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Review of  Sound Patterns in Interaction

Reviewer: Marie Safarova
Book Title: Sound Patterns in Interaction
Book Author: Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen Cecilia E. Ford
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.1845

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Date: Fri, 10 Jun 2005 11:54:04 +0200
From: Marie Safarova
Subject: Sound Patterns in Interaction: Cross-linguistic Studies from

EDITORS: Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth; Ford, Cecilia E.
TITLE: Sound Patterns in Interaction
SUBTITLE: Cross-linguistic Studies from Conversation
SERIES: Typological Studies in Language 62
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Marie Safarova, Institute of Logic, Language and Computation,
University of Amsterdam

The twelve papers collected in this volume describe the use of various
(supra)segmental features for conversational purposes, using the
methodology of 'phonology for conversation'. Among the languages
studied are English (British and American), Japanese, Finnish and
German, including children and aphasic speech.

[Introduction] Conversation and phonetics: Essential connection
(Cecilia E. Ford and Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen)
Under the heading 'phonology for conversation', the authors describe
an approach to the study of conversational speech which does away
with a priori phonetic and phonological categories - such as 'nuclear
tone', or even 'phoneme' - in favor of a detailed auditory (and possibly
instrumental) analysis. Following a short description of the main tenets
of conversational analysis in which 'phonology for conversation' is
anchored, this chapter contains a summary of the existing works using
the approach, the main reference being Kelly & Local's 'Doing
Two basic research questions for the studies in the present volume
are identified:
1/ What phonetic resources are exploited in dealing with [a]
conversational task?
2/ How is [a] specific interactional goal furthered by linguistic,
especially phonetic, means?
The individual contributions are introduced as enlarging the scope of
phonology for conversation both in terms of the prosodic and phonetic
parameters examined (pitch contour and height, voice quality,
phonatory setting, loudness, rhythm, manipulation of articulatory
setting and vowel quality), as well as with respect to the attended
conversational tasks and goals (e.g., turn-taking, projection of more-to-
come at turn beginnings, continuation of turns past a possible
completion, repetition in self-repair).

[1] Non-modal voice quality and turn-taking in Finnish (Richard Ogden)
The author analyzes the use of non-modal voice qualities as
(normative) markers of turn transitions in Finnish. First, he offers a
summary of findings for languages like German or English and
concludes that an empirical study is needed of the use of non-modal
voice qualities at relevant turn transition points in conversations. In his
corpus of radio broadcast conversations, the author found that creak,
breathiness, whisper, voicelessness and exhalation were used in
almost 70% of the turn transition points (in 155 out of 222 cases), with
creak being by far the commonest (86%). Also, turn transitions without
non-modal voice qualities and cases with non-modal voice qualities
without speaker switch are analyzed. The author raises a number of
interesting issues, e.g., what is the domain of non-modal voice
qualities (intonation phrase? utterance?) and what is the relation
between the voice quality and the intonational system (e.g., is the first
a subcomponent of the second?)

[2] Prosody for marking transition-relevance places in Japanese
conversation: The case of turns unmarked by utterance-final objects
(Hiroko Tanaka)
In Japanese, turn completion is normally marked by "utterance-final
objects" such as final particles and copulas, but in certain registers,
the truncated - 'iikiri' - turns can be found (in 16% of the turn
according to one study). The question the author raises concerns the
role of various phonetic features (pitch, amplitude, duration and
articulatory aspects of sounds) as a signal of turn transition in the
truncated forms. Five main feature clusters (some of which may
cooccur) are identified: lengthening of the last mora+resurgence of
loudness+pitch movement, lengthening of the penultimate
mora+resurgence of loudness+pitch movement, glottal stop+falling
pitch, increased tempo+falling pitch, and partial repetition+falling
pitch+low intensity. The author suggests that they are employed
because they are not typically found in non-final positions.

[3] Turn-final intonation in English (Beatrice Szczepek Reed)
This paper describes the kinds of pitch contours found turn-finally in
English: fall-to-low and rise-to-high (conventionally regarded as typical
turn-final intonation patterns), high pitch step-up on the onset of the
last accented syllable followed by a brief plateau, level pitch on the
last accented syllable and onwards, rise-to-mid and "musical
intervals". Given the variety of turn-final pitch movements, the author
suggests that they may, in fact, not be used as markers of turn (in)
completeness (other cues can be responsible for that) but have a
different conversational role.

[4] Prosodic resources, turn-taking and overlap in children's talk-in-
interaction (Bill Wells and Juliette Corrin)
This paper offers a case study of 19-21 month old English-speaking
Robin with his mother, focusing on the use of prosodic features in turn-
taking and, especially, in overlaps. Among the reported findings are
Robin's ability to use prosodic means for purposes of turn
continuation/completion and prosodic subordination, but the lack of
adult-level skills to resolve overlaps and produce turn-competitive

[5] On some interactional and phonetic properties of increments to
turns in talk-in-interaction (Gareth Walker)
The author examines the phonetic parameters of different kinds of
increments (continuations of talk following points of possible turn
completion) in British and American English with respect to their hosts.
He finds similarities in the use of pitch (contour, range and baseline),
as well as loudness and rate of articulation; in other words, an
increment often prosodically resembles the last foot of its host
utterance. On the other hand, there do not seem to be any prosodic
features particular to the category of increments as such. Interactional
functions of the different increment types are also analyzed.

[6] Prolixity as adaptation: Prosody and turn-taking in German
conversation with a fluent aphasic (Peter Auer and Barbara Ršnfeldt)
The authors examine the speech production of a German individual
suffering from Wernicke's aphasia. They suggest that the prolixity of
his speech may be understood as a face-saving strategy to hide
difficulties with lexical access, rather than as a part of the language
impairment. In particular, reduced loudness, which normally indicates
turn closure, is used to conceal word-finding problems in rhematic
parts of utterances, followed by a forte restart of a new utterance
precluding other-repair.

[7] The 'upward staircase' intonation contour in the Berlin vernacular:
An example of the analysis of regionalized intonation as an
interactional resource (Margret Selting)
This paper describes the use of a particular contour in Berlin German
in two contexts: lists and biographical story telling. The contour has
two variants, referred to as 'upward staircase with fast rising nucleus'
and 'upward staircase with slow rising nucleus', the second being less
frequent and appearing as a single-occurrence-only in biographical
narratives, while the first can be used repeatedly in a sequence (e.g.,
in a list). The author suggests that both the contours function as a
turn-holding device, signaling that "there is more to come".

[8] "Getting past no": Sequence, action and sound production in the
projection of no-initiated turns (Cecilia E. Ford, Barbara A. Fox and
John Hellermann)
The authors examine phonetic features of 'no'-answers to polar
questions in American English from the perspective of turn projection
or completion, facing the puzzle of how conversation participants
know that a 'no' stands alone rather leads to a continuation, given that
it cannot project "beyond itself" lexico-grammatically. The features
attended to are duration, pitch movement and height, loudness,
intensity, formant movement and pitch range of speaker and recipient.
A pattern in the data can be identified when the context of the 'no's' is
considered, with "longer projected tellings" on one hand, and "after
topic-proffering questions" on the other hand.

[9] 'Repetition' repairs: The relationship of phonetic structure and
sequence organization (Traci S. Curl)
The focus of the study are repetitions as other-initiated repairs in
American English. The author finds that repetitions do not always
replicate the source in their phonetic realizations and that two types of
repetitions have to be distinguished, "upgraded" and "non-upgraded".
The first kind, with increased loudness, expanded pitch range, longer
durations and articulatory resettings, usually "fits" into its context. The
second kind, on the other hand, is quieter, has compressed pitch
ranges, similar or shorter durations and similar articulatory settings as
the source; as an action it does not fit into its sequence and can
overlap with the speech of other participants.

[10] Indexing 'no news' with stylization in Finnish (Richard Ogden, Auli
Hakulinen and Liisa Tainio)
The authors analyze the occurrences of a particular stylized contour
in Finnish, used to mark items as information that is obvious and not
worth attention. The shape of the contour is analyzed phonologically
and phonetically, as well as with respect to its content (often material
lexically and/or syntactically recycled from previous talk) and context
(e.g., addressee's response), and its use is illustrated in a number of

[11] Prosody and sequence organization in English conversation: The
case of new beginnings (Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen)
The author examines prosodic and other markers used in
conversations to signal that a contribution is not to be interpreted as
immediately related to the previous turn, but rather as starting
something "new". She argues that at these points, speakers often
introduce the next turn with a 'lexical preface' (e.g., 'oh', 'hey'), terms
of address, temporal discontinuity with the preceding turn and a
sudden pitch and amplitude movement upwards. An interesting
observation is that not all discourse topics proposed by the
conversation participants are understood as "new" in the sequence,
some of them are considered to be a proper part of the preceding talk.

[12] Getting back to prior talk: and-uh(m) as a back-connecting device
in British and American English (John Local)
The target of this study is to describe the phonetic features of 'and-uh
(m)' when used by the speaker to link back to her own prior talk,
following a side-sequence due to either the speaker or the other
participant. The author notes that compared to other occurrences
of 'and' (not followed by 'uh(m)'), 'and-uh(m)' in these positions has
distinctive phonetic properties which he analyzes in detail. These
features, together with other characteristics, such as its sequential
location and its position in the turn, make the function of 'and-uh(m)'
recognizable as proposing a return to prior action.


I found the volume as a whole particularly well-balanced. The authors
used a shared methodology and terminology and, in some sense, their
basic research concerns, yet the papers addressed a variety of topics.
The content of each paper was thus new and exciting. The articles
were also nicely structured and the presented arguments were clear;
the descriptions of the linguistic features under examination were very

Two issues I would like to raise, are:
1. Some studies mixed American and British speech corpora, but in
prosodic descriptions, these two standards are normally treated apart
(in fact, one of the authors here notes a difference with respect to the
use of a particular contour).
2. The studies involve the analysis of many examples but in the text,
authors mostly offer just selected cases. To what extent are these
representative of the rest? Could more 'hard (statistical) data' be
provided, or is this against the spirit of the framework?


Kelly, John & John Local (1989) Doing Phonology. Manchester:
Manchester University Press.


Marie Safarova is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Amsterdam.
The topic of her dissertation research is the meaning of utterance final
contours in American English and Standard French, especially in polar
interrogatives and so-called declarative questions.