Teaching the Prosodic Constructions of Dialog
Appropriate prosody is critical to effective interaction. Subtle choices can efficiently convey turn-taking intentions, information status, confidence and attitude, among other functions. Native speakers effortlessly use prosody to convey such information, but language learners generally lack these skills. Typically they are taught only a few classic intonation contours, with everything else --- including important uses of volume, speaking rate, and timing --- left for them to somehow assimilate in conversation classes or from study abroad. Most do not.
Recent linguistic research has identified several dozen "prosodic constructions" common in dialog. Crucially, meanings in these models are not tied to single prosodic parameters, features or events; rather they are expressed with patterns of activity over time. For example, a 400-millisecond region of narrow pitch range, bookmarked by preceding and following regions of normal pitch variation, is used to express contrasts and complaints. Most of these constructions are inherently interactive, involving synchronized contributions by both parties, for example, as in backchanneling. Prosodic constructions can, conveniently, be explained by giving students exemplars, but they are still challenging to master, because they involve coupled perception and production, and because they involve tight time constraints.
The workshop will provide participants with the knowledge needed to teach a dozen prosodic constructions of English. Participants will experience diverse teaching methods, including explanations at multiple levels, examples, visualizations, ear-training exercises, rapid-response exercises, games, role-play, and music. Participants will also be briefly presented with theory and methods for characterizing minor and special-purpose prosodic constructions and developing ways to teach them.
Nigel G. Ward received the Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1991. He served ten years on the faculty of the University of Tokyo and is now a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. He recently organized a panel on Prosodic Constructions in Dialog at the International Pragmatics Association meeting. From July 2015 through March 2016 he is a Fulbright scholar at Kyoto University.