IPrA2021: Hofstetter: Power screams and bodily motivated sounds

Hofstetter is presenting at IPrA2021 with the paper “Interactionally situating the power scream: Analyzing bodily motivated vocalizations”, IPrA, June 27-July 2, Winterthur, Switzerland.


Everyday interaction is filled with sounds that are connected to bodily events: breathing, sniffing (Hoey, 2020), crying (Hepburn, 2004), grunting, and so on. Most linguistic theories, however, exclude the body from consideration, arguing its contributions are insufficiently symbolic or conventionalized, and most of all, merely unintentional by-products. In contrast, ethnomethodological and interactional linguistics studies show how speakers orient to such sounds as meaningful and accountable (e.g. Keevallik 2020).

This paper begins to address the lack of research concerning ‘bodily motivated’ sounds, specifically the diverse vocalizations involved in physical strain, using a corpus of 25 hours of recorded naturally occurring rock climbing as data (368 strain vocalizations). It uses the term ‘bodily motivated’ to capture the dual nature of these sounds as both physiological and social events. The analysis proceeds using multimodal conversation analysis, that is, it elucidates the pragmatics of the vocalizations as demonstrated through the participants’ own orientations to the phenomena in situ. The participants in the data treat the vocalizations as simultaneously physiological and socially meaningful for their ongoing interaction, which makes available their understandings of the vocalizations for both co-participants at the time of recording, and the analyst for research. Climbers have a particular need to distinguish strain vocalizations, as safety partners (belayers) must anticipate the climber’s motions in order to safely manage the equipment.

Participants distinguished between four variations: 1) ‘power screams’, laryngeally constricted vocalizations made during intense physical strain, 2) ‘power hups’, short vocalized bursts with glottal onsets that accompany motion, often jump-like moves, 3) ‘pain cries’, which involve sudden intake of breath and high pitched vocalization, and 4) ‘strain releases’, outbreaths that accompany a relaxation of muscles. The screams and hups are treated as projecting motion, whereas the other two project cessation. Participants respond according to how the vocalizations are interwoven with climbing progressivity, such as anticipating changes in movement, inquiring about problems, or encouraging climbers. Vocalizations that display hindrances to climb progressivity are treated as trouble markers: e.g. a strain release or pain cry can inform on having given up an attempt. This study proposes the concept of ‘bodily motivated’ sounds as an emically defined form of vocalization that blurs the boundaries between the ‘merely physiological’ and ‘socially meaningful display’. It questions the a priori separation of ‘bodily outpouring’ and ‘linguistic’, and investigates instead how participants themselves organize their vocalizations to be bodily or linguistic, that is, how they systematically orient to vocalizations as sensible by virtue of being embodied. Such vocalizations provide a perspicuous opportunity to examine how the body and language are interwoven.

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