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Sequence organization: a universal infrastructure for social action

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  • Kobin H. Kendrick
  • Penelope Brown
  • Mark Dingemanse
  • Simeon Floyd
  • Sonja Gipper
  • Kaoru Hayano
  • Elliott Hoey
  • Gertie Hoymann
  • Elizabeth Manrique
  • Giovanni Rossi
  • Stephen C. Levinson


Publication details

JournalJournal of Pragmatics
DateAccepted/In press - 18 Jun 2020
DateE-pub ahead of print - 5 Aug 2020
DatePublished (current) - 1 Oct 2020
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)119-138
Early online date5/08/20
Original languageEnglish


This article makes the case for the universality of the sequence organization observable in informal human conversational interaction. Using the descriptive schema developed by Schegloff (2007), we examine the major patterns of action-sequencing in a dozen nearly all unrelated languages. What we find is that these patterns are instantiated in very similar ways for the most part right down to the types of different action sequences. There are also some notably different cultural exploitations of the patterns, but the patterns themselves look strongly universal. Recent work in gestural communication in the great apes suggests that sequence organization may have been a crucial route into the development of language. Taken together with the fundamental role of this organization in language acquisition, sequential behavior of this kind seems to have both phylogenetic and ontogenetic priority, which probably puts substantial functional pressure on language form.

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©2020 Elsevier B.V. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.

    Research areas

  • Conversation analysis, Cross-cultural, Sequence organization, Universals

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