Talk: Analysis of Speech and Non-verbal Behaviour in Conversation

1983 Open University Press

The book describes the intimate connections between language and nonverbal behaviour, particularly hand gesture and patterns of eye gaze. It also covers issues to do with turn-taking and control in conversation and famously put Margaret Thatcher's interview style under the microscope. I was awarded the Spearman Medal by the British Psychological Society for this work. The Spearman Medal is awarded for 'published psychological research of outstanding merit.'

Conversation is the foundation stone of the social world. Human beings learn to talk in it, find a mate with it, are socialised through it, rise in the social hierarchy as a result of it and (it has even been argued) may develop mental illness because of it. Conversation is primarily a social event but complex cognitive processes are nevertheless brought to bear on the planning and generation of the spontaneous speech within it.

In research on conversation there has been a tendency to separate the social, psychological and linguistic strands and to separate verbal and non-verbal behaviour. Beattie attempts to move towards a synthesis where all these are treated together.

A primary tool is the microanalysis of video recordings and audio recordings of natural conversation - seminars, phone calls, televised political interviews - natural in that they do not owe their existence to the presence of a conversational analyst. Using this kind of research Beattie explores, for instance the roles of:

  • hesitation in cognitive planning in conversation
  • eye contact and gesture and their relationship to speech
  • turn-taking and interruption (including the analysis of how Mrs Thatcher interrupts, and is interrupted, in political interviews).

Geoffrey Beattie explores in this book the fundamental question of how spontaneous speech and non-verbal behaviour are geared to the demands of our everyday talk.

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This book reports a series of empirical investigations of conversation carried out by Geoffrey Beattie. In itself, this represents a substantial and impressive research output and the findings of these studies are often of considerable theoretical interest....The book as a whole is written in a clear, readable and engaging style which makes some of the more difficult material more easily accessible to the general reader..... Beattie's endeavour to do justice to the full complexity of the relationship between speech and nonverbal behaviour certainly makes a stimulating contribution towards enhancing our understanding of the processes involved in conversation.’
Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 1984

‘The book is very strong, and its most important contribution, I think, is its discussion of methodology...A useful book which overflows with data and methodological data.’
British Journal of Psychology, 1984

‘Talk furthers the development of an international community of scholars working in this important field of research.’
Contemporary Sociology, 1985

‘Beattie's work is part of a growing awareness of the centrality of talk to an understanding of human behaviour, his book is to be welcomed.’
Sociology, 1985

‘The work does present an interesting and bold attempt to study conversation as a 'whole' and attempts to do this in a controlled and scientific way, well supported by statistical methods.’
Lore and Language, 1984