Research Framework

Table of Contents
Overview
Framework
Confirmationals
Response Markers
Glossary

In the eh-lab, we explore the syntactic underpinnings for speech acts. The core idea we pursue is that syntactic trees allow us to model not only the relation between sound and meaning in the construction of propositions (what is being said) but also in the construction of how speech act participants relate to these propositions (how they do things with what they say).

And what we are finding points towards the conclusion that the root of a syntactic tree is much more complex than we typically assume.


Overview

If you are interested in collecting confirmationals and/or response markers in a language that you are interested in, click below to access the research tools we have developed.

OVERVIEW

What are Confirmationals?

What are Response Markers?

Parameters of Variation

Research Tools

Storyboard Collection

Of course, you can always contact us at the eh-lab if you need assistance or if you want to share your findings with us!


Framework

In the eh-lab, we explore the syntactic underpinnings for speech acts. The core idea we pursue is that syntactic trees allow us to model not only the relation between sound and meaning in the construction of propositions (what is being said) but also in the construction of how speech act participants relate to these propositions (how they do things with what they say).

And what we are finding points towards the conclusion that the root of a syntactic tree is much more complex than we typically assume.

Specifically, we are currently testing the hypothesis that there are at least two functional layers above the propositional structure: a grounding layer and a response layer. The grounding layer is used to encode how participants relate to what is being said. Specifically, we have found evidence that this layer has to be split into two separate layers: the speaker’s ground (Ground-S: where the speaker encodes how s/he relates to what is being said) and the addressee’s ground (Ground-A: where the speaker says how s/he thinks that the addressee relates to what is being said).  Above the grounding layer there is a response layer which is used to encodes the interactive stance: this is where the speaker can encode whether the utterance is a response and whether or not the addressee is supposed to respond to the utterance.

framework webpage

This syntactic approach allows us to come to terms with the way particular units of language (words, morphemes, particles, intonational tunes, etc.) can be used in common ground management.


Confirmationals

Speakers use confirmationals to negotiate agreement with other speakers. Examples from English include words like eh or right (but there are also other parameters available to do the same thing).  We sometimes have the impression that these words don’t add anything to the conversation, but they do.

Consider the following surprise party scenario. If Charlie, the birthday boy is surprised,  he could say to his wife Anne (who threw the surprise party for him): “What a surprise!” but he could not say “What a surprise, eh?”.

Surprise party- addressee speaks

“What a surprise!”

Anne on the other hand could not say “What a surprise!” because she is not surprised. She could say to Charlie: “What a surprise, eh?”. This allows her to confirm with Charlie that he really is surprised.

Surprise party- host speaks

 ”What a surprise, eh?”

Interestingly, the way different confirmationals can be used differs within and across languages. Thus far we have identified a series of parameters relative to which confirmationals can differ. These include the host clause (what types of clauses they can follow), the target of confirmation (what kinds of discourse components can be confirmed), the nature of evidence that lead the speaker to the belief they want to have confirmed, and the social relations between the interlocutors (e.g., familiarity). Click on the interactive map below to find out more about each of these parameters.


Response Markers

Response markers are  words and phrases we use to respond to what other people say. Yes and no in English are typical examples. They are used to answer yes/no questions (hence the name of these questions) as in the following example. Here Andy (in the blue shirt) is asking Bob:  ”Do you want another drink?” and Bob can respond with “Yes.” or “No”. 

bar (200)

What is interesting about response markers is that they have a variety of uses other than answering yes/no questions. Hence they are multi-functional. For example they can be used to respond to assertions (“(Bob: That beer I just had was really great.  Andy: Oh yeah?), exclamations (“(Bob: What a good beer!  Andy: Yeah, really, eh?),  among other speech acts.

The second interesting aspect of response markers has to do with the fact that there a several different forms including: yes, yeah, yeah yeah, yessss, yup, mhm, right, etc. In the eh-lab we study the distribution of different response markers: which form can be used in which context. For example, if, in the bar scene above, Bob answers with “yessss” he conveys a particular attitude ( “I really want a drink and I’ve been waiting for you to ask me this question) than  if he answers with “yeah yeah”. 

The difference between different types of response markers is clearly established in the following wedding scene. 13237833_10154237086714365_5129321307026041272_n

To study the distribution of response markers we explore the following variables:

  • What are the grammatical strategies used to express response?
  • What do response markers respond to?
  • What kinds of utterances can response markers precede?
  • What kinds of meaning distinctions can be made with different types of response markers?


Glossary

Syntax

The study of how words and phrases combine to form sentences.

Semantics

The study of how meaning is expressed through language.

Pragmatics

The study of how context and situation affect meaning.  This includes how language is used in a social context, how sentences are made to fit in with the flow of a conversation, how unspoken premises are inferred, and how degrees of formality and politeness are signaled.

Speech acts

Illocutionary force

The intended effect of a speech act, such as a warning, a promise, a threat, and a bet, e.g., the illocutionary force of I resign! is the act of resignation.

Grounding

The fundamental, moment-by-moment conversational process by which speaker and addressee are constantly establishing mutual understanding.

Responding

Proposition

A statement or assertion, consisting of a predicate and a set of arguments.

Confirmational

Common ground

Felicity

Grammaticality

  • Prescriptive Grammar

The belief that some versions of a language are better than                      others, that there are certain “correct” forms that all                                    educated people should use in writing and language change is                corruption.                                                                                                                                e.g., Do not split infinitives, do not end a sentence with a preposition

  • Descriptive Grammar

The rules of the grammar of the language that exist in the minds of it’s speakers. Descriptive Grammar does not tell you how you should speak; it describes your basic linguistic knowledge.

Clause

Root/Matrix

Subordinate

 

References

Bavelas, J., De Jong, P., Korman, H., & Jordan, S. S. 2012. Beyond Back-channels: A Three-step Model of Grounding in Face-to-face Dialogue. In Proceedings of Interdisciplinary Workshop on Feedback Behaviors in Dialog, 5–6.

 

Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., & Hyams, N. (2011). An introduction to language (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

 

Dechaine, R.-M., Burton, S., & Vatikiotis-Bateson, E. (2012). Linguistics for Dummies. Mississauga, ON: John Wiley and Sons Canada, Ldt.

Pinker, S. (1994). The Language Instinct. New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

Syntax of Speech Acts Project at UBC Linguistics