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Divergence in dialogue

  • Healey, Patrick G. T.
  • Purver, Matthew
  • Howes, Christine
Abstract:
One of the best known claims about human communication is that people's behaviour and language use converge during conversation. It has been proposed that these patterns can be explained by automatic, cross-person priming. A key test case is structural priming: does exposure to one syntactic structure, in production or comprehension, make reuse of that structure (by the same or another speaker) more likely? It has been claimed that syntactic repetition caused by structural priming is ubiquitous in conversation. However, previous work has not tested for general syntactic repetition effects in ordinary conversation independently of lexical repetition. Here we analyse patterns of syntactic repetition in two large corpora of unscripted everyday conversations. Our results show that when lexical repetition is taken into account there is no general tendency for people to repeat their own syntactic constructions. More importantly, people repeat each other's syntactic constructions less than would be expected by chance; i.e., people systematically diverge from one another in their use of syntactic constructions. We conclude that in ordinary conversation the structural priming effects described in the literature are overwhelmed by the need to actively engage with our conversational partners and respond productively to what they say.
Research areas:
Year:
2014
Type of Publication:
Article
Journal:
PLoS ONE
Volume:
9
Number:
6
Pages:
e98598
Month:
June
ISSN:
1932-6203
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