Research Methods

Table of Contents
Parameters of Variation
Storyboard Collection
Online Surveys

We have developed a set of tools to investigate how confirmational meanings are expressed in different languages. This set of tools is comprised of a series of storyboards that serve as a basis to test our hypotheses, and a form in which we keep track of our hypothesis testing. But what does that mean exactly?

In parameters of variation, we explained that the syntactic distribution of confirmationals and their discursive distribution is influenced by syntactic, semantic, pragmatic and contextual factors that we also call parameters of variation.

Every time we investigate a new confirmational, we hypothesize that it is sensitive to all the parameters we have found so far (clause type, speech act, evidentiality, social relations, register and politeness). To test this hypothesis, we use storyboards and then compile the results in the form.

Our work is like a spiral that grows deeper and deeper. Hence, it happens sometimes that we find by chance or based on people’s intuitions (speakers and researchers alike) new parameters of variation in different languages. When that happens, we create new storyboards, include the new parameters in our form, and amend our model of confirmationals to account for the new facts.

If you’re interested in uncovering the inner workings of confirmational meanings in your own language, be it for teaching purposes, by curiosity or because you’re a linguist, you can access the form here, and use our storyboards.

If you wish to share your findings with us, or if you have questions about how to use the form and the storyboards, do not hesitate to write to us or post on our facebook page here.


Parameters of Variation

Turning an utterance into a request for confirmation can be done in different ways which vary within one language and across languages.

In the languages we have surveyed so far, we have found that confirmationals can be expressed with particles, phrases, intonation, or with a combination of intonation and phrase or particle. Some examples are given in the table below.

Grammatical strategies to encode confirmational meanings
English ‘”eh” Intonation + Particle
Medumba “?” Particle
English isn’t it? … and other tag questions
English You have a new dog? (with rising intonation)
German “geu” Intonation + Particle
+ Reason To Believe (Depending on dialect)


Confirmationals also vary with respect to the factors that condition their syntactic distribution – where they occur in the sentence, and their discursive distribution – the conversational context in which they are appropriate. We call those factors parameters of variation.

In the languages that we have surveyed so far, we have indentified the following parameters of variation.

  • Syntactic factors
…such clause typing: the type of sentence in which a confirmational can occur:

  • Pragmatic factors
…such as speech act category: the type of speech act a confirmational can modify or attach to:

  • assertion
  • question
  • order
  • exclamation
  • Semantico-pragmatic factors
…such as evidentiality: the evidence the speaker has to support the belief she wants to confirm with the addressee:

  • Contextual factors
…that pertains to the conversation participants themselves and to social norms:


How are confirmational meanings encoded in your language? What parameters of variation are they sensitive to?


If you would like to find out, we have put together a form to support the investigation of confirmational meanings in any language. Click on Research tools to learn more!



Storyboard Collection

STORYBOARDS are used gather linguistic and metalinguistic data in natural conversation settings without interference of another language. They also provide strict contexts allowing to control for parameters of variation.

Storyboards can be used in different ways:

wedding s(400)

When they are used with a scripted text, they can be used to obtain metalinguistics judgements: judgments about the appropriateness of the dialogues, for instance. With a scripted text, they can also be used to prompt a speaker to produce new linguistic data, or to act the situation depicted in the storyboard by uttering the text.

wedding ns(400)

When storyboards are used without scripted text, they can be used to gather new linguistic data. In that case, they are used as a basis for  storytelling.

In our own research on confirmationals, we have created a series of storyboards (found below). These storyboards were designed to test how the parameters of variation that we have identified so far influence the expression and distribution of confirmationals in different languages.

More storyboards can be found at Totem field storyboards. To learn more on how to use storyboard, you can also read Targeted Construction Storyboards in Semantic Fieldwork, by Strang Burton and Lisa Matthewson.

Click the thumbnail for more stories of the same series!

“Forward march”

“Get me a beer”

“Hey Mary! …”

“I got a new dog” I

“I got a new dog” II

“I hereby pronounce you…”

“Saturday is clean up day”

“That was a good movie”

“What a surprise”

“What’s he talking about”

“You are working out”

“You’re on candid camera”

“You got a new dog”

“You have a new dog”


Or, click here for the ADVANCED FILTER of our storyboards!



Online Surveys

The SyntaxOfSpeechActs Project at the University of British Columbia is looking for participants to take place in an online survey.

How Long does it Take?

The survey takes approximately 35 minutes.

What do I get Out of it?

Participants have the chance to win one of two Amazon gift cards worth CAD 50 .

I’m Interested!

If you are a speaker of Canadian English and you are interested in participating, please click here.

Syntax of Speech Acts Project at UBC Linguistics