Comparative feedback: Cultural shaping of response systems in interaction

Levinson, S. C., & Brown, P. (2016). Comparative feedback: Cultural shaping of response systems in interaction. Talk presented at the 7th Conference of the International Society for Gesture Studies (ISGS7). Paris, France. 2016-07-18 - 2016-07-22.
There is some evidence that systems of minimal response (‘feedback’, ‘back-channel’, ‘reactive tokens’) may vary systematically across speakers of different languages and cultural backgrounds (e.g., Maynard, 1986; Clancy et al., 1996). The questions we address here are these: what is the nature of such differences? And what difference do they make to how do these differences affect the interactional system as a whole? We explore this these questions by looking in detail at conversational data from two languages and cultures: Y ́elˆı Dnye, spoken on Rossel Island (Papua New Guinea), and Tzeltal Mayan, spoken in southern Mexico. The Rossel system is gaze-based, interlocutors tend to maintain a high level of mutual gaze, and a large proportion of feedback signals – many nonverbal – occur during the production of the turn that is being reacted to. Tzeltal speakers, in contrast, practice gaze avoidance, and produce very few visual feedback signals, but instead relying on frequent verbal response signals at the end of each TCU, and an elaborate convention of repeating (parts of) the prior turn to display understanding and agreement. We outline the repertoire of response tokens for each language, illustrate their differential usage, and suggest some consequences of these properties of turn-taking systems for interactional style and for on- line processing
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