Phonetic Convergence in Spoken Communication

Project Details


Conversations can be like dances in many ways. Talkers take turns leading the discussion, careful not to step on each other's words. A successful conversation is often characterized by a meeting of the minds, where the talkers' language and speech mannerisms come into harmony on some level. Socially adept individuals may be considered as experts of the conversational dance, but this expertise is not easily taught or made explicit such that one can ennumerate the subtleties of the dance. In fact, studies of speech perception and speech production often ignore these subtleties and treat conversations more simply as exchanges of speech sounds. The sounds are defined by phonetic features that are set according to the rules of the language as a whole, rather than social and other parameters that come into play for each particular conversation.

With support of the National Science Foundation, Dr. Pardo will investigate the influence of conversational factors on phonetic variation in spoken communication. Prior research has indicated that talkers tend to imitate each other over time, and this imitiation is thought to be a key mechanism in the formation of linguistic communities. However, talkers have also been found to diverge from each other in some cases, and not all talkers in a community are exactly alike. For example, a person of lower status might converge toward the speech of a person of higher status, but not under all circumstances. The experiments in this project are designed to elaborate on the conversational dynamics that lead to both convergence and divergence in phonetic forms, including social affiliation, dominance, and community membership. The results of these experiments will serve to bridge the linguistic, cognitive, and social approaches to the study of speech communication.

Effective start/end date1/05/0630/04/10


  • National Science Foundation: $281,524.00


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