Report on the panel "Prosodic Constructions of Dialog", at the 14th International Pragmatics Conference - Part 1
I am currently " conference-crawling" and in an effort to be faithful to my second linguistic love, Pragmatics and Discourse Analysis (Pragma-Discourse), I spent six days at the International Pragmatics Conference . I will be reporting on a fantastic panel I attended on Tuesday, in two installments .
The usual disclaimers: I am writing from my tablet so I am afraid there won't be many "special effects" and there will probably be a million typos. Plus, any misunderstanding of theoretical views is my own (attributable to jet lag?).
Last Tuesday I had the fabulous experience of attending twelve talks as part of a panel that dealt with " prosodic constructions", that is:
"Units of (phonetic and prosodic) organization that unite elements of linguistic form with elements of meaning, including affiliation and sequence management" (Ogden, 2010 as quoted by Szczepek-Reed, slide 2)
The panel was organised by Nigel Ward, Richard Ogden, Oliver Niebuhr and Nancy Hedberg, and you can read about it on this website .
I would like to briefly report what I have heard, and include some personal remarks about the presentations and the whole experience, starting with the fact that the organisers came up with a fantastic idea of not only allotting the usual 5 min Q&A, but also a whole 15-minute slot for open discussion with the audience. This really made all the difference, in comparison to other panels l have attended .
First session: Compositional and Constructional Aspects of Prosody
Yi Xu et al opened the panel with a very passionate presentation of a piece of software (PENTAtrainer2 - this link goes to the first version) that allows the decomposition of different prosodic elements and their reassembly, by "extracting global patterns as sequence of local targets". This is done through easy annotation and coding of issues such as stress, pitch height and slope, "focus" (his use of the word in fact is what we understand as nucleus placement that is, phonetic rather than informational, if I understood his account correctly - he does not appear to make a distinction between the informational and intonational choices at this stage), modality (something like voice quality), among other things. The tool and system presented comes as a result of extensive research and literature review.
The second presentation, by Nigel Ward, addressed "narrow pitch regions" (the Bookended-Narrow Pattern), which the author associated with a " squished down pitch range" that appears to take place in some occasions in which speakers express contrast, complaint, grudging admiration and contradiction (Sorry, but I got a sudden flashback to O'Connor and Arnold, especially because of the wyrd "grudgingly"). This pitch range area is problematic for analysts as it is too subtle, and there is an interplay of multiple prosodic constructions which are superimposed. This pattern is presented as being used to " introduce specific personal knowledge and invite the interlocutor to consider it". (Aug 28th, update: The presenter has shared with me teaching resources on his research on prosodic constructions: http://www.cs.utep.edu/nigel/patterns/)
This presentation opened up a very interesting debate regarding the definition of functions, prescriptiveness, the role of context in determining that these prosodic choices may "stand for" and the establishment of categories (Whose? The analysts'? The participants'?) Clearly this is an issue that marks interactivists apart from other approaches (and the one I enjoy the most; the actual possibility of describing what actions speakers appear to be implementing through prosody, and how, instead of presenting generalisations - which, on the other hand, I have to do because of my job!)
The last presenter in this session was Oliver Niebuhr, who focused on Laboratory data, and the factors that affect elicitation (including issues like time of day and type of font used in the text, apart from the usual factors we may know about). The presenter proposed new elicitation techniques (under the name INSPECT) to enable the retrieval of data that could resemble the characteristics of spontaneous speech more closely. Those of us "interactionalists" (in the making, at least, for myself) will always prefer naturally occurring data, but it was granted by the author that laboratory speech is a "natural reaction to a controlled environment".
The ensuing discussion was truly enlightening, a bit fiery for some (and yet everyone was so respectful!). One of the contributions by the discussant, Richard Ogden, was very clear in terms of the fact that this this form- function issue could be delimited in terms of the difference between something having a phonetic exponent, versus phonetic structure having meaning.
Session 2: Prosodic Constructions and Turn-Taking
Jan Gorisch et al describe an experience of replication of a study by Kurtic et al 2013 on overlapping talk and whether the instances identified in the corpus of multiparty conversation could be said to be competitive or non-competitive. In this occasion, the tokens were rated in terms of (non) competition by different raters, and also subjected to a Decision Tree. It had been established in previous studies that prosodic matching was related to interactional alignment, and this presentation finds a relation between position in the previous TCU where the overlap starts, the duration of overlapping talk, and the pitch span with issues of turn (non) competitiveness.. (Found this presentation particularly interesting, since it is closely related to my MA thesis, BTW)
Stevanovic and Lennes present a study that is aimed at connecting pitch matching -absolute and relative- to the notion of agency. This latter concept, apparently related to issues of sequential organization (later connected to levels of passivity-activity of the interlocutors, and also discourse control, in a more informal description of the concept) was presented as connected to matching and non-matching of speech. The discussion that followed introduced a few other issues that could affect levels of agency, such as backchannel practices that may require a lower level of agency.
De Ruiter commented on a 2006 study which over the years has become quite polemic (but which could not be refuted, according to the presenter), regarding the apparent lack of speaker's reliance on pitch to decide on possible TCU ends. The experiment consisted in presenting subjects with natural and synthetic turns, first with words and pitch, then with "blurred" words, then noise, for them to press a button when a TCU appeared to be reaching a potential end. The ensuing discussion introduced the possibility of other variables that may "do the trick" at TCU boundaries, such as lentghening and rhythm.
Not only was it a fabulous panel, but it was also a sort of a dream come true for me, as you can imagine!
Coming up soon: part 2, and of course, PTLC!