ESN Plenary: Jan Lindström, Yael Maschler, Simona Pekarek Doehler

Multi-unit turns at the grammar-body interface: embodied cues at TCU-boundaries

In social interaction, speakers deploy various practices for extending their turns at talk by making syntactically simpler units structurally and semantically more complex in an incremental, step-by-step manner. One such practice consists of, e.g., adding a coordinate or subordinate clause post hoc to what was first produced as a main clause ending on a possible turn transition relevance place. Such boundary places can be followed by at least two kinds of trajectories: 1) the speaker’s turn continues the same action and grammatical trajectory of the turn-constructional unit, or 2) the speaker continues with a stretch of talk that carries out a new action whereby the syntactic continuation is not dependent on the previous TCU. Whether we are dealing with boundaries of type 1 or type 2 has in earlier studies been related to the strength of the syntactic, prosodic and pragmatic boundaries between the turn units (e.g. Schegloff 1996; Ford & Thompson 1996; Fox, Ford & Thompson 2002; Couper-Kuhlen & Ono 2007; some papers in Barth-Weingarten & Ogden 2021), but much less has been said about the role of speakers’ embodied resources in such contexts (however, see Pekarek Doehler 2021; Stoenica 2020).

In our talk we seek to contribute to a better understanding of incrementing and turn continuing practices by attending to speakers’ gaze, posture and gesture at the juncture of possible TCUs in multi-unit turns. More specifically, we will discuss cases of type 1, where embodied cues signal TCU and action continuation (including cases where prosodic cues are fuzzy/inconclusive), and type 2, where embodied cues signal TCU ending and possibly action boundary. We will also consider complex multi-unit turns to demonstrate the scalarity of the phenomenon, which can reveal a progression from type 1 turn continuation to type 2 continuation within one long speaker turn. Through such an account, we hope to contribute to current interests in continua of clausal integration (Maschler 2018; Beijering et al. 2019) and in the complexity of how grammar and body interface in social interaction (papers in Maschler et al. 2020; Pekarek Doehler et al. 2022), also with regard to participants’ resources for signaling and recognizing turn-transitional relevance places (Kendrick et al. 2023). Our analyses are based on excerpts of video-recorded conversations in three languages, French, Hebrew, and Swedish.


Barth-Weingarten, D. & Ogden, R. (2021). Weak cesuras: what fuzzy boundaries can accomplish in talk-in-interaction. Special Issue of Open Linguistics 7:1.

Beijering, K., Kaltenböck, G. & Sansiñena, M. (2019). “Insubordination: Central issues and open questions”. In Insubordination: Theoretical and Empirical Issues. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 1-28.

Couper-Kuhlen, E., and Ono, T. (eds.) (2007b). “Turn continuation in cross-linguistic perspective.” Special issue. Pragmatics, 17:4.

Ford, C. E., Fox, B. A. & Thompson, S. A. (2002). “Constituency and the grammar of turn increments”. In C. E. Ford, B. A. Fox, & S. A. Thompson (Eds): The Language of Turn and Sequence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 14-38.

Ford, C. E., and Thompson, S. A. (1996). “Interactional units in conversation: Syntactic, intonational and pragmatics resources for the management of turns,” in Interaction and Grammar, ed. E. Ochs, E. A. Schegloff, and S. A. Thompson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 134–184.

Kendrick K. H., Holler J., Levinson S. C. (2023). Turn-taking in human face-to-face interaction is multimodal: Gaze direction and manual gestures aid the coordination of turn transitions. Philosophical Transactions B, 378.

Maschler, Y. (2018). The on-line emergence of Hebrew insubordinate she– ‘that/which/who’ clauses. Studies in Language, 42 (3): 669-707.

Maschler, Y., Pekarek Doehler, S., Lindström, J., and Keevallik, L. (eds.) (2020). Emergent Syntax for Conversation: Clausal patterns and the organization of action. (Amsterdam: Benjamins).

Pekarek Doehler, S. (2021). How grammar grows out of social interaction: From multi-unit to single-unit question. Open Linguistics, 7 (1), 837-864.

Pekarek Doehler, S., Keevallik, L. & Li, X. (Eds.) (2022). The grammar-body interface in social interaction. Special Issue Frontiers in Psychology, 1-3.

Schegloff, E. A. (1996). ”Turn organization: One intersection of grammar and interaction”. In E. Ochs, E. A. Schegloff & S. A. Thompson (eds.), Interaction and grammar. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, pp. 52-133.

Stoenica, I.M. (2020). Actions et conduites mimo-gestuelles dans l’usage conversationnel des realtives en français. Berne: Peter Lang.