The Doggie Bath that Helped to Talk About and Cope with Cancer

Conversation Analysis is…

Conversation analysis is the study of  “how people talk with one another in everyday casual encounter[s]” (Beach, 2008, p. 1). Conversation analysis (CA) is a method done on naturally occurring conversations between people, which makes this method of study so effective. The data collected is never “idealized or hypothetically construct[ed]”, the recordings are of actual communicative unaltered interactions (Beach, 2007, p. 83). The study of conversation gives the opportunity to explain the way humans “do things and the kinds of objects they use to construct and order their affairs” (Sacks, 1984, p. 24). Conversations are collected “by means of audio- and video-recording equipment or film” (Heritage & Atkinson, 1984, p.2). These conversations are always naturally occurring. The recordings and the” carefully produced transcriptions” of the naturally occurring conversations are then analyzed (Beach, 2008, p. 1). Studies done on conversations using conversation analysis have “proved to be highly distinctive both in methodology and findings, from a range of linguistic, social psychological and sociological approaches to the data of interaction” (Heritage, 1984, p. 234). Through conversation analysis this paper will examine a conversation with a son and father.

Conversation Analysis and Storytelling


            Storytelling is an important part of conversation analysis because many conversations are exchanging of stories between speakers. Stories are  “extraordinarily complex speech events” that either “report a sequence of events” or they are an evaluation of those events by the speaker (Goodwin, 1990, p. 230). The details that are given in these stories will always be given with regards to “being ordinary”. Sack’s (1984) article states when people tell stories they report “the usual aspects of any possibly usual scene” (Sacks, 1984, p. 416). Meaning people will not tell details that make them seem as if they go about their lives in any unusual way. Stories are exchanged by the “course of turn-by-turn talk” (Jefferson, 1978, p. 220). One person speaks with reference to the words that were said just prior and those words then trigger the next person to say something new.

Summary of the Transcript

            This excerpt that is examined is a conversation a father and son are having about the son giving his dog “Charles” a bath. This conversation happens while these two men are dealing with their mother’s/wife’s cancer progression. The father calls the son to give him a good time to call his mother. The son then begins to tell a story about giving his dog a bath after he agrees to call his mother at a particular time. The son changes the subject by saying by then his dog Charles should have forgiven him for giving him a bath. The son compares what it is like to give his dog a bath compared to giving a bath to his father’s dog, Clinger. He explains his dog is larger and the only way to effectively give him a bath is to put him in the shower, and get in with him. The son and father have a few laughs and the father then goes on to tell some stories about his own dog. The excerpt ends before the father gets into the details about his own dog.

            This dog story excerpt serves as a distraction from thinking about cancer, but in the conversations it is clear that the mother’s cancer is an underlying thought. The purpose of the son and father exchanging dog stories is to help both the father and son cope with the mother’s cancer. The dog stories give the father and son a sense of hope. They are able to laugh about their dogs amidst the saddening ever-present cancer situation they are dealing with.

            It is important to see during the conversation between the son and father about the dogs many references are made about the mother/wife having cancer.  Many words are said that clearly make reference to the mother’s/wife’s cancer and both the son and father’s feelings toward it. While the mother’s/wife’s cancer is a very prominent thing in both the son’s and father’s lives they use the dog stories as a distraction from the cancer yet they continue to subtly refer to the mother’s/wife’s condition. It is arguable whether or not they do this consciously or subconsciously. A common theme throughout the transcript is the son’s dog “Charles” seems to be symbolic for the son and the father’s dog “Clinger” seems to be symbolic for the father.

Transcription Analysis


Lead up to the story


The first section of this excerpt starts as follows:


24 S:         [By then ] Cha::rles should have forgiven me for giving him a           

25                ba:th this morning.

26            (0.5)

27 D:            Uh huh.=

28 S:            =Yeah, yeah.=He’s not happy with me.

29 D:            $Heh heh heh heh.$ He is now a soggy camper [↑huh. ]


            It is important to see that every new utterance by a speaker in the transcript (as well as in everyday conversation) is backward looking and forward projecting. Meaning for example in the twenty-forth line on page two the son says “By then Charles should have forgiven me for giving him a bath this morning”; this sentence is responding to the utterance before when the father gave the son a time to call his mother. The son’s sentence is setting up the father to say the next response which is “Uh huh” in line twenty-seven on page two. Therefore each utterance “is produced by reference to the occurrence of a prior, that is, is occasioned by it” (Jefferson, 1978, p. 220). The father says “Uh huh” to agree that he understands that the son gave his dog a bath this morning. “Uh huh” is a common response to allow the other speaker to know they are listening, following along with their story, and understand what they are saying. The father is doing all three of these things by uttering “Uh huh”.

            The father’s “Uh huh” in line twenty-seven on page three sets the son up to give more details of his dog story. The conversation goes on with the son continuing his story by including the detail that the dog is not happy with him, “ Yeah, yeah he’s not happy with me” in line twenty-eight on page three. This is an example of evaluation in story telling. Goodwin’s (1990) article on “perspectives of stories” states that some stories have utterances of evaluations of the events they are explaining. This is an evaluative sentence by the son because there is no way the dog could verbally say he is not happy with him. The son evaluates the dog did not seem very happy and then reiterated that to his father in his story.

            The father’s response to the son’s evaluation of the dog consists of some laughing, which seems to be a genuine response of thinking what the son said was funny.  The laughing shows the father thought what the son said was a joke. The father then responds with a joke saying “He is now a soggy camper” in line twenty-nine on page two indicating he thought what the son said about the dog was a joke, so he responded back with a joke.

            The son’s responds to the father’s comment in line twenty-nine by laughing while saying “that’s right” in line one on page three. This shows the son agrees the dog was soggy and it was funny. The son continues laughing for a bit which could possibly mean he is getting the visual image in his head of his dog soaking wet.

Communication Style