A Prosodic Feature that Invites Back-Channels in Egyptian Arabic

Nigel Ward and Yaffa Al Bayyari

Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics, Volume XX, Mustafa Mughazy (ed.), John Benjamins, pp 187-206.

One of the signs of listening attentively and supportively is occasional back-channel feedback, small utterances produced by the listener while the speaker continues his turn. To do this appropriately it is necessary to understand when back-channels are and are not welcome. In Egyptian Arabic, times when the listener is especially welcome to back-channel are indicated by various prosodic features produced by the speaker, including a steep pitch downslope. This particular feature contrasts with the downward pitch staircase (Kadenz) characteristic of turn-yields. This finding is based on qualitative and quantitative analysis of the contexts of occurrence of 660 back-channels in 168 minutes of Egyptian Arabic telephone dialogs from the Callhome corpus.

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