Human interaction and holistic language

I research social interaction – the processes and rules that organize how we humans live in a social world. We usually take ordinary conversations for granted, because they are ubiquitous and permeate everything we do. However, human interaction is a rich and fascinating system, and we are only beginning to understand it.

I am working with Prof. Leelo Keevallik. We are examining the edges of what is considered language – the parts of communication that are often considered subconscious or too irregular to be systematic. Humans make all kinds of clicks and moans that are not technically ‘words’. However, these sounds are critical for understanding each other and accomplishing activities together. We study how these sounds are organized in conversation, and more importantly, how they do the work of organizing the conversation and language in general. These sounds are also intertwined with how we move our bodies, so I am examining how the body is incorporated into the expression of sound.

My previous work has examined several institutional settings, such as neonatal clinics, visiting a local politician, and helping colleagues work in safer environments. I have worked to apply this research in communication training, using the CARM methodology for presenting and discussing interactional research results.

I primarily use conversation analysis as a method. I collect recordings of people doing the activities that they would normally do – currently playing board games and rock climbing. I have chosen these because they involve using a complex physical space with other co-present people, which helps reveal how the body and the voice work together. Then I look at what structures occur repeatedly, and what the rules are for making these structures happen (or not happen).

I have made videos about conversation analysis and how it works on Youtube, so please take a look:

Em Does CA

Further information and full publications:


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