Keevallik: Vocalizing and the body in interaction, Stockholm

Keevallik is presenting a talk at Stockholm University, May 22nd 2019.

Vocalizing and the body in interaction

The human body is regularly ignored in studies of language. Based on data from occasions of joint physical work, such as clearing a sheep stable, and instruction of dance and pilates, the paper shows how vocal resources are used for social action and how grammar emerges in close relation to self and others’ bodily moves. Clauses and phrases, but also words and single sounds are indexically tied to current bodily action by different parties. Vocal and linguistic elements accomplish expressive performances, such as displays of extreme bodily effort, pleasure, or advanced rhythm, while they also instruct, correct and assess others’ current performance. In interaction we can discover how grammar is systematically fitted to trajectories of embodied activities, as well as deployed interchangeably with bodily displays, resulting in truly multimodal patterns that emerge in real time. Furthermore, in addition to sequentiality, vocal and linguistic means are deployed to accomplish synchronous action, such as a coordinated lift of a piece of manure or an exact timing of a first dance step. Intersubjective synchrony is achieved across modalities: an instructor’s vocal action can be responsive to the student’s current bodily movement and at the very same time instruct its (improved) continuation by lexical choice, grammatical structure, sound stretching, increased volume or otherwise extreme prosody. At moments like this the iconic and indexical capacity of an individual voice is finely tuned into others’ simultaneous embodied experiences, all coming together in a synchronous whole where action is distributed across different modalities and bodies.