turn-taking seems a basic form of organization for conversation - ‘basic’, in that it would be invariant to parties, such that whatever variations the parties brought to bear in the conversation would be accommodated without change in the system, and such that it could be selectively and locally affected by social aspects of context....
— Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson (1974)

Basic characteristics of turn-taking in everyday conversation

  • speaker-change recurs/occurs

  • overwhelmingly, party talks at a time

  • occurrences of more than one speaker at a time are common but brief

  • transitions with no gaps and no overlaps are common

  • turn order is not fixed

  • turn size is not fixed

  • length of conversation is not specified in advance

  • what parties say is not specified in advance

  • relative distribution of turns is not specified in advance

  • number of parties can vary, although system works best in smaller parties (ideally two)

  • talk can be continuous or discontinuous

  • repair mechanisms exist for dealing with turn-taking errors and violations

  • turn-taking is locally managed


  1. For any unit, at the initial transition-relevance place of an initial turn-constructional unit:

    1. current speaker selects next: the current speaker selects the next speaker, who is obliged to take up the next turn; other members do not hold the right

    2. self-selection for next speakership: if current speaker does not select next speaker, then anyone in the party can take the next turn; the first heard has the right to the turn

    3. current speaker self-selects: if current speaker does not select next speaker, current speaker may self-select to take another turn

  2. The same rules are re-applied in the next turn

Further reading

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language50(4), 696–735.