Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton March 13, 2007

Talking without overlap in the airline cockpit: Precision timing at work

Maurice Nevile
From the journal


This study examines temporal organization for interaction in a specific work setting: the airline cockpit. It is generally concerned with precise timing for turn taking as a feature of competent conduct in collaborative professional work, and for creating an acceptable orderly flow of talk for tasks. Specifically, it pursues an observation that moments of overlapping talk, when two or more parties talk simultaneously, are rare in cockpit interaction. Pilots are instructed in training not to speak simultaneously; however, cockpit talk is highly conducive to overlap. Mostly pilots know who will say what to whom, and when, because they are legally required to use scripted procedural wordings. The trajectories of turns are predictable and projectable, and therefore are vulnerable to terminal overlap, when a recipient starts talking just as a current speaker is completing a turn. This does not happen, because airline pilots precisely time next talk to start at the actual, not projected, end of current talk. Pilots allow talk to emerge complete. Pilots orient to the strictly sequential nature of their work to accomplish conflicting setting-specific demands for talk, in situ and in real time. The paper uses transcriptions from audio and video recordings of pilots on actual passenger flights.

*Address for correspondence is: Division of Communication and Education, University of Canberra, ACT 2601 Australia.

Published Online: 2007-03-13
Published in Print: 2007-03-20

© Walter de Gruyter