Stephen C. Levinson

Publications

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8
  • Barthel, M., Meyer, A. S., & Levinson, S. C. (2017). Next speakers plan their turn early and speak after turn-final ‘go-signals’. Frontiers in Psychology, 8: 393. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00393.

    Abstract

    In conversation, turn-taking is usually fluid, with next speakers taking their turn right after the end of the previous turn. Most, but not all, previous studies show that next speakers start to plan their turn early, if possible already during the incoming turn. The present study makes use of the list-completion paradigm (Barthel et al., 2016), analyzing speech onset latencies and eye-movements of participants in a task-oriented dialogue with a confederate. The measures are used to disentangle the contributions to the timing of turn-taking of early planning of content on the one hand and initiation of articulation as a reaction to the upcoming turn-end on the other hand. Participants named objects visible on their computer screen in response to utterances that did, or did not, contain lexical and prosodic cues to the end of the incoming turn. In the presence of an early lexical cue, participants showed earlier gaze shifts toward the target objects and responded faster than in its absence, whereas the presence of a late intonational cue only led to faster response times and did not affect the timing of participants' eye movements. The results show that with a combination of eye-movement and turn-transition time measures it is possible to tease apart the effects of early planning and response initiation on turn timing. They are consistent with models of turn-taking that assume that next speakers (a) start planning their response as soon as the incoming turn's message can be understood and (b) monitor the incoming turn for cues to turn-completion so as to initiate their response when turn-transition becomes relevant
  • Bögels, S., & Levinson, S. C. (2017). The brain behind the response: Insights into turn-taking in conversation from neuroimaging. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 50, 71-89. doi:10.1080/08351813.2017.1262118.

    Abstract

    This paper reviews the prospects for the cross-fertilization of conversation-analytic (CA) and neurocognitive studies of conversation, focusing on turn-taking. Although conversation is the primary ecological niche for language use, relatively little brain research has focused on interactive language use, partly due to the challenges of using brain-imaging methods that are controlled enough to perform sound experiments, but still reflect the rich and spontaneous nature of conversation. Recently, though, brain researchers have started to investigate conversational phenomena, for example by using 'overhearer' or controlled interaction paradigms. We review neuroimaging studies related to turn-taking and sequence organization, phenomena historically described by CA. These studies for example show early action recognition and immediate planning of responses midway during an incoming turn. The review discusses studies with an eye to a fruitful interchange between CA and neuroimaging research on conversation and an indication of how these disciplines can benefit from each other.
  • Greenhill, S. J., Wu, C.-H., Hua, X., Dunn, M., Levinson, S. C., & Gray, R. D. (2017). Evolutionary dynamics of language systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(42), E8822-E8829. doi:10.1073/pnas.1700388114.

    Abstract

    Understanding how and why language subsystems differ in their evolutionary dynamics is a fundamental question for historical and comparative linguistics. One key dynamic is the rate of language change. While it is commonly thought that the rapid rate of change hampers the reconstruction of deep language relationships beyond 6,000–10,000 y, there are suggestions that grammatical structures might retain more signal over time than other subsystems, such as basic vocabulary. In this study, we use a Dirichlet process mixture model to infer the rates of change in lexical and grammatical data from 81 Austronesian languages. We show that, on average, most grammatical features actually change faster than items of basic vocabulary. The grammatical data show less schismogenesis, higher rates of homoplasy, and more bursts of contact-induced change than the basic vocabulary data. However, there is a core of grammatical and lexical features that are highly stable. These findings suggest that different subsystems of language have differing dynamics and that careful, nuanced models of language change will be needed to extract deeper signal from the noise of parallel evolution, areal readaptation, and contact.
  • Hömke, P., Holler, J., & Levinson, S. C. (2017). Eye blinking as addressee feedback in face-to-face conversation. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 50, 54-70. doi:10.1080/08351813.2017.1262143.

    Abstract

    Does blinking function as a type of feedback in conversation? To address this question, we built a corpus of Dutch conversations, identified short and long addressee blinks during extended turns, and measured their occurrence relative to the end of turn constructional units (TCUs), the location where feedback typically occurs. Addressee blinks were indeed timed to the end of TCUs. Also, long blinks were more likely than short blinks to occur during mutual gaze, with nods or continuers, and their occurrence was restricted to sequential contexts in which signaling understanding was particularly relevant, suggesting a special signaling capacity of long blinks.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2017). Living with Manny's dangerous idea. In G. Raymond, G. H. Lerner, & J. Heritage (Eds.), Enabling human conduct: Studies of talk-in-interaction in honor of Emanuel A. Schegloff (pp. 327-349). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2017). Speech acts. In Y. Huang (Ed.), Oxford handbook of pragmatics (pp. 199-216). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199697960.013.22.

    Abstract

    The essential insight of speech act theory was that when we use language, we perform actions—in a more modern parlance, core language use in interaction is a form of joint action. Over the last thirty years, speech acts have been relatively neglected in linguistic pragmatics, although important work has been done especially in conversation analysis. Here we review the core issues—the identifying characteristics, the degree of universality, the problem of multiple functions, and the puzzle of speech act recognition. Special attention is drawn to the role of conversation structure, probabilistic linguistic cues, and plan or sequence inference in speech act recognition, and to the centrality of deep recursive structures in sequences of speech acts in conversation

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  • Magyari, L., De Ruiter, J. P., & Levinson, S. C. (2017). Temporal preparation for speaking in question-answer sequences. Frontiers in Psychology, 8: 211. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00211.

    Abstract

    In every-day conversations, the gap between turns of conversational partners is most frequently between 0 and 200 ms. We were interested how speakers achieve such fast transitions. We designed an experiment in which participants listened to pre-recorded questions about images presented on a screen and were asked to answer these questions. We tested whether speakers already prepare their answers while they listen to questions and whether they can prepare for the time of articulation by anticipating when questions end. In the experiment, it was possible to guess the answer at the beginning of the questions in half of the experimental trials. We also manipulated whether it was possible to predict the length of the last word of the questions. The results suggest when listeners know the answer early they start speech production already during the questions. Speakers can also time when to speak by predicting the duration of turns. These temporal predictions can be based on the length of anticipated words and on the overall probability of turn durations.

    Supplementary material

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  • Roberts, S. G., & Levinson, S. C. (2017). Conversation, cognition and cultural evolution: A model of the cultural evolution of word order through pressures imposed from turn taking in conversation. Interaction studies, 18(3), 402-429. doi:10.1075/is.18.3.06rob.

    Abstract

    This paper outlines a first attempt to model the special constraints that arise in language processing in conversation, and to explore the implications such functional considerations may have on language typology and language change. In particular, we focus on processing pressures imposed by conversational turn-taking and their consequences for the cultural evolution of the structural properties of language. We present an agent-based model of cultural evolution where agents take turns at talk in conversation. When the start of planning for the next turn is constrained by the position of the verb, the stable distribution of dominant word orders across languages evolves to match the actual distribution reasonably well. We suggest that the interface of cognition and interaction should be a more central part of the story of language evolution.

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