Intersubjectivity in interaction

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventConference participation


The role of clicks in action delivery and ascription A fundamental problem for speakers in conversation is the delivery and recognition of social action. This paper examines the contribution of clicks – a vocal but not verbal, paralinguistic practice – in the delivery of social action in English. Clicks in English have a complex semiosis. As sound objects (Reber 2012), they sit on the margin of what is typically considered to be linguistic. At their least linguistic, they are vegetative sounds produced as a speaker prepares to talk (Scobbie, Schaeffler & Mennen 2011, Ogden 2013); iconically they project talk by marking incipient speakership (Wright 2011, Ogden 2013, Kendrick & Torreira 2015). At their most linguistic, clicks can be produced with phonetic features like nasalisation, lip rounding, or repetition. They may also be accompanied by e.g. gestures or facial expressions. These clicks seem to be grammaticised practices whose meaning is arbitrary, language- and sequence-specific; and they bear affective meaning. The analysis is based on a collection of over 200 clicks from a corpus of American English phone calls, and c. 7 hr of conversation, and focuses on ‘linguistic’ clicks, where iconic interpretations are least available, and where it is hardest to invoke iconic interpretations based on ‘preparations for speaking’: clicks post-positioned after a TCU; multiple clicks; and standalone clicks in the place of a full responsive TCU with verbal content. The role of clicks in establishing intersubjectivity is complex and often ambiguous, partly because of their minimal form, their marginal linguistic status (as well as position in TCUs), and also because their simplest, most iconic function is turn projection. Often, the best conclusion is that ‘deliberate’ clicks express an ambiguous affective stance, and for participants this ambiguity is a useful resource: clicks provide a way for speakers to express something that they are not easily accountable for.
PeriodMay 2017
Event typeConference
LocationHelsinki, FinlandShow on map


  • conversation analysis
  • clicks
  • non-vocal behaviour