ICCA2018: Hofstetter – Moans in board games

Hofstetter presented this talk at the International Conference on Conversation Analysis, Loughborough, UK, July 2018.

In this paper, I examine non-lexical vocalizations (NLVs) in board game interactions, focusing on ‘moans’. Moan tokens are prolonged (M=0.5 seconds), voiced, falling-pitch response cries that are typically at lower pitch than surrounding talk. Moans respond to a prior game event, such as someone taking the speaker’s game piece. Moaning has not yet been described in the interactional literature as a NLV (the closest being pain cries, Heath, [1989]). Edwards (2005) has examined how speakers design their complaints to avoid being labelled a moaner. Moans in this corpus are treated as complaint-relevant, and this paper will investigate how moans differ from verbalized complaints. This paper is based on a 20-hour corpus of competitive board game interactions (61 tokens in corpus).

Moans are typically done by the person who suffers most from a move – someone who has lost pieces or points. That the moans are treated as complaints is seen in sympathy or gloating from other players, as well as additional verbalized complaining. However, moans never receive an alteration of the move that prompted the moan. In fact, if moans are repeated, players can be sanctioned as taking the game too seriously, or the moans can be treated as insincere. For example:

1  Kat: That one.

2  Joh: Aw:[#::h,]

3  Kat:        [I’m a]fraid so,

4   (0.5)

5  Kat: |Uh::m:,

6  kat: |gaze @ cards*–>

7     (0.3)

8  Joh: Aohh::hhah[hh

9  Kat:                      [You say this, an’ I don’t trust that you say

10  this (.) with any +interest of it’s +actually a=

11 joh:                        +…………………….+smile—->

12 Kat: =dangerous piece. |.hh uhm,

13 kat:        ——————-> |gaze->J

As Kat takes John’s piece, John moans once (L2), receiving mild sympathy (L3), but after his repeated moan (L8), Kat suggests that John is pretending to be disappointed, when in fact the loss of that piece was not ‘dangerous’. Kat treats John’s moan as pursuing an alternate motive.

Herein lies the crux of complaining in board games: one must demonstrate commitment to ‘really’ playing and attempting to win, however one must simultaneously be stoic in the face of misfortune and accept competition as non-serious. Moans are especially useful for accomplishing this in-between task, as they can display (or ‘reveal’) the player as affected by a move, without having to commit to a specific complaint. Moans straddle multiple action trajectories by being defeasible in interpretation.

This paper contributes to our understanding of how NLVs can be used in alternation or combination with lexicalized actions. It also expands on how the production of NLVs can be playful in and of themselves; in comparing to non-play NLVs, I will explore the possibility that dramatic pitch and vowel changes, along with prolonged production, may allow players to literally play with the production of a complaint.

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