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Other expressions (not words)

Talk-in-interaction does not only consist of words. Sounds that are not words (sighs, laughter, snuffles etc.) and visual expressions are as well systematic parts of the logic of conversations, and thus – in our opinion – a part of conversation grammar. This part goes through some of these other expressions.

  • Nods and headshakes
  • Gesture
  • Other physical expressions
  • Hesitation markers
  • Sighs, sniffles, gasps, snorts
  • Laughter

General information about other expressions

When describing what persons say, one often leaves out the parts of communication that are not words. From the beginning in the tradition of conversation research, from which this project springs (see Our method), researchers have always tried to register sounds that are not words.

This is one of the reasons why our transcriptions look different from the written language. There is a lot of ø::h (hesitation), hahaha, -eheh (laughter syllables), ·hnfhh (sniffle), ·hhh (hearable inhalation), just to mention a few (see more under Accuracy and transcription). The advantage of transcribing these non-word expressions is that it makes it easier to see when they have communicative functions, which further reveals order – or grammar – in the way speakers use them.

Since the beginning of the 1980s, conversation analysis has included visual expressions such as gesture, head movements, posture, direction of gaze, and handling of objects, making it possible to describe such expressions as grammatical parts of conversation. This has caused many conversation analysts to regard conversations as something not primarily linguistic (performed with words), but as something “multimodal” where different modalities (words/language, gesture, handling of objects etc.) play together.

Our conversation grammar does not do justice to this multimodality. In that regard, we still know too little about the non-linguistic expressions. For now, the best we can do is include the non-linguistic expressions which are either (1) a decisive factor in understanding what is going on in a conversation (as an example when a nod or a headshake is the only answer to a question) or (2) play together with the linguistic contents in a systematic way.