Journal of the International Phonetic Association

Research Article

On clicks in English talk-in-interaction

Melissa Wrighta1

a1 Department of Speech and Language Therapy and Rehabilitation Studies, Birmingham City University [email protected]


This paper analyses clicks in naturally-occurring English conversation. It demonstrates that regardless of any paralinguistic functions clicks may undertake, their occurrence is orderly and systematic, and intimately tied to the interactional structure of talk. Specifically, clicks are shown to function alongside the phonetic parameters of pitch, articulatory segmental features and voice quality (and the sequential and lexical organisation of talk) to demarcate the onset of new and disjunctive sequences. The methodology employed combines (i) the sequential analysis techniques of Conversation Analysis with (ii) parametric impressionistic and instrumental phonetic investigations. A key feature of this methodology is the study of naturally-occurring conversation rather than intuited or laboratory speech data. The findings in this paper challenge the traditional view that clicks function only paralinguistically in English. They also highlight the fruitfulness of implementing phonetic investigations alongside interactional analyses since such an approach enables previously unobserved patterns in the phonetics-interaction interface to be identified.

(Online publication July 12 2011)