Turn-Taking on the Radio

The poet Michael Rosen and my colleague Laura Wright present the Radio 4 show ‘Word of Mouth’, which covers a range of topics relating to the English language. In a recent show they turned to the topic of turn-taking, which shrewd readers of this blog will know is quite a favourite of mine. In this show, which you can listen to via this page, they interview the psychologist Stephen Levinson, whose work I’ve featured here.
      It’s an interesting discussion, covering the way that a conversational ‘prediction system’ equips us to anticipate when our turns will come, and enables us to take them with amazing speed. We hear about cadence, grammar, politeness, primates, pair-bonding, ‘investment in the other’, a whole range of things. The topic works very well in this format, with experiments translating into anecdote neatly. There’s a good moment where Michael Rosen just asks ‘why?’.


Laura Wright mentions that Stephen Levinson was in Cambridge for a ‘Language Sciences Symposium’ at the end of last year. I would have liked to have attended that, but it’s not that surprising that I didn’t hear about it. Literature people and language people don’t talk to one another often enough, in my university and in lots of others. Now of course I wouldn’t be making this sanctimonious point were I not, in a number of small ways, trying to cross this divide. On which, more, some time.
      By way of a parting gift: if you click here you’ll find Frank O’Hara reading a poem (‘The Trout Quintet’) that does some quite interesting things with turn-taking, or so I think anyway.

E-mail me at rtrl100[at]cam.ac.uk

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