On different forms of linguistic adaptation in spoken dialogues - Speaker: Marc Swerts

On different forms of linguistic adaptation in spoken dialogues

Marc Swerts

Tilburg University, Department of Communication and Cognition

During a spoken interaction, one can often observe that one person, when uttering a specific sentence, takes over linguistic forms that his/her interlocutor had produced in a previous dialogue turn. For instance, a speaker of English may initially feel inclined to use the word mountain to refer to a peak in the landscape, but may switch to hill after having noticed that the partner is using the latter word. Speakers usually do not explicitly negotiate about such word choices, but spontaneously and implicitly come to a lexical agreement. In addition to adaptation at the word level, interlocutors may copy a range of other linguistic features as well, including syntactic structures, prosody, and nonverbal characteristics. Linguistic convergence has been well attested in the literature; however, the intricacies of this phenomenon are still to be uncovered. In particular, it seems unlikely that convergence is a symmetrical process, i.e., that two interlocutors always adapt similarly and equally to each other. For instance, in parent-child interactions or in interactions between partners who are not equally fluent, one can expect, and indeed observe, that adaptation is asymmetric.  If this is indeed the case, then the question arises what factors account for the asymmetry in adaptation? Is the degree of convergence similar for different levels of linguistic structure (e.g. when comparing lexical vs phonological adaptation)? And to what extent are the different forms of convergence correlated (e.g. in the sense that the degree of lexical adaptation could also predict phonological adaptation, and vice versa)? In this colloquium, I will presents results of various experimental studies that address different aspects of linguistic adaptation (looking at lexical, phonetic, prosodic, and nonverbal properties), whereby we focus in particular on contextual factors that may inhibit or boost adaptation.