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Tracking the Common Ground in Dialogues: Cultural and Genre Effects Open Access


Other title
common ground
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Morrow, Keely P
Supervisor and department
Järvikivi, Juhani (Linguistics)
Colston, Herbert (Linguistics)
Examining committee member and department
Colston, Herbert (Linguistics)
Nadasdi, Terry (Linguistics)
Li, Xiaoting (East Asian Studies)
Järvikivi, Juhani (Linguistics)
Department of Linguistics

Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-11:Fall 2017
Master of Science
Degree level
A socio-cognitive approach to language assumes language is multimodal, embodied in general cognition, and modulated by contextual cues (van Dijk, 2014). Research on situation models confirms that language is processed multimodally and experiences top-down influence from pre-existing knowledge in memory (Kurby & Zacks, 2015; Therriault & Rinck, 2012; Zwaan, 2014; 2015). However, most of this research has been done using written narratives and therefore does not account for contextual cues that may arise in spoken dialogue contexts. Furthermore, context and memory have been shown to modulate how participants interact with the common ground, which is always present in spoken dialogues (Colston in Kecskes & Mey, 2008; Gibbs & Colston in Giora & Haugh, 2017; Duran et al., 2011; Gann & Barr, 2014; Fukumura, 2014). The first goal of the present study was to investigate the contextual influence of spoken dialogue and genre on event-indexing factors (protagonists/objects, time, setting, cause/effect relationships, goals/plans of the protagonists) and to see if new factors were elicited in spoken dialogue. As participants incorporate these factors into their situation models, difference in individual pre-existing knowledge would result in unique representations for each participant and therefore modulate overlaps in shared knowledge. Thus, the second goal was to investigate how differences in pre-existing cultural knowledge affected participants’ ability to establish common ground with each other. This was done by manipulating the linguistic and cultural background of the participants included in the study. The present study analysed videos of 10 minute of spoken dialogues between 72 undergraduate students at the University of Alberta (36 pairs). Participants were either Canadian native English speakers (NS) or non-native international students (NN). They were divided into pairs of NS-NS, NS-NN, and NN-NN. Furthermore, participants were divided into either gossip or summarizing task conditions. In the gossip conditions participants received the prompt “Discuss Donald Trump”. In the summarizing condition they read two different articles about Donald Trump and summarized them to each other. The 6 resulting conditions (e.g. Gossip: NS-NS) were counterbalanced by genre and pairing, with 6 pairs in each condition. Videos were coded for instances of event-indexing factors or other factors produced with the same frequency; feedback cues indicating successful or successful establishment of common ground; and pragmatic structures or sequences indicating a reliance on the common ground. Analysis was done using logistic regression models. The results suggest speaker attitude is as important as previously established event-indexing variables in dialogues. Speaker-attitude, setting, and cause/effect relationships occurred significantly more in gossip conditions, whereas goals/plans occurred significantly more in summarising conditions. Both NN and NS gave more feedback indicating understanding when speaking to a NS than NN. NS were more successful at establishing referents in conversations. Congruent pairs (NN with NN-NN; NS with NS-NS) were more successful at reducing the amount of linguistic information required to convey a concept. In conclusion, this study shows the genre of discourse modulates the information tracked and cultural background of interlocutors modulates how that information is understood in a discourse.
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