LINGUIST List 23.1907

Tue Apr 17 2012

Review: Applied Ling.; Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics: Jenks (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 17-Apr-2012
From: Anna Drake <>
Subject: Transcribing talk and Interaction
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AUTHOR: Christopher Joseph JenksTITLE: Transcribing talk and InteractionSUBTITLE: Issues in the representation of communication dataPUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2011

Veronika Drake, Department of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison

INTRODUCTIONChristopher Joseph Jenks' "Transcribing Talk in Interaction" consists of apreface, six chapters, and four appendices containing a sample transcript,different transcription conventions and a quick-start guide to transcribing. Theintended audience is post-graduate students and researchers new tointeractionist research. The threefold motivations for the book are: (i) a lackof books on transcribing despite the considerable increase intranscription-based research in the humanities and social sciences, (ii)recognition that transcribing interactional data is a skill that needs to behoned, and (iii) the need for an introductory text on transcription andtranscription issues intended for researchers and students new to interactionbased research. Jenks intends for the book to be used either in transcript-basedresearch or a class on analyzing spoken interaction.

SUMMARYIn chapter 1, "An introduction to transcripts of talk and interaction", Jenksprovides an overview of what transcripts and their uses and benefits are. Whilethe actual recordings remain the primary data source, four main uses oftranscripts are identified: representation, assistance, dissemination, andverification. Because spoken interaction is multifaceted, transcripts ofinteraction provide additional -- often missed -- detail, such as gaze,intonation, and restarts. Transcripts also make data available to otherresearchers, and allow colleagues to verify an analysis. Another benefit is thatthey can be used as empirical tools in conjunction with the recording, enablingthe researcher to recognize and analyze social actions. The author alsoaddresses whether transcripts can serve as accurate representations of talk andinteraction. While accuracy depends on the specific methodology used, Jenkssuggests that transcripts are, in fact, rather accurate representations ofinteraction, especially when compared to what he calls intuitive data, becauseby drawing on recorded data, researchers can examine a record of what actuallyhappened.

Chapter 2, "Theoretical issues", covers topics such as transcripts as researchconstructs, transcript variation, transcription politics, and transcriptionethics. Any stretch of talk can be interpreted and transcribed differently bydifferent researchers, due to their subjective predispositions, interests andbiases. For example, laughter can be understood as reprehensive or nervous atthe moment of transcribing, and the transcription of it may then show variationacross different transcribers. Jenks stresses that variation in transcription isdriven mainly by the investigatory aims of the methodology used, and he suggeststhat variation may be more problematic if it occurs within a specificmethodology than if it occurs across disciplines.

An important issue in transcript-based research, Jenks points out, istranscription politics. Jenks reviews issues concerning participants with powerdifferentials such as talk between doctors and patients as well as policepersonnel and suspects. Citing Bucholtz (2000), Jenks notes that in suchinteractions, the omission of a single word can make one participant seem niceand caring or, conversely, rude and coercive. He further cautions that even inordinary talk, the way people are represented in the transcript influences howthese people will be seen, attesting to the transcriber's power over the peoples/he is transcribing. In addition to power differentials, issues of"vernacularization" (using IPA and/or "eye-dialect" as in "lukin" for "looking")and "standardization" are discussed, each giving rise to a set of potentialproblems for the analysis. This chapter also covers issues such as informedconsent, confidentiality of participants, masking names and place names. Jenkssuggests using pseudonyms rather than abbreviations such as "speaker 1" or "S1"during the transcription process so as to remember that transcription involvesreal people.

In Chapter 3, "Transcribing talk and interaction", Jenks introduces the readerto the practicalities of the transcription process. This chapter covers softwareand hardware choices, organizational and content issues such as layout, linenumbers, line breaks, spacing of documents, font type, speaker representation,and transcription detail. He recommends standard audio file formats such as WAVor MP3 and players that show wave forms. Because transcribing requires repeatedlistening to short data segments, quality headphones and hot keys arerecommended for playback. Jenks also notes the benefit of USB foot pedals, whichfree up both hands for typing.

Jenks' suggestions concerning the organization of transcripts are based onlanguages read left to right and top to bottom and chiefly concern readabilityand portability of transcripts. Because portions of transcripts are often sharedwith colleagues and submitted as parts of publications, using row over columnrepresentation as well as wide margins of at least 3 cm is suggested. Theseformatting tips help avoid the time-consuming task of reformatting and changingline numbers when preparing transcripts for publication. For referencingpurposes, Jenks recommends using line numbers for the transcript as well as timestamps, a title and a numbering system for excerpts.

Content issues in this chapter are limited to font type, speaker representationand transcription detail. In contrast to proportional fonts such as Times NewRoman, non-proportional fonts such as Courier allow for even distribution ofcharacters, making it easy to align overlapping talk. Unicode fonts are a goodoption for multilingual data and languages that do not use Roman alphabets.Jenks reminds the reader that it is important to use pseudonyms to protectspeakers' confidentiality, and that providing speaker labels often involvesinformation that could lead to a biased analysis. For example, in doctor-patientinteraction, using the speaker labels "doctor" and "patient" may bias theanalyst and reader of the transcript even in cases where such social roles maynot be relevant in the data. Providing an overview of five types oftranscription detail (narrative, orthographic, interactional, paralinguistic andmultimodal), Jenks concludes that the detail provided in transcripts depends onthe researcher's interests, research goals, level of training, and methodologyused.

Chapter 4, "Transcribing interactional and paralinguistic features", provides anoverview of three transcription conventions (i.e., the Jeffersonian system,Santa Barbara School, Gesprächsanalytisches Transkriptionssystem), interactionalfeatures such as turn-taking and pauses, as well as paralinguistic features suchas intonation and tempo. Jenks identifies the following three components thatare necessary for transcripts to "bear some resemblance to the data recording"(p. 46): carefully timed pauses, turn-taking transitions, and someparalinguistic features. These features illustrate the high level of skill andprecision used by interactants to manage talk, and in turn, accomplish socialactions. The discussion includes but is not limited to the following features:overlapping talk, timed pauses, intonation contours, amplitude and laughter. Thechapter exemplifies the importance of each feature and the transcriptionconventions used via data samples. Relevant studies illustrating theinteractional import of these features are provided.

While chapter 4 focuses on vocal features of talk, chapter 5, "Transcribingnonverbal conduct", deals with non-vocal conduct, which is as important as otherparalinguistic features in the organization of interaction. By transcribingnon-verbal conduct, researchers aim to further understand participants'non-verbal behavior. Jenks provides an overview of six basic types of non-verbalconduct (body posture, facial expressions, gestures, gaze, proximity andactions) before he presents four methods for representing these in transcripts(text descriptions of non-verbal conduct, video stills, drawings, and digitalrenderings). Jenks recommends using visual media together with writtentranscripts of spoken interaction. Using digital rendering and video stillsbrings with it issues of confidentiality, though participants' privacy andconfidentiality can be secured by digitally altering the video material (i.e.embossing and/or blurring the images/videos). Jenks outlines three methods forrepresenting sequentiality of non-verbal conduct: using symbols or time stampsto indicate when the non-verbal conduct begins and ends and sequencing ofseveral video stills.

In the last chapter, "Advanced issues", Jenks moves beyond the basicpracticalities of transcribing by introducing the reader to advanced theoreticalissues (myopia, present and recall, outsourcing) and practical issues(capitalization, apostrophes, conversational floors, translations, add-onconventions, transcription software). The theoretical issues, Jenks shows, areconnected to involvement levels of the researchers. Over-involvement can lead toboth tunnel vision and emotional attachment, both of which can lead to a loss ofobjectivity. Under-involvement can lead to outsourcing the transcription processand the subsequent loss of the intimate knowledge needed for a sound analysis.Jenks thus cautions the reader from outsourcing all of the transcription processand urges the reader to strike a healthy balance between low and high levels ofinvolvement in the transcription process. Researchers are encouraged to activelyseek second and third opinions, in part, by presenting at data sessions andprofessional gatherings.

EVALUATION"Transcribing Talk in Interaction" is an excellent resource primarily for noviceinteractional researchers as it introduces many of the foundational andpractical issues of transcription. As transcription is a core part of conductingresearch on interaction, a solid grounding in the practicalities of transcribingis crucial. A need for a compilation of the nuts and bolts of transcription workis further evidenced by discussion threads on LangUse on some of the portabilityissues Jenks lays out (i.e. margins, indentation, line numbers, etc.), evenamong seasoned interactional researchers. Novices will certainly benefit fromthe book as a resource in a concurrent class or interactionist research project,as Jenks suggests. Jenks reminds the reader throughout the book that transcriptsare primarily aiding and assisting in the analytic process. That is,transcripts, as central as they are, cannot be the sole basis for a soundanalysis of interactional data and should be used with the primary data recording.

Jenks' book is hands-on, packed with useful suggestions about the practicalitiesof transcribing, such as layout, font type, margin size. These practicalpointers are so important because they help novice transcribers avoid spendinghours trying to format transcripts and line up overlapping talk. What's more,these considerations are generally not included in introductory texts onconversation analysis (CA) (Schegloff, 2007; Hutchby & Wooffitt, 2008). Otherexcellent suggestions include using actual pseudonyms when transcribing so asnot to forget that transcribing involves real people, and starting to usefictitious names from the get-go in the transcription process not only becauseof confidentiality issues, but also because it will help researchers rememberusing those pseudonyms at professional gatherings.

In addition to practical tips, Jenks covers several important underlyingtranscription issues. Establishing the "transformational" nature of transcriptsin that we only see what the video camera is able to capture from a certainangle, as well as the fluid nature of transcripts as they "are merelysecond-hand interpretations of communicative events" (p. 4) counters the notionthat transcripts are finite products. Jenks makes clear that transcripts arenever finished but continuously refined by a transcription and research processthat is a "constantly evolving interpretative (cultural) process" (p. 4).Finally, devoting a whole chapter rather than a subsection to non-verbalresources and the complications of transcribing them is an added value to thebasics of transcription. It reflects not only a major trend in interaction-basedresearch, but offers great solutions for how to incorporate such data.

In chapter 4, Jenks includes excellent sources for further reading in hisdiscussion of which interactional features are crucial for transcripts.Specifically, Jenks refers to seminal work illustrating the importance of thoseinteractional features, such as turn-taking, prosody and laughter. These studiesprovide important avenues for further reading for novice interaction basedresearchers and students, as these studies show why interaction basedresearchers pay attention to the fine-grained details of talk-in-interaction.

Some additional content could have made the book even more valuable to itsintended audience. As an introduction to transcription, novices would benefitfrom an availability of primary data samples -- either online or as asupplemental data CD/DVD. That way, both the data samples and transcriptsymbols used could be illustrated, making more accessible the nuances ofinteractional resources such as rising and slight-rising intonation, up- anddownstep in intonation, tempo, amplitude and emphasis, all of which can onlyfully be appreciated by actually listening to examples. This is especially trueconsidering Jenks' emphasis on the crucial role of primary data and thesecondary role of transcripts in research. While I appreciate the difficultiesof making such clips available online, the benefits of such an addition wouldfar outweigh those difficulties. Excellent introductory transcription tutorialsare already available online, which explain symbols used in the transcriptionprocess and then also provide excerpts as well as data clips to illustrate eachof them. For the Jeffersonian system used in CA, one such resource is thetutorial housed on Schegloff's homepage(, forthe GAT system (although the tutorial itself is only available in German), anoutstanding resource is the tutorial developed at the University of Freiburg( These online tutorials arefreestanding resources and do not cover the practical and theoretical issuesJenks discusses in this book. Adding such supplemental materials would havecombined both theory and praxis in one introductory resource on transcription.

Another concern is the lack of a rationale for interaction-based research.Novice researchers and students find themselves wondering what exactly"talk-in-interaction" is, how it differs from "talk and interaction", what"social actions" are and what the benefits of research focusing on naturallyoccurring interactions are in contrast to other usage-based research approaches.Even a short introduction to the rationale behind doing interactional research(see Heritage, 1984; Hutchby & Wooffitt, 2008; Schegloff, 2007) would havesituated and framed the discussion and introduction to transcribing moreeffectively. Of course, these points apply primarily when the book is readwithout a concurrent engagement in transcript-based research or enrollment insuch a class.

As a text about transcribing in general rather than a specific approach totranscription within a single discipline, the book casts a wide net, aiming tobe useful for fields as diverse as "sociology, education, anthropology,psychology, linguistics" (1). While virtually all concepts discussed -- such associal actions, turn-taking, overlapping talk, non-verbal conduct and prosody --figure prominently in both CA and IL, the book avoids a clear commitment tooutlining transcription as it is done in these two fields. An approach as narrowas CA or IL, of course, limits readership. However, by broadening the scope,some issues discussed remain at the surface. The author cautions the readerrepeatedly that the final decision on, for example, how much detail to includein a transcript, will depend on the precise methodology used, the intricaciesand relevancies of which cannot be addressed in this general introduction. Anexample of why this approach might be problematic at some points is Jenks'discussion of vernacularization vs. standardization. After outlining problemswith each choice, Jenks states that the two are not binary, and that someresearchers will only vernacularize if this is made relevant in the data. It isnot clear what discipline or approach would use which option and why. While thismay not be the main focus of this monograph, these issues are important fornovice researchers as it aids in the appreciation of which features areimportant to their respective fields. A rationale for some of the majordifferent interactional research approaches could have then been referencedthroughout the book, which would have helped in addressing such decisions morecomprehensively.

Despite these limitations, Jenks meets his overall goal of providing a"comprehensive account of current introductory issued in transcribing talk andinteraction" (1). This volume equips the reader with the necessary tools neededto embark on a first transcription. Overall then, given the aim of the book tobe used in introductory courses on research using interaction data, Jenks' workis a welcome, hands-on resource for how to transcribe.

REFERENCESBucholtz, M. (2000). "The politics of transcription". Journal of Pragmatics, 32,1439-1465.

Heritage, J. (1984). "Conversation Analysis". In J. Heritage (ed.), Garfinkeland Ethnomethodology (pp. 233-292). Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hutchby, I. & Wooffitt, R. (2008). Conversation Analysis. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Schegloff, E.A. (2007). Sequence Organization in Interaction. A primer inConversation Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERVeronika Drake is a PhD candidate in the Program of English Language andLinguistics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interestsare embodiment in interaction and grammar in interaction. Her dissertationinvestigates the linguistic formats and interactional work of turn-finalalternative indexing constructions such as "or" in English interaction.

Page Updated: 17-Apr-2012