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Conference Paper

A case for systematic sound symbolism in pragmatics:The role of the first phoneme in question prediction in context

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Roberts,  Sean G.
University of Bristol;
Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Slonimska, A., & Roberts, S. G. (2017). A case for systematic sound symbolism in pragmatics:The role of the first phoneme in question prediction in context. In G. Gunzelmann, A. Howes, T. Tenbrink, & E. Davelaar (Eds.), Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci 2017) (pp. 1090-1095). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-2250-7
Abstract
Turn-taking in conversation is a cognitively demanding process that proceeds rapidly due to interlocutors utilizing a range of cues to aid prediction. In the present study we set out to test recent claims that content question words (also called wh-words) sound similar within languages as an adaptation to help listeners predict that a question is about to be asked. We test whether upcoming questions can be predicted based on the first phoneme of a turn and the prior context. We analyze the Switchboard corpus of English by means of a decision tree to test whether /w/ and /h/ are good statistical cues of upcoming questions in conversation. Based on the results, we perform a controlled experiment to test whether people really use these cues to recognize questions. In both studies we show that both the initial phoneme and the sequential context help predict questions. This contributes converging evidence that elements of languages adapt to pragmatic pressures applied during conversation.