Working together: Contributions of corpus analyses and experimental psycholinguistics to understanding conversation
As conversation is the most important way of using language, linguists and psychologists should combine forces to investigate how interlocutors deal with the cognitive demands arising during conversation. Linguistic analyses of corpora of conversation are needed to understand the structure of conversations, and experimental work is indispensable for understanding the underlying cognitive processes. We argue that joint consideration of corpus and experimental data is most informative when the utterances elicited in a lab experiment match those extracted from a corpus in relevant ways. This requirement to compare like with like seems obvious but is not trivial to achieve. To illustrate this approach, we report two experiments where responses to polar (yes/no) questions were elicited in the lab and the response latencies were compared to gaps between polar questions and answers in a corpus of conversational speech. We found, as expected, that responses were given faster when they were easy to plan and planning could be initiated earlier than when they were harder to plan and planning was initiated later. Overall, in all but one condition, the latencies were longer than one would expect based on the analyses of corpus data. We discuss the implication of this partial match between the data sets and more generally how corpus and experimental data can best be combined in studies of conversation.
Publication typeJournal article