Prosodic Constructions in Dialog banner

Panel at the 14th International Pragmatics Conference, July 28, 2015

Prosodic constructions are recurring temporal patterns of prosodic activity that express specific meanings and functions. These typically involve not only pitch contours but also energy, rate, timing and articulation properties, and may involve synchronized contributions by two participants.

New: Modeling Meaning-Bearing Configurations of Prosodic Features, a special session at ICPhS 2019

See also Challenges in Studying Intonation and its Pragmatic Functions, Special Issue of the Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 2018.

Panel Report by Marina Cantarutti: part 1, part 2


Session 1: Compositional and Constructional Aspects of Prosody

Inspect: Innovating Speech Elicitation Techniques. Oliver Niebuhr

Computational decomposition and reassembly of rich global prosody. Yi Xu, Fang Liu, Santitham Prom-on

Prosodic Constructions for Contrast, Complaint, and Contradiction; and their Common Elements (abstract). Nigel Ward

Discussant: Oliver Niebuhr

Session 2: Prosodic Constructions and Turn-Taking

Prosodic Matching and Turn Competition in Multi-Party Conversations Jan Gorisch, Emina Kurtic, Ella Page, Bill Wells, Guy Brown, Laurent Prevot

Pitch matching - absolute or relative? On prosodic orientation across speaker changes. Melisa Stevanovic, Mietta Lennes

Some notes on prosody, processing, and turn-taking. Jan De Ruiter

Discussant: Richard Ogden

Session 3: Prosodic Constructions and Action

The prosodic deletion of action boundaries in German interaction. Beatrice Szczepek Reed

Repetition, prosody and sequential organisation in French talk-in-interaction. Rasmus Persson

Interpersonal Functions of Prosodic Greeting Constructions: Evidence from Experiments with Robots. Maria Ibh Crone Aarestrup, Kerstin Fischer.

Discussant: Richard Ogden

Session 4: Prosodic Constructions and Gesture

Parallels between hand gestures and acoustic prosodic features in turn-taking. Margaret Zellers, David House

Study of the prosody-gesture interface in the acquisition of "preterito perfeito simples" tense in Brazilian Portuguese. Marcia Cristina Romero Lopes, Christelle Dodane, Alessandra Del Re

A Multimodal Analysis of the Mm Token in Chilean Spanish Interaction. Veronica Gonzalez Temer, Richard Ogden

Discussant: Oliver Niebuhr

Motivation and Scope

Appropriate prosody is critical to effective interaction. Subtle variations in pitch, loudness, rate and aspects of timing can efficiently convey turn-taking intentions, information status, confidence, and so on. Native speakers effortlessly use prosody to convey such information, but there are still significant gaps in our knowledge about the forms and functions of prosody in unscripted dialog.

In the 1970s, specific intonation contours were identified and linked to specific meanings and functions. Critically, meanings in such models are not tied to a single prosodic parameter nor to a single prosodic event in time, rather they are pattern-based. This line of work was variously criticized as insufficiently reductionist, too abstract, difficult to apply to naturally occurring talk, monolog-oriented, hard to formalize, neglectful of prosodic features other than pitch, and lacking experimental support.

More recent work has overcome many of these problems, elucidating, for example, the prosodic behaviors involved in complaining (O01), giving in (N13), inviting back-channels (W14), producing upgraded assessments (O12, W14), questioning and using questions for various purposes (H03, H04, H10, L12, CK12, S12), calling (DO13), contradicting (H03), topic transitions (CK04), summing up (P13) and turn-taking (G12). The panel will discuss these constructions and others, compare approaches and models, and situate this work within the larger enterprise of describing dialog practices.

This panel will include empirical, methodological, and theoretical contributions from diverse approaches: conversation analysis, experimental, statistical, modeling, and others. It will address the form and function of specific prosodic constructions; multi-modal investigations; work on the nature, utility, and limitations of construction-based approaches to dialog prosody; and work on how the realizations of prosodic constructions vary, for example, with other factors affecting prosodic form, with temporal and cognitive limitations that constrain speakers, with individual speakers, and with multiple simultaneous goals, whether coherent or misaligned.



Nigel Ward
University of Texas at El Paso

Richard Ogden

University of York

Oliver Niebuhr
University of Southern Denmark

Nancy Hedberg
Simon Fraser University


CK04: Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth. 2004. Prosody and Sequence Organization in English Conversation. in Sound Patterns in Interaction, Couper-Kuhlen and Ford, eds., Benjamins, pp 335-376.

CK12: Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth. 2012. Some Truths and Untruths about Final Intonation in Conversational Questions. in Questions: Formal, Functional, and Interactional Perspectives. Jan P. de Ruiter, ed. Cambridge pp 123-145. link

DO13: Day-O'Connell, Jeremy. 2013. Speech, Song, and the Minor Third: An Acoustic Study of the Stylized Interjection. Music Perception, 30, pp 441--462. (see also the video on this prosodic construction)

E15: Estelles-Arguedas, Maria. 2015. Expressing Evidentiality Through Prosody? Prosodic Voicing in reported speech in Spanish colloquial conversations. Journal of Pragmatics, in press. link

G12: Gorisch, J., B. Wells, and G. J. Brown. 2012. Pitch Contour Matching and Interactional Alignment across Turns: An Acoustic Investigation. Language and Speech 55, pp 57-76. link

H03: Hedberg, Nancy, Sosa, Juan M., Pitch Contours in Negative Sentences. 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, 2003. link

H04: Hedberg, Nancy, Sosa, Juan M. and Fadden, Lorna. Meanings and configurations of questions in English. Speech Prosody 2004. link

H10: Hedberg, Nancy, Juan M. Sosa, Emrah Gorgulu and Morgan Mameni. 2010. The Prosody and Meaning of Wh-Questions in American English. Speech Prosody. link

L12: Lai, Catherine. Response Types and the Prosody of Declaratives. Speech Prosody 2012. link

N13: Niebuhr, Oliver. 2013. Resistance is futile: The intonation between continuation rise and calling contour in German. Interspeech, pp 132-136. link

O01: Ogden, Richard. 2001. Turn Transition, Creak and Glottal Stop in Finnish Talk-in-Interaction. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 31. link

O06: Ogden, Richard. 2006. Phonetics and Social Action in Agreements and Disagreements. Journal of Pragmatics 38: 1752-1775. link

O10: Ogden, Richard (2010). Prosodic constructions in making complaints. In Dagmar Barth-Weingarten, Elisabeth Reber and Margret Selting (Eds.). Prosody in interaction. Amsterdam, Benjamins, 81-103.

O12: Ogden, Richard. 2012. Prosodies in Conversation. in Prosodies: Context, Function and Communication, edited by Oliver Niebuhr, 201-208. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

P13: Persson, Rasmus. 2013. Intonation and Sequential Organization: Formulations in French Talk-in-interaction. Journal of Pragmatics, 57, pp 19-38. link

R13a: Rao, Rajiv. 2013. Intonational Variation in Third Party Complaints in Spanish. Journal of Speech Sciences 3, pp 141-168. link

R13b: Rao, Rajiv. 2013. Prosodic Consequences of Sarcasm versus Sincerity in Mexican Spanish. Concentric: Studies in Linguistics 29, pp 33-59. link

S12: Strömbergsson, Sofia, Jens Edlund and David House. 2012. Prosodic measurements and question types in the Spontal corpus of Swedish dialogues. Interspeech 2012, pp. 839-842. link

SR11: Szczepek Reed, Beatrice. 2011. Beyond the Particular: Prosody and the Coordination of Actions. Language and Speech, 11, pp 13-34. link

T15: Torreira, Francisco and Emma Valtersson. 2015. Phonetic and Visual Cues to Questionhood in French Conversation. Phonetica. 72, pp 20-42.

W14: Ward, Nigel G. 2014. Automatic Discovery of Simply-Composable Prosodic Elements. Speech Prosody 2014, pp 915-919. link

W15: Ward, Nigel G., Paola Gallardo. 2017. Non-Native Differences in Prosodic-Construction Use. Dialogue and Discourse, 8, pp 1-31. link