Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Barbara A. Fox

Second Advisor

Kira Hall

Third Advisor

Camilla Lindholm

Fourth Advisor

Lise Menn

Fifth Advisor

Gail Ramsberger


This dissertation is a case study of a man with dementia, Dan, who sings in everyday conversation with his family. Some of Dan’s singing is not unusual. For example, talk might touch-off singing when it includes words that are in a song’s title or lyrics. Dan also does something unexpected by modifying songs based on prior talk and the physical environment. The objective of this study is to analyze when, how, and to what ends Dan does this type of modified singing. My primary approach uses Conversation Analysis to describe and analyze (1) how singing fits into the turn-taking structure of talk, (2) the emergent structure of a performance, and (3) what singing accomplishes in the moment. My secondary approach addresses why singing might be a particularly useful tool for Dan to participate in interaction. I provide two accounts, one that focuses on performance and identity and the other on cognitive processes involved in his song production. Combined, these perspectives analyze Dan’s singing as an emergent consequence of linguistic, social, and cognitive processes that occur within and between people. There are several key findings. First, Dan’s singing is not random but fits systematically within the sequential organization of interaction. Second, Dan’s song emerges bit-by-bit in conversation. There is evidence for an orientation to a relatively short turn constructional unit at the beginning of a song. The performance of an extended song is an achievement that is contingent upon the actions of co-participants. Third, Dan’s singing is a relatively open-ended resource. Dan uses singing to accomplish “main” jobs, such as complimenting, and “off record” jobs, such as managing distribution of knowledge and decision-making rights. Dan’s performances often position him as a humorous and clever singer in the moment and cumulatively construct a more “durable” identity than found in a single performance. His performances thus constitute an important contrast to the top-down medical category of “demented.” This study makes theoretical contributions to the study of singing in interaction, interaction in general, and communication by people with dementia.