrassment of CA riches – so much so that I couldn’t avoid serious clashes in the scheduling.  And it was such a pleasure to see my home town full of CA folk. What I hadn’t counted on was how little of the conference I would actually get to myself and how distracted I would be when I did. It was wonderful, though, to see my phd students getting the chance to become part of the academic community and engage in a bit of academic fandom.

Overall, I can honestly say that hosting IPrA was a wonderful experience. So watch this space for the next Belfast CA conference!

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Conference dinner. Photo: Adrian Kerrison

Anthropologist Bill Beeman serenading conference-goers with ‘Danny Boy’  in a mock-up of the Titanic’s first-class dining room.

[Editor’s note: If you look carefully at the photo, you can just make out Catrin performing an unexpected act of heroism – crouching below the piano to hold up the music stand for the length of the recital]


The intercontinental traveller: Chase Raymond @ChaseWRaymond

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Chase Raymond, University of Colorado

This year’s meeting was an all-around stellar experience. Notwithstanding some initial AV problems at the conference venue, the talks I had the pleasure of attending were truly amazing.  A few highlights included Paul Drew and Kobin Kendrick’s panel on recruitments, which showcased a range of new projects making use of that conceptual umbrella; Ed Reynolds and Jessica Robles’s panel on emotion in interaction, with each paper further underscoring just how systematic and action-oriented displays of emotions are; Charles Antaki’s panel on entry and re-entry into interaction, which included data from a variety of contexts and participants; and several great panels on applications of CA to institutional contexts, most notably one on end-of-life conversations, organized by Marco Pino and Ruth Parry.

Quantity and quality

Overall, I was personally struck by both the quality and quantity of CA scholars and scholarship at this year’s meeting. At the last IPrA in 2015 in Antwerp, I felt as though conversation analysts were ‘guests’ at the Pragmatics party, so to speak; whereas at this year’s conference, I felt that our presence was significantly more central. This was clearly evidenced by well-attended ‘interface’ panels in which CA was brought to bear on classic debates in Pragmatics—for instance, Rebecca Clift and Liz Holt’s panel on the “Pragmatics-CA Interface”, and Lucas Seuren and Traci Walker’s panel on form and function. In addition, though, it cannot go without mention that CA was very strongly represented at the conference-wide level as well: Four of the six plenary speakers have published work in CA (even if that wasn’t what they all focused on in their plenaries), and Sandy Thompson was awarded the Association’s very first John J. Gumperz Lifetime Achievement Award. In sum, then, this year’s meeting has cemented IPrA as one of my ‘go-to’ conferences (alongside ICCA) for high-quality CA.

Heritage by Tilly.JPG

John Heritage’s Plenary on medical interaction (Photo: Natalie Flint)

The Belfast Telegraph wrote that the conference was expected to bring £2.5 million to the city over its six-day run, and so it’s safe to say that organizing this event was no easy task. My thanks to the organizing committee, especially its chair, Catrin Rhys, for making this event a spectacular success, and I eagerly await the 2019 meeting in Hong Kong.

The Tweeter: Saul Albert @saul


Dr. Saul Albert, Tufts University

I wasn’t able to attend the conference, but I followed it surprisingly successfully from 1,000 miles away in Boston.

I’ve been on twitter so long that I remember when all this was only a few fields (mostly computer science, HCI and electronic engineering). It’s taken a few years for the #EMCA community of language and interaction nerds to catch up, and the hashtag #IPrA2017 marked the first year it became possible to follow almost every panel and session from the comfort of your nearest screen.

Following the #IPRA2017 twitter feed gave me the omniscient feeling of being able to monitor multiple simultaneous panels, and there was some comfort in knowing that since there were 22 parallel sessions this year, local attendees were missing out on almost as many talks as us tweeps! The other great advantage of having so many IPrA tweeters is that there’s now an archive of memorable quotes, comments, questions, and other ephemera that might otherwise have been exchanged privately and forgotten between coffee breaks.

Since I happened to be evaluating social media monitoring services for a project, I also had the opportunity to look at some metrics courtesy of Talkwalker, a social data intelligence company.

Saul's graph.png

Historically, tweets by IPrA delegates between #IPrA2007 (the first conference after the twitter platform was launched) and #IPrA2013 can be counted on the fingers of one hand, so there’s not much to compare with there. The first strong showing was in 2015, when Martin Siefkes collected the 1200-odd tweets sent to the #IPrA2015 hashtag between days 1-3 and days 4-6. However, the twitter conference saturation threshold (when the number of tweets exceeds the number of delegates) was crossed for the first time this year with over 3000 tweets using the #IPrA2017 tag in July alone.

What did #IPrA2017 tweeters also tweet about?

A list of the most often co-occuring hashtags with #IPrA2017 shows a mix of the conferences’ key themes of linguistics, pragmatics and, of course #EMCA, along with references to plenary talks and speakers such as @LizStokoe’s #CARM and @wordspinster Debbie #Cameron. One of the biggest pragmatics-related news items of the year – Deborah Tannen’s take on the #ComeyHearing and attendant #TrumpRussia stories – also get a strong mention, as does @BarbaraDeCock’s analysis of #jesuis and #JeSuisCharlie hashtag use in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

However, a keyword cloud of the most common hashtags and usernames using #IPrA2017, cross-referenced with the most likes/retweets seems surprisingly #EMCA flavored. Perhaps this confirms my biased view that the #EMCA sub-community is particularly engaged and engaging on twitter!

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Most common names and tags in IPrA tweets

The leading ‘social influencers’ in terms of their reach, post-frequency and levels of engagement from other twitters have a similarly healthy leaning towards #EMCA – and the top three clearly reveal a disproportionate source (in terms of the researcher’s base or training) in Loughborough University: @JoMeredith82 (now at Salford), @rolsi_journal (Charles Antaki),  and @DoctoJRo (Jessica Robles).

Finally, some gross demographics: 73.2% of people using the #IPrA2017 hashtag identify on twitter as female whereas 26.8% identify as male, mean age early 30s, mostly distributed between 25 and 44. The career and geographical breakdowns that mostly teachers and students are tweeting about #IPrA2017, mostly from Belfast and N. America –  which intuitively makes sense, given academic career structures and the location of the conference and related research centres.

Given that so many tweeters from this year’s IPrA are also #EMCA aficionados associated with the East Midlands, it seems likely that #ICCA2018 in Loughborough is going to be the next big hashtag.


Guest blogs: Reflections on IPrA 2017, Belfast (Part 1)

IPrA opning sot.pngEvery two years the International Pragmatics Association (IPrA) holds a huge conference – this year some 1,300 people gathered in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for a jamboree of language scholarship. As ever, it was a bazaar of wonders, from historical pragmatics through to eye-tracking experiments, with everything in between, in dozens  of languages. Conversation Analysis was well represented; I asked a number of colleagues to send their reflections, and in this, the first of two Guest Blogs, Liz Stokoe, Melisa Stevanovic and Marina Cantarutti tell us what it was like for them.

The Plenarist: Liz Stokoe

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Professor Liz Stokoe, Loughborough University

Being asked to give a plenary at IPRA is an honour. In a line-up for Belfast 2017 that included Deborah Cameron and John Heritage, it was a bucket-list invitation for me. It was particularly lovely to be asked for 2017, twenty years after getting my PhD and so being halfway through my academic career. Saying ‘yes’ to the invitation was the easy part.

Planning the talk was trickier, however. On the one hand, I knew that a good proportion of the IPRA audience would be hardcore experts in my field – in my case, conversation analysis. On the other, I also knew that the majority of the audience would be expert in another area of language, linguistics, and pragmatics. And given that I spend a good deal of my time these days speaking at events in which audience members are experts in something else entirely – surgery, aviation, sales, the law – I was probably more anxious than usual!

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I designed my plenary around a theme: what we can learn from the first ten seconds of interaction. This enabled me to showcase a range of studies from my early PhD work on student tutorials through other settings I’ve studied, and how different the first ten seconds are when people call a familiar organization (e.g., the doctor, a travel agent) compared to calling an unknown service (e.g., mediation). I showed the differences between the openings of real and simulated encounters. And I ended with why the first ten seconds are crucial in the openings of high stakes conversations.

The room filled up on Wednesday morning for the 8.30 slot. Given that I am not an early morning person, I was glad so many delegates appeared to be. The room was vast. The IPRA audience was not the biggest I’ve spoken to, but it was the only one where I was trapped behind the podium (the venue had no lapel microphones, unbelievably…) with no real sense of whether anyone could hear me. So it was very calming to be introduced by my long term collaborator and good friend, Bethan Benwell.

How did it go?

Did I manage to engage the audience about the importance of the first ten seconds? I’ll let Twitter answer:

  • “The only thing getting me out of bed on an early rainy Wednesday morning. Worth it for the @LizStokoe plenary. #IPrA2017” (Claire Melia)
  • “Great demonstration of how to do #PublicLinguistics #IPrA2017 Loved the visuals too! @LizStokoe” (Zsófia Demjén)
  • “Will be interesting to see how #IPrA2017 attendants will start coffee break conversations next few days, having heard @LizStokoe :-)” (Barbara De Cock)
  • “The openings of simulations looks nothing like the opening of real police interviews. Use real data for training. @LizStokoe #emca #IPrA2017” (Edward Reynolds)
  • “#IPrA2017 Liz Stokoe: How do you spend the day (not) giving bad news? When students phone, don’t ask them to tell you their grades #clearing” (So Reissner-Roubicek)
  • “Stokoe notes the problem for mediation services is people don’t know what they’re for, & demonstrates through 1st 10 secs of call #IPrA2017” (Jo Meredith)

The established young academic: Melisa Stevanovic @MelisaStevanovi

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Dr Melisa Stevanovic, Helsinki University

The conference in Belfast was my fourth IPrA. I realized that the bit-by-bit accumulation of IPrA experiences has finally started to pay back: many things felt easier. Unlike during my first IPrA, when I did not know many CA people, it was now relatively easy to spot the interactionally relevant papers from the program merely on the basis of the names of the presenters. And in the instances of the conference program being forgotten in the hotel room or in the depths of the backbag, I could find my way to the most relevant talks by simply following the crowd of those CA people that I, by now, know. As a result, my occasional visits outside the CA bubble felt like refreshing expeditions, since these were chosen voluntarily and not merely on the basis of deceptive presentation titles. Indeed, during some of these excursions, I managed to come across with wonderful talks that I think would have been of interest also to the wider CA audience.

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Sally Wiggins (Linköping University) on a discursive psychology of food assessment

Not just CA

But there was quite a lot of fresh air inside the CA bubble, too. Here I am not thinking that much about the diversity of the interactional phenomena, topics, or settings that CA folks investigate but more about all the different types of CA arguments presented at the conference. Besides the data-centered accounts of interactional practices, there were papers aiming to develop the conceptual side of CA, presentations exploring the interface between CA and other disciplines, studies that used CA as a theoretical basis for conducting research using other methods, and heart-warming unorthodox arguments, which were linked to the CA tradition but not really to the method as such. Being able to experience the happy co-existence of all these genres side-by-side was memorable, and I consider it also promising for the future of CA.

The postgraduate student: Marina N. Cantarutti @pronbites

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Marina Cantarutti, University of York

As a first year PhD student doing Interactional Linguistics, IPrA 2017 has been like finding a pot of gold. This conference has been a great opportunity to see current research and enlarge my reference list, to meet and greet the people whose papers and books I have devoured, and to have heartwarming reunions with other PhD students and past mentors.

IPrA is, indeed, an intensive and massive conference, so navigating the programme and making selections has proven to be a challenge. I have found myself caught in the dilemma between watching talks by the “big names” irrespective of topic, or selecting presentations relevant to my research by people whose name I had never come across before. I also experienced a couple of moments of excitement (and I admit, a little bit of discouragement) when I saw some of what I had deludedly thought were my own “discoveries” appear so neatly explained on someone else’s slides, but then I took it upon myself to make the most of after-presentation talks and tweets to pave the way for further discussion on shared interests, and perhaps consider future collaborations.

No pressure – this time

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A slide from Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen and Sandy Thompson’s magisterial talk on grammar and deonticity

It has also been inspiring to see early-career academics show how they are ahead of their game in questioning well-established beliefs, advancing CA-IL theory, and finding new niches. I obviously could not help feeling great pride in seeing my own University of York colleagues and supervisors make high-quality presentations. And yes, I did get a bit bitter about not having dared to present a poster, but on the other hand, there is great value in enjoying such a huge conference pressure-free!


All in all, I am truly grateful for the devoted organisation, the thought-provoking research, and the stimulating coffee/lunch talks. As a student who is but only starting to share in this ever-growing CA-IL academic community,  I have felt welcomed by the passion, collegiality, and professionalism I have found  in my second ever IPrA conference.

Another IPrA 2017 blog will be along soon.

For reports on IPrA 2015, Antwerp, see here and here.