Conversation is an oral communicative activity in which two or more speakers alternate the roles of sender and receiver and negotiate the meaning of the statements. Conversation implies interacting both verbally and non-verbally (with gestures, looks, etc.), although there are conversations in which non-verbal elements are not involved (such as telephone conversations or some exchanges on the Internet, for example).
The conversational turn or speaking turn is considered the basic unit of the conversation. From a formal point of view, the conversation is characterized precisely by the alternation of several turns, that is, by the succession of interventions by different interlocutors. According to A. Tusón (1995), shift distribution can be done in two ways:
with prospective selection: whoever has the floor selects the next speaker; in this case, whoever has been selected –and no one else– has the right and the obligation to intervene;
or with a self-selection: one of the interlocutors begins to speak when there is a place of relevant transition or point at which it is possible, that is, socially accepted in the norms of courtesy, the change of speaker.
Conversational turns usually occur without problems, although this is not always the case, either because the turn system is not respected, or because the transition signs are not properly interpreted. Shift interruptions, as collected by L. Cortés Rodríguez and M.ª M. Camacho Adarve (2003), can be classified into:
overlaps, if more than one interlocutor speaks at the same time, in a relevant transition place and they do not steal the turn, even if they dispute it;
forced interruptions, if the speaker whose turn corresponds ends up giving it up;
interrupt attempts, which occur near a relevant transition location; with them, what is highlighted is the intrusion of the second speaker, and what is achieved is to further reinforce the possession of the turn of the speaker who occupies it.
Conversational turns do not follow each other in any way, but the appearance of a turn in the conversation can always be explained from the nature of the preceding or following turns. The clearest case of this relationship is the so-called adjacent pairs.
Conversation analysts have approached the conversational exchange from two fundamental perspectives: the units that are distinguished in a conversation, that is, its structure, on the one hand, and the types of exchanges seen on the other.
the interaction, which corresponds as a whole to the communicative fact or event, to the conversation as a whole;
the sequence (episode or transaction), which refers to a thematic unit characterized by the change of discursive activity or by the alteration of interlocutors; we talk about opening and closing sequences, for example, in a dialogue text.
the exchange, which is the minimum dialogue unit, made up of two or more conversational shifts that designates each of the contributions of the participants and is, therefore, the maximum unit from the monologue point of view;
the act, which refers to the illocutionary and interactive functions of the different movements; An intervention can be made up of a single act or more than one.
G. Brown and G. Yule (1983) distinguish between the interactional and the transactional use of language. In transactional conversation, language is used to convey information or discuss content; in interactional conversation, on the other hand, it is used to develop and maintain a social relationship or for self-expression.
On conversational text types, there are many empirical works that describe the characteristic features of the so-called spontaneous conversation, the most common and essential form that verbal exchange can take. In addition, other types of conversation are distinguished, such as discussion, debate, interview or gathering, with their own characteristics in terms of the number of participants in the interaction, organization and management of shifts and rules of intervention. Recently, information and communication technologies have created new conversational genres, with their own characteristics, such as chat or Internet discussion forums. These virtual discourse genres (synchronous and asynchronous) have already been the object of precise descriptions (cfr., for example, F. Yus 2001) from the current called Computer Mediated Communication (CMC: Computer Mediated Communication in English).
In language teaching, studies on conversation have been reflected in the analysis of transactional and interactional exchanges that occur in the classroom, as differentiated pedagogical practices and with different consequences for learning. In this sense, the lesson is conceived as the largest conversational unit, that is, as an interaction in which students and teachers carry out verbal and non-verbal exchanges in which it is necessary to negotiate meanings. Furthermore, the knowledge of