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Keep talking while I plan my turn - (Un-)informativity at turn transitions


Barthel,  Mathias
INTERACT, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
International Max Planck Research School for Language Sciences, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Barthel, M. (2015). Keep talking while I plan my turn - (Un-)informativity at turn transitions. Poster presented at the 28th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, Los Angeles (CA, USA).

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002B-84DD-9
The timing of participants' contributions in conversational turn-taking is well organized, with usually very short gaps between turns [1, 2]. How such timing is possible was recently described as a psycholinguistic puzzle, since comprehension of the incoming turn and planning of the next turn must run in parallel in next speakers' minds to achieve short gaps between turns [3]. Psycholinguistic studies have shown that incoming linguistic material interferes with production planning in monologic tasks [4], giving rise to the question of what the magnitude of this interference is in conversational situations, given the observed timing of turn-taking. Planning of the next turn can usually only start after the previous turn's message was understood, which is often already possible before the end of the previous turn. If more uninformative (i.e. reaction-irrelevant) material follo ws after this point, one hypothesis is that it does not interfere as severely with planning as was observed in monologic tasks. Hence, production planning could start without interfer ence as early as the incoming message is understood. Alternatively, the interference observed in monologic tasks could also hold in conversational situations, with uninformative turn-final material giving next speakers more time to plan their response than it costs them. In this case, next speakers should still gain some time for planning while further, uninformative material is coming in. Contrary to both these hypotheses, production planning could be delayed by interfering incoming speech. This paper tests these hypotheses, using a no vel task-oriented dialogue paradigm with a confederate and pre-recorded critical sentences in German, combining ecological validity with experimental control. The looking behavior and vo cal response latencies of 38 participants were analyzed. Participants saw 96 critical items with 3 to 5 natural objects on a screen, some of which were named by the confederate. They then had to identify and name the objects that had not been named. The following syntactic structures of German main clauses were exploited to manipulate the informativity (task-redundant sentence final verb form or not) and predictability (ambiguous main verb/auxiliary or unambiguous main verb/modal verb in second position) of the critical sentences' turn ends to investigate their effect on the timing of participants' language comprehension and planning: Ich habe (I have) + object list.; Ich habe (I have) + object list + besorgt (gotten).; Ich sehe (I see) + object list.; Ich kann (I can) + object list + besorgen (get). Gaze direction data was analyzed using growth-curve analysis. In all conditions, proportions of looks towards the objects that were named first by the participants increased as soon as the last object of the confederate's tu rn was recognizable. However, these proportions increased faster in conditions without a task-redun dant verb form at the turn end. Yet, in these conditions, participants looked significantly longer at the objects they would name before they came up with their labels than in conditions without redundan t, sentence-final verbs. These findings were not modulated by the predictability of the uninformative sentence-final verb form. The study's results suggest (1) that planning of one's turn is launched as early as possible, i.e. as soon as the previous turn's message was understood, i rrespective of further uninformative material, and (2) th at planning during comprehension of further incoming speech is less efficient than during silence, even with task-redundant material, but still shortens the gap between turns. This study thus shows that even though comprehension also interferes with production in a conversational setting, uninform ative material before the turn end buys next speakers time to be able to start to articulate thei r next turn in a timely fashion. This effect could be strategically exploited by interlocutors to manage smooth turn-timing in conversation.