New Scientist Live – Talk as technology

We live our lives by talking to others. We build, maintain and end our personal and professional relationships. We buy and sell. We get and give help. We are excited, irritated, embarrassed and consoled in response to things others say to us. Talk is the most fundamental tool we use for doing things in the world, yet researchers have often shied away from studying talk as it is used every day, preferring to study statistical distributions of words, asking people to report on their communicative lives in interviews or questionnaires, or to simulate them in laboratories. Elizabeth Stokoe has collected tens of thousands of recordings of talk ‘in the wild’ – from first dates to neighbour disputes. From this research, Stokoe developed the pioneering ‘Conversation Analytic Role-play Method’ (CARM) of communication training, based on evidence about how people use talk as a tool to get things done. In this presentation, she will reveal what happens in the engine room of social life and why studying talk scientifically is crucial to understanding how we use it as a technology.