Inaugural workshop report: Ideophones and non-lexicals

Written by Agnes Löfgren & Hannah Pelikan

See also Mark Dingemanse’s notes on the event on his website: Part 1; Part 2.

Inspirational Keynote Lectures

To kick off our project and to examine and discuss vocalizations from a broad range of settings, we held an inaugural workshop on “Ideophones and Non-Lexical Vocalizations” on November 28-30. Dr. Mark Dingemanse from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands opened the workshop with an exciting seminar talk on “Rethinking Marginality”. Mark introduced the distinction between “rara” (truly exceptional phenomena in language) and “marginalia” (phenomena that are common but have largely been ignored by linguists, such as interjections, gesture and iconic words), arguing that ideophones and non-lexical vocalizations fall into the latter category. Presenting his work on “huh?”, he illustrated that exploring the boundaries of what has traditionally been accepted as worth studying can yield very interesting and highly relevant results. We continued to inspect “ideophones” through some nice video examples of how Siwu speakers describe the qualities of gunpowder.

On the second day of the workshop we started with an inspiring presentation by Prof. Richard Ogden from University of York in the UK on “Audibly not saying something with clicks”. Richard started out by defining clicks as belonging to both vocal and non-verbal aspects of language. He subsequently introduced two different types of clicks: Standalone central clicks are produced when a response is sequentially projected but is somehow interactionally difficult, as in negative evaluations or complaints (e.g. a wife responding to her husband’s comment on another woman’s looks). Post-completion lateral clicks in contrast seem to be associated with self-praise and collusion (e.g. to indicate a (possibly obscene) meaning of an utterance that is not explicitly verbalized). Afterwards, Mark shared some interesting methodological insights into his work and we looked at some cool video-snippets, among others folk definitions of certain ideophones.


Getting an overview of the data through rapid data sessions

After lunch, we tried a new format of rapid data sessions where each presenter had 30 minutes at their disposal. This was a perfect opportunity for everybody to discover a wide variety of non-lexical vocalizations in a range of different data. It also proved to be a great spark for later discussions on the nature of NLVs. Emily Hofstetter presented her board game data, with a particularly interesting example of non-lexical sounds accounting for silence during board game turns. Thereafter, Rasmus Persson shared data from telephone conversations in French, with the variations of oui/ouais (“yes”/”yeah”) and what their interchangeability possibly does interactionally. Hannah Pelikan showed video-recordings of interactions with NAO, a humanoid robot, and the discussion focused on the non-lexical sounds used by the robot and how they were interpreted by its interactant. In the band data presented by Agnes Löfgren, we saw a case of a non-lexical vocalization (paired with embodied action) depicting a drum beat, and discussed the constitution and context of the NLV, as well as how it was related to the simultaneous embodied action. Asta Cekaite then shared her data on preschool children crying, highlighting the use of NLVs of the surrounding adults, in order to attend to and monitor the crying. Data from a dance practice was presented by Leelo Keevallik, and we discussed the different non-lexical sounds and how they were correlated to the intended movements of the body while teaching the dance. Finally, Samu Pehkonen shared his data of two people running through a forest and how a jump of one of the participants was monitored by an NLV of another participant.


Opening the discussion about NLVs

We concluded the data sessions with a brief discussion. Some of the other things we covered during the discussions was the interplay between body and voice while vocalizing non-lexically, and the degree to which they are linguistic conventions, rather than being the result of physiological states. We also discussed to what the NLVs we saw during the afternoon fit Clark’s distinction into depictions and descriptions. After the discussion we felt inspired, but very hungry indeed. Luckily, we had a lovely dinner waiting at restaurant Pappa Grappa’s in Linköping. The discussions from the day continued over our delicious meal. A very tasty, and inspiring, evening!


Extending the understanding of NLVs through more rapid data sessions

We continued with more data sessions on Friday morning. Nigel Musk presented his fascinating data on code-switching in bilingual Wales, discussing what “oohs” really did interactionally. Joanna Skubisz held a presentation on her quantitative work with non-lexical vocalizations in choreographer-dancer sessions. Jessica La similarly presented her master’s thesis on pain cries, supervised by Ann Weatherall. Sharing data from a family dinner, Sally Wiggins showed us some interesting uses of NLVs in parent-children interaction during a family dinner. Finally, Kätlin Aa introduced very interesting qualitative and quantitative data on how breathing interplays with turn-taking, showing an example of a participant holding her breath while waiting to take the turn.


Wrapping up

We concluded the workshop with a short stroll and lunch at Restaurang Husman, during which we picked up on observations we made during the data sessions, reflected on what we learned and started to think about future work. We also discussed the term “non-lexical vocalizations”, since it did not seem to represent all workshop attendees’ work equally well and there may be some issues with it. For now, however, we agreed that it is the best option we have – until we come up with a better term! Perhaps we now have another goal for the project…