Signal Processing and Speech Communication Laboratory
homephd theses › The prosody of interactional and discursive strategies in Austrian conversational speech

The prosody of interactional and discursive strategies in Austrian conversational speech

In work
Anneliese Kelterer
Research Areas

Prosody has many functions in speech; e.g., cueing information structure (“Max bought a HOUSE.” vs. “MAX bought a house.”), sentence type (“Max bought a house?”), or communicative functions such as turn management (do I want to continue telling you about Max’s new house or am I done talking). This thesis investigates the prosody of yet another kind of communicative function, the expression of attitude (also called stance-taking, evaluation).

In this context, attitude does not refer to opinions we hold regardless of whether we are talking about them right now or not. Rather, attitude denotes an interactional behaviour, i.e., how speakers evaluate what is being said and position themselves either towards what has just been said (e.g., astonishment, rejection) or towards the position of their interlocutor (e.g., agreement, objection, or reluctance to accept the other one’s stance).

Prosodic forms of particular attitudes may be conventionalized to some degree. For example, most native speakers of German will recognize that a speaker pronouncing “ok” relatively slowly and with a rising intonation is not agreeing, but expressing doubt or reluctance to accept an idea or a proposal. However, it has been shown that the prosodic form of attitude is also dependent on the immediate context in the conversation. First, speakers often match their prosody to their conversation partner’s prosody when they are “on the same wavelength”. Second, the utterance of ‘preferred’ actions has been shown to have a different prosodic form than the utterance of ‘dispreferred’ actions, even if the lexical content is relatively similar (e.g., really agreeing with a conversation partner’s positive assessment vs. agreeing pro forma before actually disagreeing with them).

The data used in this investigation is a corpus of 18 one hour-long spontaneous conversations between native speakers of Austrian German (GRASS). In this data, systematic associations between prosodic form and attitude will be investigated by means of a combination of qualitative and quantitative, as well as function-to-form and form-to-function approaches.