Where prosody meets pragmatics

Where prosody meets pragmatics. Ed. by Dagmar Barth-Weingarten, Nicole Dehé, and Anne Wichmann. (Studies in pragmatics 8.) Bingley, UK: Emerald, 2009. Pp. xii, 302. ISBN 9781849506311. $113.47 (Hb).

Reviewed by Thomas Hoffmann, University of Osnabrück

Prosody plays a crucial role for the pragmatic interpretation of spoken utterances. The present volume, which explores the interface between prosody and pragmatics, is therefore a welcome contribution to this new but growing research field.

In addition to the editors’ introduction, ‘Where prosody meets pragmatics: Research at the interface’ (1–20), the volume contains three sections. Part 1, ‘Referential and discourse/textual meaning’, examines the prosodic cues to referential and discourse/textual meaning, while Part 2, ‘Organizing and maintaining interaction’, focuses on speaker change in conversational interaction. Finally, Part 3, ‘Style, stance and interpersonal meaning’, is concerned with various aspects of interpersonal meaning.

Part 1 starts off with a paper by Joe Blythe (23–52) in which he looks at the relationship of prosodic means and referential meaning. In particular, he investigates person reference in Murriny Patha, an Australian Aboriginal language, and shows the importance of global pitch characteristics (i.e. pitch register, tempo, loudness, isochronic timing) as well as paralinguistic features (such as creaky or excited voice). Sasha Calhoun (53–77) addresses the role of probabilistic prosodic prominence marking of ‘kontrasts’ (vs. background) in the Switchboard corpus. Liesbeth Degand and Anne Catherine Simon (79–105) examine different discourse genres with respect to the mapping of syntactic structure and prosodic structure in order to unearth so-called basic discourse units. This part ends with Phoenix Lam’s contribution (107–26) on the prosodic realization of the discourse particle well in the Hong Kong Corpus of Spoken English.

The first paper in Part 2 by Jill House (129–42) takes a relevance theory perspective on turn-taking and investigates the effects of prosody for coherent intonation phrase chunking. In contrast to this, Dagmar Barth-Weingarten (143–81) focuses on the prosodic-phonetic cues on non-floor claiming responses in American telephone conversation and discusses the clusters of prosodic-phonetic features that separate response-blocking from response-allowing cues. Emina Kurtic, Guy J. Brown, and Bill Wells (183–203) study how speakers exploit pitch manipulation for the management of overlapping talk and negation of competing turns. The role of prosodic patterns for the negation of first and second turn in the opening sequences in two-party telephone conversations of radio phone-in programs is surveyed by Beatrice Szczepek Reed (205–22).

In Part 3, Leendert Plug (225–56) investigates the temporal characteristics of turns implementing disagreement or a problematic answer in Dutch corpus data and finds a clear trend for such turns to be produced more slowly. The timing of turn-constructional units and the issue of relatedness of two consecutive turns is explored by Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen (257–76), who postulates that timing-norms are not so much iconic in nature but much more governed by pragmatic, context-sensitive constraints. Finally, Merle Horne (277–88) surveys apparent disfluencies (i.e. filled pauses with a marked voice quality) in spontaneous Swedish speech and shows that these have a pragmatic hedging function (e.g. signalling uncertainty/indecisiveness).

Despite its strong focus on English (with only four out of eleven papers covering languages other than English), this volume is a collection of papers that should be of great interest to anyone working on prosody and/or pragmatics and will surely help inspire much future research in the field.