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Universal Conversation rules that transcend throughout the translation and Interpretation Service Industry     

All languages are of course inherently different, using varying alphabet formats, pronunciation rules and contradicting grammatical conditions. One great example of this is Spanish only has 5 vowel sounds while English has more than 14 depending on regional dialects. This is one of the great challenges that has to be overcome in the <a href=”http://www.globalvoices.co over at this website.uk/our-services.php” target=”_blank”>translation and interpretation service industry.

Interpretation and translation challenges

Despite languages contrasting from one another greatly, the communication of language through conversations is an aspect that is regarded as universal. In the 1970’s Harvey Sacks, an American sociologist who studied ethnomethodology, researched into the way people use language in everyday life.  His goal was to understand the construct of conversations. Sack’s created a technique called “conversation analysis “which he used to dissect conversation structure and understand communication patterns.

Through their work Sacks and his colleagues were able to define a number of fundamental rules of verbal interaction that you won’t see written anywhere but conversation analyst books and academic journals. Nevertheless these are rules we all innately follow and use in everyday interaction.

Firstly it is fairly obvious that every conversation is made up of turns, I speak, then you speak and then I speak again. However these conversation turns are made up of a number of smaller components which are named by experts as “turn construction units”. Valid turns include: ‘”Hello”, “My cat has died” and “Have you seen my book? I’ve been looking for it everywhere”. What don’t count as valid turns are incomplete sentences like ‘Have you seen my’ and ‘I’ve been looking for’. The rule is important because it allows us to understand and anticipate when someone is going to finish speaking and when our turn begins. So whether you are interpreting a Shakespeare play from old English into Spanish or watching “Wolf of Wall street” in French subtitles the idea remains the same. The conversation etiquette will remain the same, only the language will change.

Another conversation rule that Sack’s uncovered is “turn pairs”.  “Turn pairs” refers to when one asks a phrase and expects their conversation partner to reply with a set answer that reflects societal norms. Sacks and his colleagues identified a variety of different types of ‘turn pairs’ that occur frequently in conversation. They range from question-answer, to goodbye-goodbye (‘S’ya later! Bye!’). When a person gives the first part of the “turn pair”, society expects someone to reply accordingly. For example have you ever noticed a radio presenter who is pressed for time often says bye and cuts off a guest caller before they have time to reply. It feels unnatural somehow. This rule applies to interpretation and translation as well. For example an English guy may ask his friend “Are you out tonight?” and his friend will answer “yeah of course”. The same will apply for a Spanish guy asking his friend the same question. Both will stick to the etiquette of question then answer.

Furthermore, researchers have found that these rules are universal to cultures and societies across the world. Therefore it does not matter what you are interpreting, the structure that makes up everyday conversation regardless of the language remains the same. The universal rules of conversation contribute to a larger idea that is important to linguists within the translation and interpretation sector. To truly become a master at interpretation or translation one must understand more than just the theory of language but understand universal human traits and apply them accordingly to different languages.

At Global Voices our expert linguists have over 5 years’ experience and understand that interpretation and translation are more than just converting words from one language to the other.They understand the sediment and the underlying meaning behind language and human nature.


Global Voices Ltd. (Head Office) – Scion House, Innovation Park – Stirling – FK9 4NF – United Kingdom –


Tel. 0845 130 1170 –    info@www.globalvoices.co.uk –   www.globalvoices.co.uk

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