Conversational Analysis of Chat Room Talk PHD thesis by       Dr. Terrell Neuage  University of South Australia National Library of Australia.

THESIShome ~ Abstract.html/pdf ~ Glossary.html/pdfIntroduction.html/pdf  ~ methodology.html/pdf  ~ literature review.html/pdfCase Study 1.html/pdf~ 2.html/pdf~ 3.html/pdf~  4.html/pdf~ 5.html/pdf~  6.html/pdf~  7.html/pdf~ discussion.html/pdf  ~ conclusion.html~ postscipt.html/pdf~ O*D*A*M.html/pdf~ Bibliography.html/pdf~  911~ thesis-complete.htm/~ Terrell Neuage Home Appendixes  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.  DATA ~ Case Study   1 ~ 2 ~ 3 ~ 4 ~ 5 ~ 6 ~ 7 ~ These links are from early notes and not the final edits which are in the published version available at the University of South Australia only. Not all links are active due to changing domains. Home page see  /



2 April 2002. The discussion is whether lurking is a TCU.  Thesis: Case Study 1 (Reader Response Theory), 2 (Speech Act Theory)3 (Discourse Analysis),4(Conversational Analysis), 5 (Semiotics), 6 (Linguistic Schools),7 (CMC). Terrell Neuage, University of South Australia. 


Below is saved from the Languse Discussion List March - April 2002. I have included the date and contributor’s name. This has been saved and copied for referencing in my thesis: Conversational Analysis of Chatroom ‘talk’, completion date 2/2003. I hope that a completed rough first draft will be online mid-June 2002 at:


My current research is working with various linguistic theories to discover mapping procedures within online communication (including SMS messaging and Palm Computers). I am interested in electronic communication as I believe, like music, there will be a universal notation formed via emoticons which may help in shared meaning between different cultures and beliefs. I hope that this is not the beginning of a wider globalization which threatens to homogenize the world but a bridge to improved communication.

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>In chatrooms would a person signing in and lurking be considered a TCU?


>Terrell Neuage




Gene Lerner [] 1

Paul ten Have [] 1

Valentina Noblia [University of Buenos Aires] 2

Paul ten Have [] 2

rhyll vallis. 3

Hillary Bays [Paris] 3

E. Sean Rintel [State University of New York] 4


Gene Lerner []




If 'turn-constructional unit' (TCU) is the name for the units out of

which turns at constructed, then you might ask yourself the question,

is lurking something that is turn organized?  That is, is there an

organization that distributed opportunities to lurk to lurk among

participants in the chatroom?  Some forms of human activity are

turn-organized (e.g. speaking in conversation) and some human

activities are not (e.g. eating dinner at home). One would only want

to ask about what constitutes a TCU for activities that are turn

organized - that is, for activities that participants can be seen

doing specific work to maintain the allocation of opportunities at

that activity.



Tue 3/26/2002 2:23 PM


Paul ten Have []


My answer is 'no!' 'turn' stands for 'turn at speaking' (or it's

equivalent). When no one speaks after a turn, there's a silence, a pause,

that's not a turn. When someone does not answer a question, that's a

failure to take a turn, etc.



Tue 3/26/2002 7:55 PM


Valentina Noblia [University of Buenos Aires]


Actually, I think there is not a turn because there is not interaction.  In

the chatrooms, the presence in the channel is not a guarantee of

communication. (Think, for instance, the continous failures in the beginning

of a conversation. Many times the participants don't receive response to

their appeal to others and they left out the channel. When someone does not

answer a question, and does not talk, there is "nothing" but a supposition

of his presence)  If the cooperation is presupposed in the presence of a

person (actually, a nickname), not to talk is a way of no cooperation (in

the sense in which Grice defined it). So it is impossible think in a chat as

a discoursive form of communication, a conversation without words, and

without another forms of interchange meanings. Less possible is to think in

a turn.


Valentina Noblia

University of Buenos Aires


Tue 3/26/2002 11:18 PM


Paul ten Have []


At 08:30 28/03/2002 +1030, Terrell Neuage wrote:

>Thank you for the comments from different folks on TCUs in chatroom lurking.


>Often times someone will enter a chatroom and it is obvious he or she is


>as it will say <****> has entered...

>Some of those present in the chat-area will offer a 'hello' or (usually in


>chatrooms) 'are you a male or female'. What happens then is if the person


>not respond then others will start probing into why they are not saying

>anything.  This changes the discourse of the room especially if some of the

>chatters become agro about it. That is what I meant by does lurking


>a turn taking. Or another example is when someone leaves and enters several

>times and <****> has entered...will show on the screen and one assumes for

>whatever reason that is a particular utterance that is a turn taking.


I think the expression 'notable absence' fits very well here. That's from

the early papers on adjacency pairs, prob. Schegloff & Sacks, 1973, or

Schegloff 1968.



>Another TCU I am interested in and which is part of my exploration of how

>people communicate in chatrooms (and how it may effect us in real life -

> is the interpretation of emoticons, abbreviations and

>sounds in a chatroom.

>For example, if there is a discourse between several chatters and one of the

>chatters uses the sound device (most chatrooms have them) which sounds like a

>fart or burp or giggle (leading to the question is a fart a TCU as when in a

>person-to-person conversation someone is annoyed or wants to express


>they do so by farting, burping, giggling etc. is that their utterance? For

>example, my younger son use to annoy me to no end when I would ask a question

>and he would just grunt and that was his response. Now he is a pitcher for


>LA Dodgers in Spring Training in Florida and I wonder if he grunts at the

>people there or was it just at me? I think most teenagers do this).


>A turn in a chatroom could just be an emoticon; :), that is their turn, their

>response, their utterance, their meaning.


These all full under the rubric of 'activities', don't they?


>Also, may I use some of the comments from before from you all on this in my

>thesis (in my footnotes in my current case study and I will reference that it

>was from email from this listserv?). Especially, Valentina Noblia, Paul ten

>Have (whom I have referenced several times already in my thesis) and Gene

>Lerner so far. I am not sure of how to reference from listservs as there does

>not seem to be an excepted protocol yet.


I think the name of the list and the date of posting will do.


Best, Paul

Thu 3/28/2002 7:44 PM


rhyll vallis


Hi Terrell, when I was doing my thesis on chat rooms I

wondered about the same thing and in the end I decided

to go with treating 'lurking' as members oriented to

it. That is, the members in the chat rooms I studied

seemed to treat 'lurking' as 'presence' rather than a

'turn' in conversation. They treated it in the same

way as someone standing near you, who could be a

possible conversant but wasn't actually one until they

or someone else initiated a sequence. It's interesting

that with the new type of chat rooms that have

avatars, chatters can now 'face' one another with

their avatars and increase the physical proximity,

adding a dimension to the chat that was absent from my

data. Best of luck.



Fri 3/29/2002 6:44 PM

Hillary Bays [Paris]


Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris


You are very right to bring up some of the differences between chat and

face to face interaction especially in regards to the expectations of

interactions and responding to turns (eg.  when a lurker prefers to remain

"silent" at least in the public arena, because we don't know really if he

or she is pursuing a private conversation on a different level... hmmm).


A turn then can be understood as a volontary means of conveying a message

to others in the chat room. This includes emoticons, sounds and even

manipulation of the server messages such as "topic" changes and nickname

changes. Indeed, in IRC the turn takes on a visual aspect (including sounds

which are volontary or associated with certain types of messages).

Afterall, almost ALL of the interaction is visual and cannot be spoken,

contrary to the definition given by SSJ and by Paul ten Have, more

recently, have expressed.


This definition is problematic for IRC because it either bars this type of

interaction from the status of a "converstional activity" (I won't discuss

the question if it is conversation or not), or it demands the reevaluation

of the definition of a turn in CA terms.


Then there is the question of the TCU. Turns in Chat are limited by the

technical system. They cannot go on forever, for pages and pages, which is

a major difference from the definition of a turn given by SSJ. Indeed, a

person cannot even techincally guarantee that he can keep his turn without

a server message or other contribution introjected between the lines.


So, how do we deal with this? I suggest in my PhD that a turn is this

volontary contribution to the chat room, that they are visual elements and

that each turn is exclusive. Turn internal TCUs can be evaluated in terms

of the grammar used in the turn, or in terms of a visual layout of the turn

which uses punctuation or icons or emoticons etc, but in IRC the difference

between a turn and a TCU is almost a moot question. The TRP is after the

person has composed and sent his/her message.... Besides, the participants

may not even be aware that a turn is in the making until it is sent (see

Susan Herring's article in JCMC for more on this) and interruption, or when

the partner deems a TCU has been accomplished, is not possible.


This turn/TCU question is already difficult in the spoken word, but when we

start adding new techniques to our analyses, it seems to complicate things

further. However, it does provoke us to reflect on the original

definitions. Are they still valid?


As a final note concerning the breath units: The technical limitations on a

turn in IRC can be seen (literally) as having these types of physical,

natural boundaries, like a breath unit. Poets in the 50s and 60s also

experimented with the breath unit. Alain Ginsberg, I believe (or perhaps

charles olsen), wrote poems based on this breath unit meaning that a line

was composed of as many words he could utter in one breath unit. These

poems were not only seen as written works to be read in a book, but

performed in front of (or with) others.


Hope this stimulates more discussion,


Hillary Bays

Mon 4/1/2002 6:45 PM

E. Sean Rintel [State University of New York]


Hey lang-users!


Thought I might weigh in on the Chatroom TCU discussion.


I think we need to be clear that the questions of whether 'turn-taking'

'exists' in chatrooms and whether lurking is an instance of a chatroom TCU

are of two different orders. The first is more abstract than the second.

The first seems definitional, while the second seeks to categorize an

empirical observation by virtue of an existing definition (of some kind,

maybe the first).


Whether 'turn-taking' 'exists' in chatrooms is a difficult question. I

agree with Rhyll Vallis's answer (glib generalization: 'it depends on how

members orient to it') and Hillary Bay's answer (glib generalization: 'the

system's technical structure makes turn-taking very different from FTF

interaction turn-taking, so it needs to be evaluated on its own merits'),

but think that a more interesting question is what work (for academics, for

users, for designers) would proving that it 'does' or 'does not' exist (and

'is' or 'is not' similar to FTF turn-taking) do? What do we gain from the

answer (explanatory power, political power, etc) ? In all cases, too, we

need to be more focused on the 'place' - which chatrooms in which media.


I'd ask the same of the question of whether 'lurking' is an instance of a

chatroom TCU. However, in this instance there are a couple of further

wrinkles. First, what is lurking, and what kind of problem is answered by

saying "it is a form of chatroom TCU"? From whose point of view are we

considering the lurking to be occuring, and why are we considering it? I

ask this question because I wonder if the example of lurking that Terrel

used (not talking directly upon entry into a chatroom, but being

automatically introduced) might not be a 'lurking' problem but an 'opening'

problem. It matters, I think, what kind of communicative/relational problem

is being solved in any given situation, and 'lurking' as opposed to

'opening' are different problems with different kinds of answers. For some

of my answers,  from the point of view of the 'opening problem', see my

article "First Things First: Internet Relay Chat Openings."



I think that technical definitions of what is or is not here, or what is or

is not in comparison, need to be secondary to dealing with questions about

the point of human interaction: what problem is being dealt with using

communication (whatever it consists of) in this instance, and how is its

manifestation and solution being achieved?


Until anon,



Tue 4/2/2002 3:17 AM



E. Sean Rintel

Communication Department

University at Albany

State University of New York

1400 Washington Avenue

Albany, NY, USA, 12222-0001