IPrA Keevallik – Grammatical coordination of embodied action in Pilates classes

Keevallik presented at IPrA2019 in Hong Kong on ‘Grammatical coordination of embodied action in Pilates classes’, as part of a panel she organized with Pekarek Doehler.


Language is but one resource of sense-making and action formation. As interacting human beings we cannot merely rely on our earlier experiences of lexicon and grammar, because this abstracted knowledge does not in itself guarantee mutual understanding here and now. A more realistic view on the achievement of inter-subjectivity is to be found in the complex interplay between the embodied language, body movements, and the material environment. In this paper I will use data from contexts where bodies are in focus, Pilates classes,to show how syntactic structure emerges step-by-step in teacher talk. It does so in response to the students’ moving bodies, while it simultaneously directs them through the partially known moves. While “living” in the students’ bodies with the fine-tuned prosody, the teacher times syntactic coordination, phrasal constructions and occasionally even morphological suffixes in relation to the ongoing physical exercise. Furthermore, structures that would be characterized as ungrammatical in textbooks are locally established as formula for synchronous compliance and make perfect sense for the participants in the specific activity context. Among other things, grammatical coordination emerges within a multimodal activity in which instructor’s talk both directs and responds to student performance, aiming for proper sequentiality of moves in the exercises. As opposed to frequent juxtaposition of clauses without connectors, explicit grammatical coordination with ja ‘and’ is used for the overall structuring of the class as well as the temporal extension of talk to achieve synchronicity of vocal and embodied behavior. In contrast to formal theories that consider grammar as a device for coherent expression of pre- planned propositions, this study argues that grammatical structure emerges as part of practical action across participants and modalities in a specific context.

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