UPDATE: I’ve now found there is a better way to do this, which I’ve documented here.


A large part of my research is going to involve conversation analysis, which has a rather beautiful transcription style developed by the late Gail Jefferson to indicate pauses, overlaps, and prosodic features of speech in text.

There are a few LaTeX packages out there for transcription, notably Gareth Walker’s ‘convtran’ latex styles. However, they’re not specifically developed for CA-style transcription, and don’t feel flexible enough for the idiosyncracies of many CA practitioners.

So, without knowing a great deal about LaTeX (or CA for that matter), I spent some time working through a transcript from Pomerantz, A. (1984). Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments: Some features of preferred/dispreferred turn shapes. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in Conversation Analysis (pp. 57-102). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Here’s a image version from page 78:

Here’s how I figured that in LaTeX:

\begin{table*}[!ht]
\hfill{}
\texttt{
  \begin{tabular}{@{}p{2mm}p{2mm}p{150mm}@{}}
     & D: &  0:h (I k-)= \\
     & A: &  =Dz  that  make any sense  to  you?  \\
     & C: &  Mn mh. I don' even know who she is.  \\
     & A: &  She's that's, the Sister Kerrida, \hspace{.3mm} who, \\
     & D: &  \hspace{76mm}\raisebox{0pt}[0pt][0pt]{ \raisebox{2.5mm}{[}}'hhh  \\
     & D: &  Oh \underline{that's} the one you to:ld me you bou:ght.= \\
     & C: &  \hspace{2mm}\raisebox{0pt}[0pt][0pt]{ \raisebox{2.5mm}{[}} Oh-- \hspace{42mm}\raisebox{0pt}[0pt][0pt]{             \raisebox{2mm}{\lceil}} \\
     & A: &  \hspace{60.2mm}\raisebox{0pt}[0pt][0pt]{ \raisebox{3.1mm}{\lfloor}}\underline{Ye:h} \\
  \end{tabular}
\hfill{}
}
\caption{ Evaluation of a new artwork from (JS:I. -1) \cite[p.78]{Pomerantz1984} .}
\label{ohprefix}
\end{table*}

Here’s the result, which I think is perfectly adequate for my needs, and now I know how to do it, shouldn’t take too long to replicate for other transcriptions:

I had to make a few changes to the document environment to get this to work, including:

  • \usepackage[T1]{fontenc}

    to make sure that the double dashes — were intrepreted as a long dash while in the texttt environment.

  • I also had to do
    \renewcommand{\tablename}{Datum}

    to rename the “Table” to “Datum” – because I’m only using the table for formatting (shades of html positioning 1990’s style).

  • \usepackage{caption}

    to suppress caption printing where I wanted the datum printed without a legend (using

    \caption*

    instead of

    \caption

    ).

The above example is designed to break into a full page centre-positioned spread from a two-column article layout, so those directives are probably not relevant to using it in the flow of text or in two-columns, but I found the (texttt) fixed width font (which, because of the evenly spaced letters, seems to make it easier to read the transcription as a timed movement from left to right) was too large to fit into one column without making it unreadably small.

I hope this is useful to someone. If I find a better way of doing this (with matrices and avm as I’ve been advised), I’ll update this post. Any pointers are also much appreciated as I think I’m going to be doing a lot more of this in the next few years.

There are other horrors in here, and it was a really annoying way to spend a day, but this method seems to get me as far as I need to go right now.

Many thanks to Chris Howes for holding my hand through this.

3 Responses to “How to render conversation analysis style transcriptions in LaTeX”

  1. Gareth Walker

    This is how you could use the convtran package for this transcription:

    \documentclass{article}
    \usepackage{convtran}
    \begin{document}
    \begin{convtran}
    \turn{D:} O:h (I k-)=
    \turn{A:} =Dz that make any sense to you?
    \turn{C:} Mn mh. I don’ even know who she is.
    \turn{A:} She’s that’s, the Sister Kerrida, [who,
    \turn{D:} ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~[.hhh
    \turn{D:} Oh [\underline{that’s} the one you to:ld [me you bought
    \turn{C:} ~~~[Oh-~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~[\underline{Ye:h}
    \end{convtran}
    \end{document}

    Use \turn* instead of \turn for numbers to be presented without lines. You can use a package like gb4e to give numbers to examples e.g.

    \begin{exe}
    \ex Evaluation of a new artwork from (JS:I. -1)
    \begin{convtran}

    \end{convtran}
    \end{exe}

  2. saul

    Thanks Gareth – that’s really useful. I haven’t used convtran much because I’ve found that it’s important (for me, at least) to be able to read the transcripts I’m presenting *as transcripts* while I’m writing. I often find myself staring at the snippet of transcript, then asking myself questions about the analysis and returning to the recordings to check.

    Perhaps that’s undisciplined in terms of how the research cycle ought to work, but I’ve found it helpful to have a human-readable source. Nonetheless, convtran also clearly provides metadata about the transcript (turn boundaries for example) that isn’t available to a verbatim environment, so would be far easier to use in a flexible layout or with other styles.

    I guess an ideal software solution – possibly an output from ELAN or CLAN would take a transcript in some kind of enriched format (XML/CHAT) and provide multiple output options including LaTeX + convtran, or some form of readable Markdown.

    Cheers,

    Saul.

  3. Gareth Walker

    I just have the PDF of the document open at the same time as the source file as I am working on if I need to look at transcriptions. Some PDF viewers (Skim, Preview) automatically update each time the source is compiled which helps. For users of Emacs, preview-latex could be used to show inline previews of transcriptions.

    Finally, I had a mistake near the end of my transcription (wrong speaker for the last line). It should have been like this:

    \documentclass{article}
    \usepackage{convtran}
    \begin{document}
    \begin{convtran}
    \turn{D:} O:h (I k-)=
    \turn{A:} =Dz that make any sense to you?
    \turn{C:} Mn mh. I don’ even know who she is.
    \turn{A:} She’s that’s, the Sister Kerrida, [who,
    \turn{D:} ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~[.hhh
    \turn{D:} Oh [\underline{that’s} the one you to:ld [me you bought
    \turn{C:} ~~~[Oh-~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~[
    \turn{A:} ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~[\underline{Ye:h}
    \end{convtran}
    \end{document}

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