Overrated gaps: Inter-speaker gaps provide limited information about the timing of turns in conversation
Corpus analyses have shown that turn-taking in conversation is much faster than laboratory studies of speech planning would predict. To explain fast turn-taking, Levinson and Torreira (2015) proposed that speakers are highly proactive: They begin to plan a response to their interlocutor's turn as soon as they have understood its gist, and launch this planned response when the turn-end is imminent. Thus, fast turn-taking is possible because speakers use the time while their partner is talking to plan their own utterance. In the present study, we asked how much time upcoming speakers actually have to plan their utterances. Following earlier psycholinguistic work, we used transcripts of spoken conversations in Dutch, German, and English. These transcripts consisted of segments, which are continuous stretches of speech by one speaker. In the psycholinguistic and phonetic literature, such segments have often been used as proxies for turns. We found that in all three corpora, large proportions of the segments comprised of only one or two words, which on our estimate does not give the next speaker enough time to fully plan a response. Further analyses showed that speakers indeed often did not respond to the immediately preceding segment of their partner, but continued an earlier segment of their own. More generally, our findings suggest that speech segments derived from transcribed corpora do not necessarily correspond to turns, and the gaps between speech segments therefore only provide limited information about the planning and timing of turns.
Publication typeJournal article