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Gaps

A gap is a silence at the end of a turn in a conversation.

Gaps occur when the person speaking doesn't select the next speaker, or none of the participants in the conversation have selected themselves as the next speaker. Usually, gaps happen between turns, but they can also happen during a speaker's turn.

A gap can also happen when the silence is too short to be a lapse.

Gaps-Image of person being quiet-StudySmarterGaps are silences at the end of sentences.- pixabay

Gaps vs Lapses vs Pauses

Lapses and pauses in conversation are similar to gaps, which can be confusing. The Jefferson Transcription System can help explain where gaps occur.

But what is the Jefferson Transcription System?

The Jefferson Transcription System is named after its inventor, Gail Jefferson (1938-2008), who was one of the founders of conversation analysis. The Jefferson Transcription System is a system that academics use to transcribe conversation patterns. Each symbol in the system corresponds to a specific pattern in conversation (including gaps, lapses and pauses). By using the system we can fully and accurately transcribe spoken conversations - not just the words, but also all the other elements of the conversation.

This table, based on the Jefferson Transcription System, shows which symbol corresponds to either a gap, a lapse, or a pause. This is defined by the time each takes - a lapse being the longest and a pause being the shortest.

Note that 0.7 refers to 7 seconds, 0.10 refers to 10 seconds, 2.0 refers to 2 minutes, etc.

symbolUse

(.)

(0.7)

(0.10) or longer

pause gaplapse

Lapses

A lapse is a silence in conversation that occurs when the talking stops, only to be resumed later. In most cases, lapses are longer than gaps.

You can tell that a silence is a lapse and not an overlap when a conversation topic ends, is first followed by a long silence, and then by the start of a new topic or by a re-initiation of the previous topic.

To put it simply, a short silence during a topic (usually between turns) is a gap, whereas a change of topic after a longer silence is a lapse.

Let's take a look at some examples that show the difference between a gap and a lapse:

Gap :

ANNE: So that was it basically. Not as exciting as you might think but I still had a great time! I suppose you two had a good time over the weekend?

(0.7)

MAYA (smiles)

CALLUM: I just spent quality time with my dog. How about you, Maja?

MAYA: It was a regular weekend for me.

Lapse:

ANNE: So that was it basically. Not as exciting as you might think but I still had a great time!

(2.0)

ANNE: So are you both ready for today's exam?

CALLUM: Not really.

MAJA: I feel prepared. Bring it on!

In the case of the gap, the silence is shorter (0.7). It occurs during a change of turn when no new speaker has been selected by the previous speaker (Anne), and it only lasts until a new speaker (Callum) takes the floor. In the case of the lapse, the silence is longer (2.0), and it's over when the previous speaker (Anne) takes the floor again and changes the topic.

Pauses

A pause is a silence that occurs within a speaker's turn. This includes the silence during a speaker's turn. It can also be the silence at a transition-relevant point - when the next speaker has already been nominated but has not started speaking yet.

What sets pauses apart from gaps and lapses is that pauses only occur during the current speaker's turn or when the next speaker has been named. Both gaps and lapses happen between turns when the next speaker has not yet been selected.

Consider this example of a pause:

ANNE: So that was it basically. (.) Not as exciting as you might think but I still had a great time!

Compare it with the above examples of a gap and a lapse. In the case of the gap, the silence (0.7) occurs during the change of turn between speakers (Anne and Callum). In the case of the lapse, the silence lasts until the topic is changed. In this example of a pause, the other speakers (Callum and Maya) are not involved - the silence is very short and it happens during Anne's turn.

Intra-turn silence vs Inter-turn silence

A gap is a type of silence and so is a lapse and a pause. The different types of silences in conversation are split into two categories - inter-turn silence and intra-turn silence. Let's explore them and define what each category entails.

Inter-turn silence

An inter-turn silence is a type of silence in conversation that is unallocated because there is no current speaker at this point in the turn-taking process. An inter-turn silence can only occur at a transition-relevant point when the next turn has not been claimed by anyone yet and no one has been nominated as the next speaker.

Inter-turn silences are further divided into two kinds: gaps and lapses.

Intra-turn silence

An intra-turn silence is a type of silence in conversation that belongs to the current speaker. An intra-turn silence usually occurs when the current speaker pauses during their turn. It can also happen at a transition-relevant point when the current speaker is about to give the floor to the next speaker, who has already been selected, but there is a short pause before the next speaker starts talking.

Pauses are inter-turn silences and are further divided into: filled pauses and silent pauses.

Filled pause

A filled pause is a type of pause in conversation. It is a pause filled with vocalisation - a sound that a speaker makes during a conversation.

A filled pause usually occurs while a speaker is thinking - the sound that the speaker makes is a sign of their thinking process. A speaker stops speaking and makes a sound that is not a word or a part of a word. For example:

  • hm
  • um
  • erm

Keep in mind that you might think of sounds that have meaning, such as 'well' or 'oh', as a filled pause but they are not. A filled pause can't be a sound that has meaning because it's not a word or a part of a word.

Silent pause

A silent pause is a type of pause in conversation. It is a period of silence during a speaker's turn in which no one is speaking and no sound is made.

Usually, a silent pause occurs for the same reason as a filled pause - because the speaker stops talking during their turn so that they can think. The difference is that during a filled pause the speaker makes sounds to indicate that they are thinking, during a silent pause there is only silence while the speaker is thinking.

Gaps - key takeaways

  • A gap is a silence at the end of a turn in conversation. Gaps occur when the current speaker doesn't select the next speaker, or none of the participants in the conversation has selected themselves as the next speaker.
  • Lapses and pauses are also silences in conversation, but they are different from gaps. A lapse is a change of topic after a period of longer silence. A pause is a silence that occurs during a speaker's turn.

  • The different types of silences in conversation are split into two categories - Inter-turn silence and Intra-turn silence. Gaps and lapses are inter-turn silences, while pauses are intra-turn silences.

  • Pauses are further divided into filled pauses (vocalised) and silent pauses (non-vocalised).

Frequently Asked Questions about Gaps

A gap is a silence at the end of a turn in conversation. Gaps occur when the current speaker doesn't select the next speaker, or none of the participants in the conversation have selected themselves as the next speaker.


A short silence during a topic and usually between turns is a gap, whereas a change of topic after a period of longer silence is a lapse.

Pauses only occur during the current speaker's turn or when the next speaker has been named, while gaps occur between turns when the next speaker has not yet been selected.


Both silent pause and filled pause indicate that the speaker is thinking. The difference between them is that filled pause is vocalized, it is a sound that the speaker makes, while during a silent pause no sound is made.


The plural of '' gap '' is '' gaps ''.


Final Gaps Quiz

Question

True or False: A gap is a long silence in conversation that occurs when the talk stops only to be resumed later.

Show answer

Answer

False.


Show question

Question

Which of these is NOT an intra-turn silence?


Show answer

Answer

 Lapse


Show question

Question

Which of these is an example of a filled pause?

Show answer

Answer

Uhm

Show question

Question

You're in a conversation with three more people. One of them is talking about their holiday but then they stop talking before they've selected a next speaker. You don't select yourself as the next speaker and neither does any of the other two people. 

Is this an example of:


Show answer

Answer


Gap



Show question

Question

True or False: A lapse is a long silence in conversation that occurs when the talk stops only to be resumed later.


Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Which of these is NOT an inter-turn silence?


Show answer

Answer

Silent pause

Show question

Question

Which of these is an intra-turn silence?

Show answer

Answer

 Filled pause


Show question

Question

Over lunch break, you're talking to your sibling about a trip you're planning to take together. When the break is over you have to stop your conversation. You resume it later, in the evening when you're both free to talk again. 

Is this an example of:


Show answer

Answer

 

Lapse


Show question

Question

True or False: Inter-turn silence and intra-turn silence are the same thing.

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

When do filled pause and silent pause occur?


Show answer

Answer

During a speaker's turn, when a speaker pauses to think


Show question

Question

Which of these is an inter-turn silence?


Show answer

Answer

 

Gap



Show question

Question

What kind of a sound does a speaker make during a filled pause?


Show answer

Answer

 A sound that is not a word or a part of a word

Show question

Question

You're telling your grandparents about your day. When you're trying to remember the name of someone you met at the bus stop, you stop talking, you're thinking. After a short moment of silence, you remember the name and you continue with your story.

Is this an example of:


Show answer

Answer

 

Break


Show question

Question

FIll in the blank:


A gap can happen when the slience is too _____ to be a lapse.

Show answer

Answer

short

Show question

Question

The different types of silences in conversation are split into two categories. What are they?


Show answer

Answer

Inter-turn silence and intra-turn silence

Show question

Question

Sounds such as 'hm' and 'erm' are examples of which type of pause?

Show answer

Answer

Filled pause

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


A filled pause is a pause filled with ___________.

Show answer

Answer

Vocalisation

Show question

Question

What is the name of the system that can be used to help explain where gaps occur?

Show answer

Answer

Jefferson Transcription System

Show question

Question

True or false?


The Jefferson Transcription System is only used to transcribe words.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Which of the following has the shortest silence?

Show answer

Answer

pause

Show question

Question

Which of the following has the longest silence?

Show answer

Answer

lapse

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


A pause is a silence that occurs ______ a speaker's turn.

Show answer

Answer

within

Show question

Question

True or false?


Pauses only occur during the current speaker's turn or when the next speaker has been named.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank:


Both gaps and ______ happen between turns when the next speaker has not yet been selected.


Show answer

Answer

lapses

Show question

Question

How is a silent pause different from a filled pause?

Show answer

Answer

A silent pause is a period of silence where no sound is made, whereas a filled pause is vocalised.

Show question

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