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Listeners use intonational phrase boundaries to project turn ends in spoken interaction

Bögels, S., & Torreira, F. (2015). Listeners use intonational phrase boundaries to project turn ends in spoken interaction. Journal of phonetics, 52, 46-57. doi:10.1016/j.wocn.2015.04.004.
In conversation, turn transitions between speakers often occur smoothly, usually within a time window of a few hundred milliseconds. It has been argued, on the basis of a button-press experiment [De Ruiter, J. P., Mitterer, H., & Enfield, N. J. (2006). Projecting the end of a speaker's turn: A cognitive cornerstone of conversation. Language, 82(3):515–535], that participants in conversation rely mainly on lexico-syntactic information when timing and producing their turns, and that they do not need to make use of intonational cues to achieve smooth transitions and avoid overlaps. In contrast to this view, but in line with previous observational studies, our results from a dialogue task and a button-press task involving questions and answers indicate that the identification of the end of intonational phrases is necessary for smooth turn-taking. In both tasks, participants never responded to questions (i.e., gave an answer or pressed a button to indicate a turn end) at turn-internal points of syntactic completion in the absence of an intonational phrase boundary. Moreover, in the button-press task, they often pressed the button at the same point of syntactic completion when the final word of an intonational phrase was cross-spliced at that location. Furthermore, truncated stimuli ending in a syntactic completion point but lacking an intonational phrase boundary led to significantly delayed button presses. In light of these results, we argue that earlier claims that intonation is not necessary for correct turn-end projection are misguided, and that research on turn-taking should continue to consider intonation as a source of turn-end cues along with other linguistic and communicative phenomena.
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