Jefferson Transcription System – A guide to the symbols

What is the Jefferson Transcription System?

“Jeffersonian Transcription” or the “Jefferson Transcription System” is a conversational analysis code used by academics looking at speech patterns. It can also be useful for anyone trying to annotate a conversation or the style of a participant to a conversation. It takes quite a bit more time than conventional transcription and as such it usually comes at a premium cost. Gail Jefferson was the pioneer of this system hence the name.

Jefferson Transcription provides a method for annotating speech with details of performance, acts, texts, movement, interaction between actors, content and context. Click here to see an example of the Jefferson system in practice.

It is not recommended for simple transcription as you will see below. Certain elements of it can assist in a range of settings – for example if you are looking for an indication of when a participant’s voice has got higher or lower – but the overall usage is really only relevant to academics looking to study conversation in some detail.

The table we use at UniversityTranscriptions for undertaking conversational analysis transcription can be found below. The first view is the .pdf version, with the table version below. We have also included another table with alternative symbols included.

Jefferson Transcription Symbols

Transcription Symbols for Conversational Analysis

SymbolDefinition and use
Overlapping talk
=End of one TCU and beginning of next begin with no gap/pause in between (sometimes a slight overlap if there is speaker change). Can also be used when TCU continues on new line in transcript.
(.)Brief interval, usually between 0.08 and 0.2 seconds
(1.4)Time (in absolute seconds) between end of a word and beginning of next. Alternative method: “none-one-thousand-two-one-thousand…”: 0.2, 0.5, 0.7, 1.0 seconds, etc.
Word [first letter underlined]
Wo:rd [colon underlined]
Underlining indicates emphasis. Placement indicates which syllable(s) are emphasised.

Placement within word may also indicate timing/direction of pitch movement (later underlining may indicate location of pitch movement)
wo::rdColon indicates prolonged vowel or consonant.

One or two colons common, three or more colons only in extreme cases.
Marked shift in pitch, up (↑) or down (↓). Double arrows can be used with extreme pitch shifts.
.,_¿?Markers of final pitch direction at TCU boundary:
Final falling intonation (.)
Slight rising intonation (,)
Level/flat intonation (_)
Medium (falling-)rising intonation (¿) (a dip and a rise)
Sharp rising intonation (?)
WORDUpper case indicates syllables or words louder than surrounding speech by the same speaker
°word°Degree sign indicate syllables or words distinctly quieter than surrounding speech by the same speaker
Pre-positioned left carat indicates a hurried start of a word, typically at TCU beginning
word-A dash indicates a cut-off. In phonetic terms this is typically a glottal stop
>word<Right/left carats indicate increased speaking rate (speeding up)
Left/right carats indicate decreased speaking rate (slowing down)
.hhhInbreath. Three letters indicate ‘normal’ duration. Longer or shorter inbreaths indicated with fewer or more letters.
hhhOutbreath. Three letters indicate ‘normal’ duration. Longer or shorter inbreaths indicated with fewer or more letters.
whhordCan also indicate aspiration/breathiness if within a word (not laughter)
w(h)ordIndicates abrupt spurts of breathiness, as in laughing while talking
£word£Pound sign indicates smiley voice, or suppressed laughter
#word#Hash sign indicates creaky voice
~word~Tilde sign indicates shaky voice (as in crying)
(word)Parentheses indicate uncertain word; no plausible candidate if empty
(( ))Double parentheses contain analyst comments or descriptions

There is another table, which is slightly different, although we do not use this ourselves.

Jefferson Transcription System Symbols

(.)A micropause - a pause of no significant length.
(0.7)A timed pause - long enough to indicate a time.
[ ]Square brackets show where speech overlaps.
> <Arrows showing that the pace of speech has quickened.
< >Arrows showing that the pace of the speech has slowed down.
( )Unclear section.
(( ))An entry requiring comment but without a symbol to explain it.
UnderliningDenotes a raise in volume or emphasis.
Rise in intonation
Drop in intonation
Entered by the analyst to show a sentence of particular interest. Not usually added by the transcriber.
CAPITALSLouder or shouted words.
(h)Laughter in the conversation/speech.
=Will be at the end of one sentence and the start of the next. It indicates that there was no pause between them.
: : : Colons - indicate a stretched sound.

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