Journal of African Studies
Online ISSN : 1884-5533
Print ISSN : 0065-4140
Speech overlap and long silence among the Baka Pygmy
Daiji Kimura
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1995 Volume 1995 Issue 46 Pages 1-19


Temporal structure of conversation was studied in the Baka Pygmy and adjacent Bakwele (Bantu farmer) in southeastern Cameroon. Time sampling was used to obtain the data on speech overlap. When several persons gathered at a place and began chatting, the number of speeches was sampled at every 10 seconds. From the sampled data of the Baka, frequent speech overlap and long silence (sometimes continuing few minutes) were detected, which are minimized in “usual” turn-taking in the Western societies. This tendency is statistically significant compared with the conversation of the Bakwele.
In the Baka conversation, speech overlap is not used strategically, i. e., it is not an “interruption” to obtain the turn from the current speaker. Speech overlap is considered to be a form of behavioral synchronization observed in other hunter-gatherer societies.
Long silence of the Baka is not a failure in the turn-taking process, nor “meaningful” silence such as showing the termination of a conversation, marking boundary of sentences, or representing politeness. It is regarded as a mode of co-presence. The Baka can co-present without mutual continuous speech, because they live in a “high-context” society.
The difference of the conversation style between the Baka and the Bakwele is recognized by the Baka themselves. The social separation between these two ethnic groups might partially be due to such a difference.

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