Information distribution patterns in naturalistic dialogue differ across languages

Trujillo, J. P., & Holler, J. (2024). Information distribution patterns in naturalistic dialogue differ across languages. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. Advance online publication. doi:10.3758/s13423-024-02452-0.
The natural ecology of language is conversation, with individuals taking turns speaking to communicate in a back-and-forth fashion. Language in this context involves strings of words that a listener must process while simultaneously planning their own next utterance. It would thus be highly advantageous if language users distributed information within an utterance in a way that may facilitate this processing–planning dynamic. While some studies have investigated how information is distributed at the level of single words or clauses, or in written language, little is known about how information is distributed within spoken utterances produced during naturalistic conversation. It also is not known how information distribution patterns of spoken utterances may differ across languages. We used a set of matched corpora (CallHome) containing 898 telephone conversations conducted in six different languages (Arabic, English, German, Japanese, Mandarin, and Spanish), analyzing more than 58,000 utterances, to assess whether there is evidence of distinct patterns of information distributions at the utterance level, and whether these patterns are similar or differed across the languages. We found that English, Spanish, and Mandarin typically show a back-loaded distribution, with higher information (i.e., surprisal) in the last half of utterances compared with the first half, while Arabic, German, and Japanese showed front-loaded distributions, with higher information in the first half compared with the last half. Additional analyses suggest that these patterns may be related to word order and rate of noun and verb usage. We additionally found that back-loaded languages have longer turn transition times (i.e.,time between speaker turns)
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