Workshop report: Sound objects and non-lexicals

Written by Hannah Pelikan.

Keynote Lecture on Methodology

In our second workshop on October 2-4, 2019, we continued to discuss non-lexical vocalizations, which have also been termed sound objects (Reber, 2013). Elisabeth Reber from the University of Würzburg, Germany kicked off our workshop with an inspiring talk on methodological and theoretical perspectives on sound objects. Focusing on the interjection “oh” in English and German as well as clicks and whistles, Elisabeth demonstrated how sound objects can be analyzed in a systematic way. She proposed the following criteria for studying sound objects: (1) phonetic description (segmental substance), (2) prosodic properties such as duration, pitch register/movement and loudness, (3) visual-spatial properties of the sound production, (4) sequential position of the sound object, (5) sequence organizing function, such as ratification of a previous turn, (6) interactional function such as displaying affective involvement and (7) whether a sound object projects speaker change or turn-expansion. Elisabeth concluded by stressing that the role of bodily movements that accompany production of such sounds needs further analysis. We continued the discussion during an Octoberfest-themed dinner at our university.


Deeping our understanding through data sessions

We dedicated the entire second and third day of our workshop to hands-on work with non-lexical vocalizations in data sessions. Iris Nomikou presented data on mothers-infant interaction during diaper changing. We analyzed how mothers produce a variety of non-lexical vocalizations before or while manipulating the infants’ body and often respond to non-lexical, embodied infant actions as part of an interactional sequence. Irish has previously shown how these sound sequences can help socialize infants into understanding joint attention. After lunch, Elisabeth Reber explored sound objects in cross-linguistic settings and we got interesting insights from comparing the English “what” to the Swedish “va?” and also discussed the Swedish “oj”. Sally Wiggins brought videos of infant mealtimes and we explored how gustatory “mmms” can constitute different actions dependent on the sequential position they are produced in. We continued to explore such “mmms” during a lovely dinner at restaurant Pappa Grappa in town.

Leelo Keevallik gave us an energetic start on the next day with videos of Lindy Hop instruction. We inspected how non-lexical vocalizations are coordinated with the rhythm of the dancing body and how teachers produce affirmative particles as response cries to certain dance moves/sequences. Finally, Hannah Pelikan shared videos of interaction with a Cozmo toy robot in family homes and we scrutinized how robot animations, combinations of non-lexical sounds and movements, are treated as emotional displays with sequential relevance for human robot interaction.


Wrapping up

We continued our discussions during a cozy fire-side lunch at Mjellerumsgården and explored among others how well the criteria suggested by Elizabeth apply to our own data. We closed the workshop with many new ideas and inspiration for the next steps in our project.