Jeffrey D. Robinson

Date of Award

Summer 8-17-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Communication



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 124 pages)


Sequence (Linguistics), Debates and debating, Campaign debates -- United States, Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 2016 -- Case studies, Conversation analysis




This thesis takes a conversation-analytic approach examining the pragmatic functions of the linguistic marker "first (off/of all)" in second-pair-part (i.e., responsive) position relative to questions. Using data from question-answer sequences in the 2015-2016 U.S. Presidential Republican primary debates, I propose six claims regarding the composition, position, and action of what is referred to as the practice of "First"-prefacing. Analysis reveals that "First"-prefacing projects the displacement of a response (conforming or non-conforming) to a question. In projecting the displacement of a response, "First"-prefacing does two things: (1) it projects that the unit(s) of talk to come immediately next will be something other than a response, and thus this "first" matter should not be heard as being designedly "responsive" to the question; and (2) it claims that a conditionally relevant response to the question is forthcoming after the "first" matter is resolved. Debaters largely used "First"-prefacing to temporarily "get out from under" a question's conditional relevancies in order to "reach back" beyond the question and perform actions more properly sequentially fitted to earlier portions of the debate (e.g., defend themselves, make additional comments, counter-criticize other debaters). The more general function of "First"-prefacing as a misplacement marker is discussed, and its existence in ordinary conversation is briefly demonstrated.

Persistent Identifier