Biblical Studies Conversation Analysis
Raymond Person
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 September 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0304


Conversation Analysis (hereafter CA) has its origins in qualitative approaches in sociology. In the 1960s and 1970s Harvey Sacks assumed that language is fundamental to all social interaction, so that the study of naturally occurring conversation as the most basic form of language is essential to understanding all human interaction, even within institutions. That is, in order to understand institutional talk, one must first understand everyday conversation and then determine how practices in ordinary talk are adapted in institutional settings. Because of its emphasis on “naturally occurring” conversation, few scholars of CA have applied this method to written texts. Since CA has now had a significant influence in various disciplines—sociology, linguistics, communication, anthropology, and psychology, many of which have also influenced the study of literature—a growing number of literary scholars are using CA in their research, including in biblical studies. Furthermore, with newer technological forms of communication, a growing number of scholars of CA are applying their methods to written forms of communication. Therefore, the interdisciplinary use of CA within biblical studies is the topic of this entry. The below bibliography is arranged in sections to provide an introduction to studies by scholars of CA first before introducing a representative group of studies by biblical scholars who have applied CA in their research.

CA: Introductions and Seminal Works

CA poses certain difficulties for interdisciplinary approaches, because of its transcription system and technical jargon (for example, one “turn at talk” in common parlance may include multiple “turn-construction units” or “TCUs”, because the speaker has maintained control of the speech by self-selection, despite there having been multiple “transition relevance places” or “TRPs” at which a change in the speaker was possible). Because of this difficulty, those unfamiliar with CA might begin with a good introductory textbook, such as Hutchby and Wooffitt 2008 or Clift 2016, and work through a good introduction to transcription, such as Jefferson 2004 with Schegloff’s online transcription module. For a more thorough understanding of CA, Sidnell and Stivers 2013 is an excellent resource. Harvey Sacks is the founder of CA, so Sacks 1992, his posthumously published lectures, provide excellent insights into his early observations. Schegloff and Sacks 1973; Sacks, et al. 1974; Schegloff, et al. 1977; Pomerantz 1984; and Jefferson 2004 are early publications by Sacks and his students that continue to have an important influence, so that they remain essential reading to deepen one’s understanding of CA. Schegloff 2007, his magnum opus, provides a comprehensive discussion of one of the central observations in CA, sequence organization.

  • Clift, Rebecca. Conversation Analysis. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

    A textbook written by a linguist who specializes in CA.

  • Hutchby, Ian, and Robin Wooffitt. Conversation Analysis: Principles, Practices and Applications. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2008.

    The first edition (1998) was the first introductory textbook devoted exclusively to CA. Hutchby and Wooffitt are two sociologists who specialize in CA.

  • Jefferson, Gail. “Glossary of Transcript Symbols with an Introduction.” In Conversation Analysis: Studies from the First Generation. Edited by Gene H. Lerner, 13–31. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2004.

    Jefferson is primarily credited with the transcription system used in CA, so this is a helpful resource for those learning CA.

  • Pomerantz, Anita. “Agreeing and Disagreeing with Assessments: Some Features of Preferred/Dispreferred Turn Shapes.” In Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis. Edited by J. Maxwell Atkinson and John Heritage, 57–101. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

    One of the first studies of preference organization.

  • Sacks, Harvey. Lectures on Conversation. 2. vols. Edited by Gail Jefferson. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.

    Since he was killed at an early age in a traffic accident in 1975, Sacks’s publications were relatively few. Until this publication, notes of his lectures taken by his students circulated informally and some were the basis of a few posthumous publications, some of which were co-written by his students. Sacks’ lectures continue to provide insights worthy of further research. With an introduction by Emanuel A. Schegloff.

  • Sacks, Harvey, Emanuel A. Schegloff, and Gail Jefferson. “A Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation.” Language 50.4 (1974): 696–735.

    DOI: 10.2307/412243

    The seminal article in the field that has had wide influence beyond CA (according to Google Scholar over 20,000 citations). Since this article was written by three sociologists, it is interesting to note that this is one of the most cited articles from Language, one of the premier journals in linguistics.

  • Schegloff, Emanuel A. Transcription module on his homepage. Transcription Project. UCLA.

    This website provides an excellent introduction to CA transcription with audiofiles to illustrate the sounds the transcription symbols represent.

  • Schegloff, Emanuel. Sequence Organization in Interaction: A Primer in Conversation Analysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511791208

    A comprehensive discussion of sequence organization by one of the first-generation CA scholars. Although essential reading for this topic, it is more technical than one might think a “primer” might be. This was the first of a planned three-volume series of “primers”; unfortunately due to illness, it is the only one that Schegloff will be able to complete.

  • Schegloff, Emanuel A., and Harvey Sacks. “Opening Up Closings.” Semiotica 8.4 (1973): 289–327.

    DOI: 10.1515/semi.1973.8.4.289

    Much of the early CA studies were based on recorded telephone calls, as in this case. This article is a thorough inquiry into how speakers conclude telephone calls and provides the first discussion of sequence organization, especially adjacency pairs.

  • Schegloff, Emanuel A., Gail Jefferson, and Harvey Sacks. “The Preference for Self-Correction in the Organization of Repair in Conversation.” Language 53.2 (1977): 361–382.

    DOI: 10.2307/413107

    Early study of the practices in conversation for repairing errors, including how these practices show a preference for those who produce the error to initiate the repair and produce the repair itself.

  • Sidnell, Jack, and Tanya Stivers, eds. The Handbook of Conversation Analysis. Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2013.

    A more technical work than introductory textbooks, but one that gives a generally thorough overview of CA with chapters written by leading CA scholars. In addition to sections introducing the field and its basic observations, the handbook includes sections summarizing studies according to populations (for example, children and those who are deaf) and settings (for example, news interviews and classrooms). The volume ends with a discussion of CA’s influence on various social science disciplines (for example, psychology and linguistics).

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