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# Overlaps

Overlap is when two or more speakers talk at the same time. In a conversation, overlap can be caused if a listener isn't interested in listening to what the other speaker (s) has to say, or if two people are arguing.

## What are Overlaps?

Overlap usually happens when a listener interrupts the speaker but the speaker doesn't stop talking, resulting in two speakers who talk over each other. In some cases, when overlap occurs there are only speakers and no listeners.

Think of a conversation you've had, maybe it was a heated discussion or an argument with a friend, where the person you were talking to interrupted you but you didn't stop talking, so you ended up talking over each other.

Fig. 1 - Overlaps often occur during arguments.

## Competitive overlap vs Cooperative overlap

Depending on the situation, overlap can be either competitive or cooperative.

### Competitive overlap

Competitive overlap hinders conversation by disrupting turn-taking. Competitive overlap is caused by interruptions, it is a competition in which speakers fight for dominance during a conversation.

During conversation, a listener is supposed to support the speaker and wait for their turn to speak. An interruption that causes an overlap disregards the wishes of the speaker (to be heard) and the rules of turn-taking (one person speaks while another listens until it's time to change turn).

### Cooperative overlap

Cooperative overlap refers to when a listener becomes a speaker in order to show interest or agreement in what the current speaker is talking about, thus resulting in two people speaking at the same time. Cooperative overlap helps to move conversation forward.

Cooperative overlap occurs when the people involved in the conversation view silence between turns as impolite, or as a sign of a lack of interest on the listener's part. However, whether cooperative overlap is appropriate or not depends on the context of the conversation. While an overlap may be viewed as cooperative in a conversation between friends, it might be considered an interruption when it occurs in a conversation between boss and employee or teacher and student, for example.

The term cooperative overlap was introduced by sociolinguist Deborah Tannen.

## What are the four types of overlap?

There are four types of overlap:

1. Terminal overlaps
2. Continuers
4. Chordal

It is important to note that these types of overlap are cooperative and not competitive. This is because competitive overlap is too disruptive to be categorized.

### Terminal overlaps

Terminal overlaps are unintentional overlaps. A terminal overlap occurs when a listener assumes that the current speaker has finished speaking or is about to finish speaking. Although the current speaker is not actually about to reach a transition-relevant point, the listener takes the turn as the next speaker, and in this way causes overlap.

### Continuers

Continuers are a way for the listener to show the speaker they are listening to what the other person is saying. Examples include phrases such as:

mm hm

uh huh

yes

yeah

When the listener uses those brief phrases, for a moment they become a speaker. Most often the speaker who was already talking doesn't stop, this results in a brief overlap. Still, continuers aren't very disruptive - after a short pause, the original speaker can continue their train of thought and go back to being the only speaker.

Conditional access to the turn is when the current speaker gives their turn away or invites another speaker to talk, usually as a collaborative effort. Conditional access to the turn is when a speaker invites a listener to speak out of turn, given the condition that they don't take over the turn completely. For example, this often occurs during presentations and panel discussions when two or more speakers are presenting the same research.

### Chordal

Chordal involves a non-serial occurrence of turns. This is when two or more speakers' turns occur at the same time. An example of chordal is laughter - when two people having a conversation are laughing at the same time.

## What are the three types of overlap onsets?

The categorization of overlap into 'overlap onsets' was proposed by Gail Jefferson. Overlaps in conversation are categorized into three types of overlap onsets:

1. Transitional overlap
2. Recognitional overlap
3. Progressional overlap

### Transitional overlap

Transitional overlap occurs when a listener enters the conversation and takes their turn as a speaker at a transition-relevant point when the current speaker is about to stop talking. This usually happens when the participants in a conversation are enthusiastic participants and exchange speech with continuity.

### Recognitional overlap

Recognitional overlap is when a listener predicts the possible remainder of an unfinished sentence and decides to try and finish it for the current speaker, and in doing so takes over the role of speaker.

### Progressional overlap

Progressional overlap occurs when the current speaker interrupts their flow of speech by pausing, using words such as 'um', repeating words, or interrupting themselves to correct what they have previously said.

What usually happens, in this case, is that a listener self-selects themselves as the next speaker, in order to complete the turn.

## Overlap vs. Interruption

Interruption and overlap are two quite similar types of disruption of turn-taking. However, there is a distinct difference between the two.

Interruption occurs when the current speaker has not yet finished talking when a listener interrupts them and forcefully chooses themselves as the next speaker.

Unlike overlap, interruption is when a listener interjects and takes the speaker's place, and, as a result, the speaker stops talking and becomes a listener. Interruption is when the listener forces the speaker to give up their role as speaker and to become a listener; overlap is when there are two speakers (and sometimes no listeners).

## Overlaps - key takeaways

• Overlap is when a listener interrupts the speaker, but the speaker doesn't stop talking. This results in two speakers who speak at the same time.
• Overlap can be either competitive or cooperative. Generally, competitive overlap disrupts the conversation while cooperative overlap moves the conversation forward.
• There are four types of cooperative overlap: Terminal overlaps, Continuers, Conditional access to the turn, and Chordal.
• Overlaps in conversation are categorized into three types of overlap onset: Transitional overlap, Recognitional overlap, and Progressional overlap.
• The difference between interruption and overlap is that, unlike overlap, interruption occurs when a listener interjects and takes the speaker's place, and, as a result, the speaker stops talking and becomes a listener.

Overlap in conversation is when two or more speakers talk at the same time.

The four types of overlap are Terminal overlaps, Continuers, Conditional access to the turn, and Chordal.

The three types of overlap onsets are Transitional overlap, Recognitional overlap, and Progressional overlap.

Interruption is when a listener intejects and takes the speaker's place, which results in the speaker not talking but becoming a listener. Overlap is when a listener interjects but the speaker doesn't stop talking, which results in two speakers talking over each other.

You can use overlapping in a sentence by explaining that someone is overlapping (speaking over) someone else:

I was trying to tell the story of how I met you but he kept overlapping me.

## Final Overlaps Quiz

Question

Which of these is the definition of overlap?

Overlap is when two or more speakers speak at the same time.

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Question

Is this an example of a competitive or cooperative overlap?

The current speaker is expressing their controversial view on climate change. The listener interrupts them and becomes a speaker in an attempt to state their contrasting point of view on the subject. They talk over each other, each preoccupied with their own side.

Competitive overlap

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Question

Which type of overlap occurs when a speaker invites a listener to speak out of turn?

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Question

What type of overlap involves phrases, such as  uh huh ''?

Continuers

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Question

When does transitional overlap occur?

When a listener enters the conversation and takes the turn as a speaker at a transition-relevant point

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Question

In which type of overlap onset does the current speaker pause and say words, such as '' um ''?

Progressional overlap

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Question

Is this an example of a competitive or cooperative overlap?

Your friend is telling you about a problem they have and occasionally you say  yeah, I understand '' while they are talking.

Cooperative overlap

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Question

Which type of overlap occurs when a listener assumes that the current speaker has reached a transition-relevant point?

Terminal overlap

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Question

When does recognitional overlap occur?

When when a listener predicts the possible remainder of an unfinished sentence, and decides to try and finish it for the current speaker

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Question

Is two people laughing at the same time an example of a type of overlap?

Yes.

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Question

Which type of overlap occurs as a way for the speaker to be aware that the listener is paying attention to what they are talking about?

Continuers

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Question

When does chordal occur?

When two or more speakers' turns are occurring at once

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Question

Is this an example of a competitive or cooperative overlap?

You are talking to a relative. They crack a joke and laugh at it. You also find the joke funny, so you laugh with them.

Cooperative

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Question

True or false?

Overlap occurs when only one person is speaking at a time.

False

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Question

Conditional access to the turn occurs when the current speaker does what?

continues to talk

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Question

Who first categorised overlaps into overlap onsets?

Gail Jefferson

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Question

Which of the following is not a type of overlap onset?

Regressional overlap

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Question

Fill in the blank:

Recognitional overlap occurs when the listener _______ the remainder of an unfinished sentence.

predicts

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Question

When progressional overlap occurs, a listener _____________ as the next speaker

self-selects themselves

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Question

Fill in the blank:

Overlaps and interruptions are both examples of _________.

turn-taking

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Question

True or false.

Overlaps can often occur if two people are arguing.

True

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Question

Competitive overlap _______ conversation.

hinders

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Question

Competitive overlap _______ turn-taking.

disrupts

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Question

Who introduced the term 'cooperative overlap'?

Deborah Tannen

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Question

True or false?

Competitive overlaps are too disruptive to be categorised.

True

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