Rethinking Marginality: panel on interjections & interaction at IPRA

We’re convening a panel at the 16th International Pragmatics Conference in Hong Kong next week. This doubles as the inaugural workshop of my VIDI project Elementary Particles of Conversation. The workshop ties into the overall theme of the conference, which is “Pragmatics at the Margins”. Have a look at the panel programme & abstracts (PDF), or check out the overview below (🔗 links go to the abstracts in the IPRA programme):

Tuesday June 11, room TU107, 13:30-17:00 (including break)

1330 Intro | Negotiating mutual understanding in multimodal interaction: a comparative and experimental approach
Marlou Rasenberg & Mark Dingemanse
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1400 Interjection as coordination device: feedback relevance spaces
Christine Howes & Arash Eshghi
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1430 Probabilistic Pragmatic Inference of Communicative Feedback Meaning
Hendrik Buschmeier & Stefan Kopp
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1500 break (30min)—  
1530 Turn structure & interjections
Christoph Rühlemann
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1600 Hebrew clicks: From the periphery of language to the heart of grammar
Yotam Ben Moshe & Yael Maschler
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1630 Interjections in Action
Isabel Ward & Nigel Ward
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Here’s the panel session abstract:

Rethinking Marginality: Interjections as the beating heart of language

Mark Dingemanse & Marlou Rasenberg
Radboud University & Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Oxford linguist Max Müller once pontificated that “Language begins where interjections end”. Work in pragmatics turns this view on its head by studying language in its natural habitat of face-to-face interaction, where interjections help us every moment to calibrate understanding and use complex language efficiently. A guiding hypothesis for this panel is that at least some interjections are highly adaptive communicative tools, culturally evolved for the job of keeping our social interactional machinery in good repair (Yngve, 1970; Dingemanse 2017). Far from being marginal grunts, words like ‘oh!’, ‘mm’, ‘um’ and ‘huh?’ play central roles in the most sophisticated uses of language. As metacommunicative signals, they are one of the places where theories of mind and pragmatic reasoning come to the surface, and they afford human language a degree of flexibility, robustness and error-tolerance unmatched in other known communication systems.

This session brings together new research on the centrality of pragmatic interjections in language, with a special focus on items and interactional practices that play crucial roles in managing the back and forth of everyday interaction. These phenomena have been studied in disparate disciplines, as seen by the proliferation of available labels, including back channels, discourse markers, phatic interjections, collateral signals, response tokens and non-lexical conversational sounds. In this lies both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to formulate a unified perspective that can provide conceptual foundations and ensure cumulative progress. The opportunity lies in the disciplinary diversity, which provides us with complementary methods that can deliver converging evidence on open questions.

Topics covered in the session include: the central roles of ‘marginal’ items in the pragmatics of human interaction; their linguistic status as lexical or nonlexical items; their multimodal composition, as items combining verbal and visual cues; their semiotic status, combining indexical, iconic and symbolic properties; their cross-linguistic attestations, including patterns of universality and diversity; the paths of semantic and pragmatic change leading to and from them; and their implementation in models of language processing, dialogue systems and conversational agents.

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