Transcription conventions

, by Hugo Chatellier

There are important basic conventions established within the programme in order to achieve uniform transcriptions. Researchers should abide by these conventions in order to guarantee the comparability of the data.

PAC researchers transcribe under Praat, using standard orthography. Each speaker receives their own tier which is named after their initials. Interval boundaries are added according to the logic of turn-taking (a new interval for each new turn). However, if stretches within boundaries are too long, a true phonemic/phonetic alignment may prove difficult at a later stage. We therefore request that interval units should not normally exceed 15 seconds. No carriage returns are used.

Simplified punctuation

The punctuation system is simplified: the full stop, the comma and the question mark are the only symbols from traditional spelling used for the transcription of discourse in the project.

Commas indicate a brief pause in the discourse, or a ‘non-final’, ‘continuing’ intonation contour marked by a shift in pitch or other cues.
JV: I don’t know what to do with it, I mean I’ve never looked at a language that way, which is sort of going out and not knowing anything.

Full stops stand for a relatively long pause in the discourse, or for a ‘final’ intonation contour.
TB: So I was home. I won the airline tickets.

A question mark is inserted at the end of a question.
DH: How many of these are you going to have?

- Pauses and intonation contours do not always coincide with expectations based on syntax.
- Pauses and intonation units are not distinguished along rigorous lines in the orthography employed here, such a finer supra-segmental transcription remains an optional subsequent task.
- Commas are used between repeated words or expressions.
- An exceptionally long pause in an otherwise logically/syntactically coherent sequence will be indicated by a parenthetical remark.
LC: but overall I’d say, (silence) a little less than half, of those who apply.

Turn taking

At the beginning of each turn the speaker is identified by his/her initials, which are followed by a colon (a space is inserted on its right, but none on its left). The fieldworker is designated by the letter F.

F: So, do your parents agree with you?
JF: Well, not really.

As mentioned above, there is no carriage return to mark the end of a sentence or paragraph. The discourse of a single speaker is transcribed continuously under PRAAT (with regularly added interval boundaries, each unit being headed by the initials of the speaker).

Overlapping turns

Turns often overlap in a conversation; three types of interventions are distinguished in the transcription:

- Background responses, typical fillers such as ‘yeah’ ‘really’, laughter, vocal and other noises uttered by the listener to maintain interaction are ignored.

- Short interventions - i.e. when the listener interrupts the speaker but does not initiate a new turn, and the speaker goes on speaking – are transcribed within angled brackets in the following manner:

LC: So it’s, it’s that the approach is different.

DR: I mean he may get uh, yeah, yeah that’s pretty unusual, pretty unusual.

F: So it’s really your grandparents who are Japanese speakers ? Your mum and dad are really English speakers their, their first language is English?

- When a listener interrupts the speaker and then ‘takes over’ the conversation, his/her words uttered at the same time as the those of the previous speaker are transcribed between angled brackets as indicated above, and a new turn is marked by a new interval (under PRAAT).

F: Do you feel American above all or what do you feel?
TS: I guess I don’t know what that really means, (laughter) I’ve, you know I’m an American but, I don’t, I’m not like, ‘yeah I’m an American’ you know.

Truncation of words

A dash (followed by a space) indicates unfinished words:

TS: You think you have this demo- democratic freedom but it’s, not really there.
LC: the col- the faculty are looking for a good fit.

Truncated intonation units (when speakers do not finish their train of thought, are interrupted, or hesitate, etc.) are marked by a comma or a full stop:

TS: you know I am an American but, I don’t, I’m not like, ‘yeah I’m an American’ you know.


Repeated words or expressions are separated by a comma.

DR: I, I like to go skiing in the snow, but I don’t want to have to dig my way out of it every day.
JF: I think it’s true that, that, there is racism in, racism in, in California but it’s really well-hidden.

NB: Commas mark repetition and short pauses in the discourse. Thus in the following example the first comma stands for a short pause, the second for a repetition, the third indicates a repetition that coincides with a short pause at the same time, and the fourth one marks a short pause:

JF: Uh, it’s okay it’s you know it’s, it’s really, it’s really weird teaching you know, I don’t know.


Observations made by the transcriber on non-linguistic aspects of the interaction (noises, stammering, etc.) and on the recording (background action, quality problems) are placed between parentheses.

TB: My father, he is from Canada. (door opens, F returns) Actually he was born in Massachusetts.

Laughter may also be indicated with the character @, or by @@ on both sides of the segment concerned:

DG: That’s at the beginning of the week so it’s hard to remember. @ Uh, we read a couple of theoretical texts comparing irony to allegory,

F: It’s @@ impossible @@ !

Unintelligible words are indicated by the capital letter X in parentheses. The number of Xs inserted (ideally) corresponds to the number of incomprehensible syllables:

JV: because not (XX) all the cases are uh, show up in the pronoun system,

Words are often hard to decipher due to noise or other interferences, in this case the commentaries are inserted in separate parentheses:

RF: kicked everyone out of the airport and made to go you know (noise) (X) shoot the bag and see if it blows up, and uh,

In cases where the transcriber thinks s/he has probably recognized a word (or sequence of words) but is not fully sure, the word is put in parentheses:

JG: Maybe I’ll stay in the technology sector, and uh hopefully do something with creativity, like maybe product design, or writing you know (maybe) marketing oriented, something like that. (laughter)

Reported speech

Reported speech is transcribed between inverted commas (‘ ’):

DR: And then when Bush said ‘read my lips no new taxes’ and then, you know,
TB: And there was a woman at the other line and she said, ‘oh no message’, and so I was
TB: and she said I had won the prize and I said ‘didn’t you just call’

Some features of spoken English in relation to spelling

Obviously, many reductions and contractions occur in spontaneous speech. Contracted forms are used in our transcriptions only in so far as they are allowed in standard spelling. Note, in the following example, the co-occurrence of a non-contracted and a contracted form, the former bearing a slight emphasis.

JG: Yeah I have heard that and also I’ve heard that he seems to be very needy of getting votes.

Sometimes non-contracted forms appear in a more formal style:

F: And were your parents from there?
TS: My mom has lived in Los Angeles all her life.

Word internal ellipsis is an equally frequent feature of spoken English. To avoid a waste of energy at the initial stage of transcription, such deletions are not transcribed. The examination of these features is left to the phonological/phonetic stage of the analysis.

LC: Some very, very intelligent young people, will apply but not do well here because they needed more structure. (and not ‘cause)
LC: a portfolio for music, you know original music compositions (and not ‘riginal)

But note that we do not reintroduce words (or word sequences) which appear to have been missed out (in relation to normative grammar). Thus if what we hear is:

F: Was she there?
LC: Think so.

We do not transcribe:

F: Was she there?
LC: I think so.

Realizations for which standard orthography offers distinctions will be transcribed accordingly. Thus the distinction between yes and yeah is systematically respected in the transcription.

TS: I don’t know. Yeah. It’s confusing. (laughter) Yes there, there’s a lot involved and I think, to be, to say a real opinion on it you have, I have to be, really informed.
F: But do you feel now you’re from California ? That you’re Californian?

Interjections are another characteristic feature of conversations, employed to express pain, surprise (ouch, oops) etc., or simply to provide feedback and to signal active participation towards the other party in the discourse (uh huh, oh, ah, hm). For these speech forms, we use the conventions put forward in the OED.

Most often, however, the speaker is simply using a filler to gain time while thinking, hesitating, or searching for an expression (hm, uhm, uh, er) etc. Regardless of the actual sound pronounced, this type of intervention will always be described as ‘er’ for British, and ‘uh’ for American speech.

RM: Er, it’s, it’s, er, yeah, it was quite a nice place er, (XX) smelly in some places, the (XX) particularly, er it’s very run down and er
DG: Uh, let’s see, uh, I uh, I’m from L.A. and I let’s say I’ve been moved uh always to magnet schools which are like schools that kind of specialize in one thing or another


Acronyms – pronounceable words made up from the initial letters of a multi-word name like, for example, UNESCO for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization – are written in the usual way: capital letters with no separation of any kind if the word is pronounced as a unit. If on the other hand it is spelled out letter by letter, this is indicated by typing an underscore after each letter of the word: U_N_E_S_C_O.

Any unexpected form of actual pronunciation will be indicated in parentheses after the word in X-SAMPA transcription. X-SAMPA is an extension of SAMPA (Speech Assessment Methods Phonetic Alphabet), a machine-readable phonetic alphabet developed by speech researchers from many different countries in the late eighties. It is to date the best international collaborative basis for a standard machine-readable encoding of phonetic notation mapping the symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet onto ASCII codes. As with the ordinary IPA, a string of X-SAMPA symbols does not require spaces between successive symbols.

Dialectal expressions

Words or expressions that do not belong to either standard British or American English will be transcribed by using X-SAMPA symbols:

LC: Dear, a person, is (hEn), and that’s specific to West of Scotland, ’Ho (hEn), how’re you doing?’

However, if there is a longer stretch of discourse in dialectal speech, "normal" spelling will be employed. If there is a reference dictionary of the dialect being described, its conventions should be used.

Reference orthographic systems

In our transcriptions, we apply the spelling system normally used in the country where the speakers live or come from. Thus, if we transcribe British varieties of English, we use standard British English conventions (adopted in the OED). If we transcribe American English, we use the conventions adopted in Webster’s (cf. hesitation). An examples transcribed according to the British and the American conventions, respectively:

Standard British English:

DR: he can’t honour the guidelines of the debate, for even ninety minutes
RF: when I was, I think, maybe thirteen, just travelling with my mum, and er

American English:

DR: he can’t honor the guidelines of the debate, for even ninety minutes
RF: when I was, I think, maybe thirteen, just traveling with my mum, and uh