DOI: 10.21070/acopen.8.2023.6600

The Strategy of Turn-Taking in Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

University of Babylon

(*) Corresponding Author

Turn-Taking System Adjacency Pairs Conversation Analysis Discourse Analysis Pygmalion


This scientific article examines the turn-taking system and adjacency pairs in George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion" to gain insights into the rules and characteristics of conversational interaction. The study aims to investigate the adoption of turn-taking rules and components in the selected texts, analyze the structure of the texts, and explore the tactics employed in written texts related to turn-taking rules, elements, preference systems, and adjacency pairs. Through a meticulous analysis of the selected texts, it is revealed that the data adheres to the criteria of the turn-taking system and includes both adjacency pairs and insertion sequences. The findings contribute to the understanding of the turn-taking theory and its application in analyzing discourse. The implications of this research highlight the importance of understanding the systematic nature of turn-taking in facilitating successful exchanges in conversations and provide valuable insights for conversation analysts, linguists, and professionals in the field of discourse analysis.


  • Analysis of turn-taking system and adjacency pairs in "Pygmalion" play.
  • Investigation of turn-taking rules, components, and tactics employed in written texts.
  • Findings demonstrate adherence to turn-taking criteria and presence of adjacency pairs and insertion sequences.

Keywords: Turn-Taking System, Adjacency Pairs, Conversation Analysis, Discourse Analysis, Pygmalion


Concept of Conversation Analysis

A form of connected speech is conversation. Different linguists have taken different perspectives on it. According to Levinson (1983, p.284), it is a continuous stretch of verbal and nonverbal interaction between at least two individuals who share the desire to talk freely. In addition, Richards et al (1985) defined the concept of conversation as a verbal dialogue among members. According to him, it is an activity that is guided by rules and customs that are picked up during the process of learning a new language (p.414). The term "study of conversation in interaction" refers to conversation analysis [1].

Conversation has been studied as an interaction between participants in major theoretical works, with conversation defined as spoken communication. Such a connection between language and interaction with others will create a relationship between logical structure and proposition in talks. In a certain context, the linguistic units "used in interaction are to be regarded not in terms of their propositional content, but rather in terms of what they are put together to do in the interaction, and their adequacy (and completeness) for doing that work" [2].

By investigating everyday conversation to see if organizational elements can be formally characterized, Sacks et al (1974) coined the meaning of "conversation analysis". The concept is that talks should be ordered first and foremost for participants, not for observers. It is basically dealt with locating the structuring of social action inside everyday it. The majority of this subject research focused on everyday discourse.


What is Interaction ?

Interaction, in broad terms, refers to the study of speech in face-to-face communication. The approach focuses on the techniques and values of everyday conversation, and is organized around detailed transcriptions of taped interactions, with a focus on characteristics that have traditionally been overlooked in conversation analysis, such as prosody, facial expression, silence, and rhythmical patterns of behavior between the participants. Unlike other methods of conversation analysis, this one focuses on the social components that assist to shape the encounter, such as the parties' desire to recognize reciprocal rights and obligations [3].

According to Bussmann (1990, p.402), when speaking, interaction refers to a communicative activity where the speaker and listener directly exchange information. While studying language aspects in face-to-face interactions, researchers are more interested in non-linguistic traits such facial expression, eye contact, gestures, posture, and paralinguistic traits like articulation style.

It is worth noting that conversation analysis can be used to investigate the concept of interaction (CA). CA is a type of linguistic analysis that focuses on real-life spoken conversation transcripts. It's also known as the study of talk in interactions. While analysts focus on private, informal conversations, they also look at institutional contacts (for example, doctor–patient interactions, legal interactions, police interviews, and classroom discussions)[4].

Result and Discussion

Turn Taking : Overview

In most conversations, one individual talks first and the others follow. The players take shifts on the floor. Small pauses and overlaps between speakers are common, but they rarely persist more than a few hundred milliseconds. One of the distinguishing characteristics of spoken conversation is its fluid interaction.

According Liddicoat (2007), social interaction is an essential procedure for the social world to function, for people's identities to be accepted or rejected, and for cultures to be transmitted, revived, and changed. (p.1). The fact that the turn-taking process typically goes quite easily is its most crucial component. Speakers use syntactic, pragmatic, and prosodic signals to indicate whether they want to give up or take the turn [5]. It's similar to tennis in that each participant must take turns hitting the ball.

Cohen (1979, p.259) also specifies the following properties of a turn:

It is an act of social cooperation since it gives a forum for discussion.; it is informational value in the sense that it occurs in relation to other conversational actions, takes them into account, builds upon, or otherwise alters them; and it creates a forum for additional conversation. It enriches the conversation with useful knowledge, enabling the other participants to carry on. Any discussion requires a change in the talker and listener roles; the interlocutors frequently switch positions.

the one who speaks initially becomes the listener." There would be significant pressure against periods of quiet after people committed to have a dialogue. When one person finishes speaking and gives the floor to another by inviting him to speak, the other is forced to start speaking. No speaking is seen as silence from the addressee, and silence is like to be misinterpreted as a conversational difficulty [6].

Familiar collaboration in a conversation must be maintained, according to Goffman (1972, p.65), to make sure that speaker’s turn at conversation does not overlap the hearer before it. Additionally, one turn at talking does not require offensive conversation supply because someone must always and only be speaking when their turn is being taken. The transition-place is crucial to the turn-taking system since it describes each interlocutor’s willingness to transfer on to the subsequent interactional unit. The participant who was the talker earlier has changed to the listener state and is prepared to shift to the speaker situation. It can be used to describe pragmatic, lexical, clausal, sentential, or clausal units. While this discussion is finished without entering a situation of concurrent roles, speaking turns are exchanged smoothly. Consequently, the turn-taking rules are used at the end of each turn-constructional unit[7].

Co mpon ents of TT System

Unit-types, such as sentences, clauses, phrases, or single words, are used to build turns. These are syntactic units that are determined by intonation. The Turn-taking system's fundamental structure grants someone the chance to make one turn constructional unit, such as a single lexical, phrasal, clausal, or sentential construction, when their turn comes. The speaker can employ techniques to create multiples of these units and build up a substantial number of turns. The turn-constructional component refers to the unit of measure applied to regulate the turn in the contributor's discussion. It shows what the length the interlocutor's turn is and how participants control the situation [8].

Two turn-allocational techniques can be distinguished:

1. Techniques in which the second speaker chooses the next speaker;

2. Techniques in which the next turn is assigned through self-selection. [9]

Additionally, to the previous techniques that mentioned elements, there are guidelines for structuring conversational discussion. [9] proposed the following rules for turn distribution:

(1) The next turn is taken by the person to whom the present speaker is speaking. Rule (2) By self-selection, the speaker who takes the floor first receives the next turn.

Rule (3) The current speaker gets the next turn if he or she continues speaking before anyone else.

The next speaker in rule can be selected using a variety of techniques (1). The next speaker can be selected by calling him by name or using a descriptor. A first pair can be assigned to an adjacency pair that needs a response, or selection can be made using gaze, body orientation, topic choice, or topic selection. Adjacency pairs include the answer to the question orders and statements asking, although a question needs a response but doesn't assign it to anyone, occasionally they are suggestions that scheme an agreement or disagreement[5].

A non-speaker who aspires to self-select but is not chosen has many options under rule (2). He might be able to predict when a speaker's turn would expire, which would allow him to start speaking just as the previous speaker's turn is ending. This makes the person who is speaking now have to stop. Non-speakers can also break in, but this is frequently regarded as disrespectful. Repetition is another option, which happens when speakers are vying for the current speaker’s floor has already been deprived of the floor otherwise when the statements of several speakers overlap. The second effort to take the podium and deliver the speech counts as a redo because of the repeat [10]

The present speaker may speak until another participant requests the floor while rules (1) and (2) are not in place. He has the ability to infer what Sacks (1974) terms a "incomplete utterance," or one that incorporates sentence connectors like "but," "and," "yet," and other words that are crucial in transforming a theoretically complete statement into an incomplete one. Assuming the participant’s role, the hearer has several alternatives, including the ability to refuse to answer a question or respond in a variety of ways to a request.

Accordingly, Coulthard [11] refers to a person who pause his conversation which is presented the role but declines it can either remain silent while waiting for the talker holds on, or he can reply with a minimal answer to confirm, accept, or express interest, or he can practice the entirety of his turn to give a potential pre-closing like "alright," "okay," "so," "well," etc., indicating that he has nothing further to say and is ready to end the topic (p.65). Depending on where they are in the turn and exchange, Sacks et al. (1974) differentiate three kinds of silence in the Turn-taking process that can be approached (p.715)

Adjacency Pairs

Adjacency pairs are "automatic sequences consisting of a first portion and a second part produced by distinct speakers," according to Yule[12]. The utterance of a first part prompts the anticipation of the speech of a second part of the same component." [11] propose another description, stating that "turns prefer to go in pairs known as adjacency pairs." Adjacency pairs are defined as "a query that follows an answer, a rejection or acceptance of an offer, and a greeting that follows an earlier greeting." [19]

Adjacency pairs, as Coulthard [6] suggests, exhibit the following characteristics: They are two sentences in length. Different speakers deliver the statements one after the other. The utterances are arranged in order: the first must belong to the first pair parts class, while the second must belong to the second pair parts class. The utterances are connected; only an appropriate second pair can follow any first pair. The first pair component frequently chooses the next speaker and always chooses the following action, establishing transition significance and anticipation that the next talker fulfills; in extra debates, the first pair side anticipates the event of the second one.

Question-answer, greeting-greeting, summons-answer, offer–acceptance/rejection, and assertion acknowledgment are examples of adjacency pairs, according to Coulthard [18]. Adjacency pairs are also noted to be employed for a variety of functions, including the following: Turns are coordinated using adjacency pairs. They assist the speaker in initiating and ending a discussion. Using adjacency pairs, a current utterer can choose the next utterer in addition to the next procedure. With the usage of adjacency pairs, the next interlocutor can prevent gaps and overlap. Adjacency pairings are important when it comes to changing topics.


Yule [15] and Johnstone [16] highlight a number of truths that underpin everyday conversation and control the system of turn taking:

1. Speakers switch frequently, or at least occasionally.

2. Almost always, just one party speaks at a time.

3. Multiple speakers at once are typical, but only for a short time. 4. No gap and no overlap transitions (from one turn to the next) are usual. They make up the great majority of transitions, along with transitions with a minor gap or slight overlap.

5. The order of the turns is not fixed, but changes.

6. The size of the turn is not constant, but changes.

7. The length of the chat is not predetermined.

8. It is not known in advance what the parties will say.

9. The relative distribution of turns is not predetermined.

10. The number of guests can differ.

11. Conversation can be ongoing or interrupted.

12. Clearly, turn-allocation mechanisms are employed. A present speaker may choose a next speaker (for example, while addressing a question to another party), or parties may choose to speak first.

13. Different types of 'turn-constructional units' are used; for example, turns can be projected as 'one word long' or sentential in length.

14. There are repair procedures in place to cope with turn–taking problems and violations; for example, if two participants are talking at the same moment, one of them will cease talking prematurely, correcting the problem.

Model and Procedures of Analysis

• In analyzing the selected texts, the SSJ model of analysis was used (1974).

• Breaking the texts into roles, assigning them the acronym (T), and numbering them as well as it is the first stage in analyzing the dialogues. Each turn is identified by the abbreviation T and its number.

• The three texts are then examined in terms of the facts of the turn-taking system in order to determine whether or not these facts may be applied to written dialogues.

• The structure of the analyzed texts is mentioned.

Data Analysis and Discussion

George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion is titled after the Greek mythological hero. It had its world premiere on October 16, 1913, at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna, and was originally performed in German on stage in 1913. In April 1914, Herbert Beerbohm Tree featured as phonetics professor Henry Higgins and Mrs Patrick Campbell as Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in the English-language premiere at Her Majesty's Theatre in the West End[17]

Pygmalion, according to Greek legend, fell in love with one of his sculptures, which then came to life. The myth's fundamental notion was a popular subject for Victorian-era British playwrights, notably W. S. Gilbert, one of Shaw's influences, who wrote a successful play based on the narrative called Pygmalion and Galatea, which premiered in 1871. Shaw would have also been familiar with the musical Adonis and its burlesque adaptation, Galatea, or Pygmalion Reversed[20]. Shaw's play has been adapted many times, most notably in the films Pygmalion (1938), My Fair Lady (1956), and its 1964 film adaptation. Professor Henry Higgins was based on numerous British phonetics teachers, including Alexander Melville Bell, Alexander J. Ellis, Tito Pagliardini, and, most notably, the cantankerous Henry Sweet, according to Shaw[21].

However, the researcher will analyze some selected texts of the concerned play as it observed below:

The Parlor-Maid: Mr. Henry, a gentleman wants to see you very particular. He’s been sent on from Wimpole Street. (T1)

(Act V, 84-85)

Despite the fact that Henry Higgins is well-dressed, well-spoken, and wealthy, his manners are not refined. Alfred Doolittle is well dressed, has some etiquette, and may be categorized as wealthy (after acquiring some money), but he is not well spoken. Nonetheless, the maid quickly recognizes him as a gentleman when she opens the door for him.

In terms of turn-taking tactics, the speaker (The Parlor-Maid) constructs a turn using turn building units (TCUs). As a result, this turn has the turn constructional component. When a (TCU) is completed, a TRP, or speaker transfer, occurs, and a new turn occurs. As a result of rule (2), the individual who speaks first gets the following turn; i.e., self-selection.

Higgins: Oh, bother! I can’t see anyone now. Who is it? (T2)

(Act V, 84-85)

Higgins' statements clearly reflect a quarrel in which he is not in a good mood to meet new people. As a result, T2 denotes the first pair of the first adjacency pair. The speaker constructs a turn using (TCU). As a result, T2 has the turn constructional component. TCU's completion results in a TRP, which constructs a new turn and switches speakers. Rule (3) states that if the current speaker resumes before anybody else, the next turn is given to him.

Pickering: Doolittle! Do you mean the dustman? (T3)

Pickering inquired if the dustman was the individual in question. The first part of the first adjacency pair (inserted sequence) is represented by such a question. Pickering is devoting this turn to The Parlor-Maid since he addresses The Parlor-Maid. As a result, this turn has a turn allocational component. In other words, CS (Pickering) has chosen NS (the Parlor-Maid):

The Parlor-Maid: Dustman! Oh no, sir: a gentleman. (T4)

Thus, the rule used in this turn is rule 1-a.

HIGGINS [springing up excitedly] By George, Pick, it's some relative of hers that she's gone to. Somebody we know nothing about. [To the parlor-maid] Send him up, quick. (T 5 )

THE PARLOR-MAID. Yes, Sir. [She goes]. (T 6 )

Due to the selection of a current speaker (the Parlor-Maid) to a next speaker (Higgins) and the occurrence of the first TRP, the turn allocation component and rule 1-a are activated in this turn. T 5 is thus the first pair member of the second adjacency pair. The Parlor-Maid verifies Higgins' opinion in T 6, which is the solution to her question. In terms of components and rules, the turn allocation component and rule 2 are used in this and the prior turn.

HIGGINS [eagerly, going to his mother] Genteel relatives! now we shall hear something. [He sits down in the Chippendale chair].

The above saying represents as inserted sequence. Consider the following lines:

MRS. HIGGINS. Do you know any of her people? (T 7 )

PICKERING. Only her father: the fellow we told you about. (T 8 )

MRS. HIGGINS, in turn 7, asks if Pickering has any knowledge regarding the folks in question. As a result, her words represent the first pair in the adjacency pair, namely, question-answer. In this turn, the turn allocation component and rule 1-a are used. Pickering responds to her inquiry in Turn (8), which is the second pair part of the adjacency pair. In his turn, the turn allocation component and rule 1-a are implemented.


The following points are concluded:

1. It is based on turn-taking theory and other related characteristics such as adjacency pairs, which provide a framework for conversation analysts to work with.

2. Interaction refers to a communicative activity in speech circumstances in which the speaker and listener communicate immediately.

3. In most conversations, one individual talks first and the others follow. The players take shifts on the floor. Small pauses and overlaps between speakers are common, but they rarely persist more than a few hundred milliseconds. The TT system has two elements which are mentioned as follows:

  1. The Turn-Constructional Component
  2. The Turn-Allocational Component

4. Adjacency pairs are defined as "a query that follows an answer, a rejection or acceptance of an offer, and a greeting that follows an earlier greeting."

5. It has been discovered that the relevant data follows the turn-taking system's criteria exactly, and that the interaction contains both adjacency pairs and insertion sequences.


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