Language in the body: Multimodality in grammar and discourse

  • Author / Creator
    Hinnell, Jennifer
  • In this dissertation, I investigate the role of the body as a critical part of linguistic meaning-making, taking a cognitive and usage-based approach to language. These approaches prioritize the investigation of the linguistic conventions of everyday interactive contexts, namely, of spontaneous conversation, since they posit the importance of spoken language, rather than speaker’s intuition or written text, as primary data. As Enfield (Enfield 2017: 3) puts it, conversation “is where language lives and breathes.” Placing face-to-face conversation at the centre of linguistic study requires a consideration of the multiple modalities involved in language in interaction. In addition to linguistic features in the utterance, these include movements of the body such as manual gestures, head movements, shoulder shrugs, postural shifts, eye-gaze and brow movements, known collectively as co-speech behaviour.
    To examine the contribution of the body to linguistic meaning, I investigate language use in interaction across three broadly construed linguistic domains: ASPECT, CONTRAST, and DISCOURSE NAVIGATION. I use the Red Hen archive, an international multimedia database of broadcast media featuring over 400,000 hours of video and 5-billion words of time-aligned transcripts of largely North American English, to examine linguistic and co-speech behaviour in hundreds of spontaneous conversations by a wide range of speakers over these three linguistic domains. I search for a range of linguistic expressions (as text strings in Red Hen) that characterize each domain and describe the embodied structures that accompany them. Using a combination of established (Bressem 2013) and novel annotation methodologies, I examine the manual gestures and movements of the head, shoulders, face, and eyes, using quantitative and statistical methods of data analysis.
    In the first case study (Chapter 3), I explore the multimodal expression of event structure expressed through ASPECT-marking constructions. In the second set of studies (Chapter 4), I examine the behaviours associated with the marking of CONTRAST in speech. Finally, in the third set of case studies (Chapter 5), I investigate the co-speech behaviours aligned with linguistic expressions that help speakers signal the way they move through a conversation, i.e. expressions of DISCOURSE NAVIGATION which involve stance-taking at levels well beyond the simple sentence. The findings strongly suggest that the embodied representation of these domains is conventionalized and, furthermore, reveal how different articulators (e.g. gesture, head, shoulder, and torso movement) are recruited uniquely in conventionalized ways in each of these domains. For instance, stance is strongly associated with upper body movement as well as the use of manual gesture.
    This dissertation marshals evidence for the coordinated and recurrent bodily enactment of grammatical and discourse-level expressions. Thus, its aim is to contribute to a more robust understanding of the role of the body in the specific domains addressed here and more broadly in natural discourse. This focus on face-to-face interaction as a starting point for linguistic description and language documentation has important implications for the study of languages that rely predominantly on verbal and visual signals (e.g. signed and oral Indigenous languages), in addition to contributing to developments in multimedia technologies, e.g. in virtual agents that rely on human-like language use and animated dialogue in films and video games.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2020
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
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