I’m presenting with Dirk vom Lehn on a panel organized by two fantastic EM/CA scholars Richard Ogden and Leelo Keevalik on ‘non-lexical vocalizations’. We’re using some great video data we collected featuring novice dancers in a Swing Patrol ‘Dance in a Day’ workshop as part of the dance as interaction project.

CA studies of assessments as distinct, sequentially organized social actions (Pomerantz, 1984) have tended to define assessments for the purposes of data selection (Ogden, 2006, p. 1758) as “utterances that offer an evaluation of a referent with a clear valence” (Stivers & Rossano, 2010). However, this definition may exclude evaluative practices where the ‘valenced’ terms of assessment are more equivocal. It also obscures how the valences that mark out an utterance as an assessment are produced interactionally in the first place. This paper follows Goodwin & Goodwin’s (1992) proposal that assessment ‘segments’ (words like ‘good’ or ‘beautiful’), and assessment ‘signals’ (vocalizations like “mmm!” or “ugh!”) are organized into sequential ‘slots’ that render both ‘segments’ and ‘signals’ reflexively accountable as evaluative ‘assessment activities’. Data are drawn from recordings of a novice partner dance workshop at moments where teachers’ pro-forma terminal assessments marking the completion of a dance practice session co-occur with students’ evaluative assessment activities. Analysis shows how students use non-lexical vocalizations as evaluative assessments after imitating the bodily-vocal demonstrations (Keevalik, 2014) of the teachers and completing an unfamiliar dance move together. Extract 1 shows one example of these non-lexical vocalizations as dance partners Paul and Mary complete a new dance movement while the teachers call out rhythms and instructions.

Extract 1
(video: http://bit.ly/CADA_SP_03)

1 Tch1: tri:ple and ⌈rock step (0.8) BRINGING I::n. a::n rock step
2 Tch2:             ⌊rock step tri:ple an tri:ple a::n ro̲c̲k step
3 Tch1: tri:ple (.) tri:ple.≈
4 Mary: ≈⌈So̲rry. <(I’m a) little AUa:⁎U:h⁎ ((Shifts arm down Paul’s shoulder))
5 Tch2:  ⌊(a::nd then sto:p?)
6 Paul: Ye:: sHheh a:̲h⌈- yeh. (.) ∙HEh UhUH ->
7 Mary:               ⌊it⌈'s li- Au̲h- uh. ((Re-does and emphsizes arm-shift))
8 Tch1:                  ⌊ROTATE P::̲↑ARTne::::r::s::.
9        (0.8)
10 Mary:  ⌈Eya̲a̲::: ((Makes a clawing gesture))
11 Paul:  ⌊The bh- the bi̲:cep clench (°>dy'a know wha' I mean<°)≈ ->
12 Mary: ≈↑Y e̲a̲h̲h̲.⌈ it's- it's b- hh((Re-does and emphasizes clawing gesture))
13 Paul:          ⌊HAH hah Ha::h °hah hah° ∙HHh Heh heh ∙hh
14 Tch1: SO: WITH YOUR NE̲W̲ P:̲A̲R̲TNE:⌈:r.
15 Paul:                           ⌊That's an odd way of descri:bing it.

The analysis suggests that non-lexical vocalizations provide a useful resource for evaluating the achievement of as-yet-unfamiliar joint actions and managing and calibrating subtle degrees and dimensions of individual and mutual accountability for troubles encountered in learning a new, unfamiliar partner dance movement.


  • Goodwin, C., & Goodwin, M. H. (1992). Context, activity and participation. In P. Auer & A. D. Luzio, P. Auer & A. D. Luzio (Eds.), The contextualization of language (pp. 77–100). John Benjamins.
  • Keevallik, L. (2014). Turn organization and bodily-vocal demonstrations. Journal of Pragmatics, 65, 103–120.
  • Ogden, R. (2006). Phonetics and social action in agreements and disagreements. Journal of Pragmatics, 38(10), 1752–1775.
  • 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.
  • Stivers, T., & Rossano, F. (2010). Mobilizing Response. Research on Language & Social Interaction, 43(1), 3–31.