Vocalizations as evaluative assessments in a novice partner dance workshop

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

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.


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  • 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.

Noticings as actions-in-conversation, an ICCA 2018 panel

Mick Smith and I are organizing this panel on noticings at ICCA 2018. We’re really excited to have submissions from some amazing EM/CA scholars to help us explore this questions of action formation / ascription, embodiment, multiactivity, and reference across at least three languages.

Noticings as actions-in-conversation are a ubiquitous, versatile, but under-researched phenomenon (Keisanen, 2012). Schegloff (2007b, p. 218) suggests that noticings “put on offer a line of talk” that renders something optionally relevant for subsequent interaction, although Stivers & Rossano’s (2010) study of the diminished ‘response-relevance’ of noticings leads some analysts to question whether noticings function as social actions (Thompson, Fox, & Couper-Kuhlen, 2015, p. 141) formed from prospectively paired ‘action types’ (Levinson, 2013), or whether they are organised—as Schegloff (2007b, p. 219) suggests—as a generic retro-sequence pointing backwards to a prior ‘noticeable’. Alongside these debates, C. Goodwin & Goodwin (2012) focus on how noticings point “outside of talk”, drawing as-yet-unnoticed resources into embodied social action. Without pre-specifying any one analytic characterization, this panel brings together research explores the ambiguities of noticings as social actions alongside a range of mobile and embodied practices where describing (Sidnell & Barnes, 2009), referring (Hindmarsh & Heath, 2000), and categorizing may also be at issue (Schegloff, 2007a). Alongside empirical studies, contributors also address theoretical questions that arise from treating noticings as conversational devices. How are researchers’ noticings and participants’ noticings differently constitutive of interactional phenomena (Laurier, 2013)? Do noticings emerge reflexively as part of a particular interactional environment and work towards particular interactional ends (Schegloff, 2007a, p. 87 note 17), or are analytic invocations of ‘noticing’ in CA flawed descriptions that obscure more of the action than they clarify? Drawing together diverse approaches to noticings, this panel asks how understanding noticings as actions-in-conversation may open up new empirical and theoretical questions and challenges.


  • Goodwin, C., & Goodwin, M. H. (2012). Car talk: Integrating texts, bodies, and changing landscapes. Semiotica, 191(1/4), 257–286.
  • Hindmarsh, J., & Heath, C. (2000). Embodied reference: A study of deixis in workplace interaction. Journal of Pragmatics, 32(12), 1855–1878.
  • Keisanen, T. (2012). “Uh-oh, we were going there”: Environmentally occasioned noticings of trouble in in-car interaction. Semiotic, 191(1/4), 197–222.
  • Laurier, E. (2013). Noticing: Talk, gestures, movement and objects in video analysis. In R. Lee, N. Castree, R. Kitchin, V. Lawson, A. Paasi, C. Philo, … C. W. Withers (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Human Geography (2nd ed., Vol. 31, pp. 250–272). London: Sage.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2013). Action formation and ascription. In J. Sidnell & T. Stivers (Eds.), The Handbook of Conversation Analysis (pp. 101–130). Oxford: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Schegloff, E. A. (2007a). A tutorial on membership categorization. Journal of Pragmatics, 39(3), 462–482.
  • Schegloff, E. A. (2007b). Sequence organization in interaction: Volume 1: A primer in conversation analysis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sidnell, J., & Barnes, R. (2009). Alternative, subsequent descriptions. In J. Sidnell, M. Hayashi, & G. Raymond (Eds.), Conversational repair and human understanding (pp. 322–342). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Stivers, T., & Rossano, F. (2010). Mobilizing Response. Research on Language & Social Interaction, 43(1), 3–31.
  • Thompson, S. A., Fox, B. A., & Couper-Kuhlen, E. (2015). Grammar in everyday talk: Building responsive actions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.