In my previous post, I reported the first two sessions of the panel "Prosodic Constructions of Dialog" at the International Pragmatics Conference. Here's the second and final part of this "racconto".
Session 3: Prosodic Constructions and Actions
Beatrice Szczepek-Reed discussed the case of the German version of "yes, but"- " ja aber" as a tactic or strategy, and its different phonetic manifestations in interaction, which appear to project different affiliative stances. As second pair parts, they may be realised in a continuum going from "ja aber", with the first element comprising a first TCU and the second element carrying a pitch accent and lengthening; to " jaber", compressed, with the presence of glottalisation (also for some of the tokens in the first group, btw). "Ja aber" was found to express disaffiliation through disagreement or qualification, whereas "jaber" "re-does" disffiliation, as either previous rejection or a lack of uptake. There was a very interesting remark about the role of the "pre-front field " (Auer, 1996), the first position at the beginning of a TCU, which is the locus for new "creations" in language and the conversion of many items into discourse markers (this leads me back to the presentation on Pragmatic Markers by Romero-Trillo on the " Pragma-Discourse..." on Monday, and the role of continuers as interpersonal and textual markers, as seen by SFL). I found Beatrice's remark that "in order to study a big thing you have to work on a small thing" particularly inspiring!
The following presentation by Rasmus Persson surveyed different roles and prosodic constitutions of repetition in French, in particular, of other-repeats. The presenter reviewed some of the characteristics of French, especially in terms of stress, before discussing the two prosodic formats of the cases of other-repeats found in his data: early peak with a salient secondary accent, and a late rise fall, with a salient primary accent. Whereas the first configuration has been associated with the acknowledgment of receipt, "registering" previous talk, the second case was found to initiate repair, especially implicating some sort of "problem" with the content of the talk being repeated. The presenter wraps up his discussion by making a very important point for the study of phonetics in interaction: "the interactional function of prosody can be understood by taking into account the action the prosodic design contributes to, what a turn as a whole is supposed to do".
Maria Ibh Crone Aarestrup and Kerstin Fischer discussed an experiment on the way native and non-native speakers perceive greetings as produced by robots. The presenters reviewed some bibliography on the intonation of greetings, such as Wells (2006), Tench (1996) and then described the experience, which included synthetic productions of greetings produced by three different robots , which were then rated by native and non native speakers of English. From what l have understood, native speakers found the high wide falling tone on greetings more inviting, which was, to me, at least, expected, though the presenters, were apparently expecting those with a rise to do the trick. But then, it may be a misunderstanding on my part.
The discussion session was really fruitful, with comments on the notion of prosodic " constructions" as actual processes unfolding in time, fluid and flexible, vs the perhaps "rigid" association that could be wrongly made with the term. There was also another true remark about the fact that when it comes to the analysis of the enactment of actions through prosodic constructions, there is always ambiguity and gradience to be wary of.
Session 4: Prosodic Constructions and Gesture
David House reported on a number of experiments carried out with Margaret Zellers to see connections between gesture and prosody. The audience had fun watching the videos of the interactants looking like "ants" with their antennae and a few other props recording the speakers' every move. The presenter reviewed a few of the already-identified relationships between prosody and co-speech features, such as prominence marking, phrase connection and demarcation, dialogue regulation and turn-taking, and reported that in English, it is the intonational cue that prevails. This study was concerned with turn boundaries, and some of the findings were that turn-holding practices show lengthening of both prosodic features and gesture, and in the case of turn-yielding boundaries, the end of gesture precedes the end of talk spurt before transition. This was corroborated manually and through automatic methods, but not yet tested for statistical significance.
Romero-Lopes, Del Re and Dodane (represented by the latter), discuss their findings regarding prosody, gesture and the acquisition in infancy of the Brazilian "preterito perfeito simple" tense. They found that sound lengthening and gestures were synchronised when the conjugated verb was produced. (I may not have been faithful to their results, I am afraid, so my apologies for any misinterpretation).
The final presentation was by Richard Ogden and Verónica González-Temer, on the particle "mm" in Chilean Spanish, and it was aimed at exploring its function and different vocal and non-vocal modalities. The data was very interesting, as it consisted of elicited situations where speakers were asked to taste food they had never had before, and interact with another person to reach an agreement on the rating and possible ingredients of what they have just tried. The tokens were coded according to the taxonomy by Gardner (2001) and classified in terms of action types. The presenters have found that as response tokens, "mm" was uttered with low falls, glottal stops, nods and quite short in length. Non-response tokens showed greater degrees of variation (especially in terms of gesture) depending on whether they were enacting incipient speakership, gustatory or lapse terminator actions.
The final discussion was as enriching as for the previous sessions, including the acknowledgement that there are different semiotic systems interacting in a parallel fashion, that gesture should be part of the analysis, and that it makes sense to see how participants themselves make sense of the prosodic constructions themselves. This, of course, marks a break from other linguistic traditions, as it drives the focus away from what is normative, into what is descriptive.
I hope I have delivered a faithful account of the sessions of this fantastic panel, and my apologies for any misinterpretation and typos (wrote this post at the airport!). It's been a true blessing for me to have attended it.