Transcription Exercise (Fall 2017)

Co-produced Realities in Interactions

Due: Mon, Oct 9, 5 pm, Word Doc uploaded to Moodle

In this course we confront the complexities of interpreting social action as we develop a theory of context or contextualization. One of the main analytic tools of a lingusitic anthropologist is a good transcription system that turns the attention to the intricately patterned nature of verbal and non-verbal "contextualization cues" in social interactions.

This exercise allows you to try your hand at transcribing a brief interaction using the transcription system developed by Gumperz and Berenz (1993). Consulting their article, construct a computer transcription of this 20 second clip from a well-known documentary.

The clip depicts Venus Xtravaganza (aged early 20's?), a self-identified transwoman, in an unscripted moment from the award-winning 1992 documentary film "Paris is Burning" by Jennie Livingstone. Livingstone, a white woman, followed and interviewed Black and Latino gay and trans men and women in Harlem, NYC in 1986-7 as they prepared for and participated in "balls"--organized competitive "voguing", in which competing Houses vied for trophies under different fashion and social categories. You may want to see the film if you haven't already. Venus is interviewed several times on film and we get some sense of her persona and life aspirations. The film is on reserve in the library, and available for rent at most major video stores.

This particular interaction is framed, by Livingstone and by Venus herself, as an instance of the discourse genre locals referred to as "reading".

1) The clip is available on Youtube: "Reading is Fundamental". Use the provided time bar to view it in increments.

2) Download and print out Gumperz and Berenz' article "Transcribing Conversational Exchanges" (1993, ereserve). Familiarize yourself with Gumperz and Berenz' diacritics for capturing different elements of verbal and nonverbal patterns:

  • See their appendix with a chart of diactritic notations p. 121
  • For specific explanations and illustrations see:
    speaking turns or informational phrases p. 95
    lexical streams p. 96
    phrase boundaries . 99
    pausing p. 101
    overlapping p. 103
    latching (p. 104)
    truncation p. 105
    pitch register and speed of whole phrases p. 106
    accent, loudness, syllable lengthening w/in prases p. 106
    rhythm p. 109
    overlays p. 110
    interruptions p. 111
    background information p. 111
    nonverbal signs p. 114

3) Construct your own version of the transcription using diacritics from Gumperz and Berenz that you find relevant, then consult with your group members and come up with a joint transcription you all agree on.

4) Write a one-paragraph description of the “context of situation” AS IF you were going to include it in an ethnographic account. Hone your non-fiction creative writing skills: how would you “set the scene” for readers?

5) Upload it to Moodle on behalf of the group by Monday, Oct 9, 5pm. We will then compare groups' transcriptions and my own in class Thursday.