Wiggins & Keevallik: Lipsmacks

Wiggins and Keevallik have a new article on how mothers use ‘lipsmack’ sounds when feeding their infants, entitled ‘Parental lip-smacks during infant mealtimes: Multimodal features and social functions’, in Interactional Linguistics.


The lip-smack is a communicative vocal tract sound that has received very little research attention, with most work examining them in nonhuman primate interaction. The current paper aims to dissect the social potential of lip-smacks in human interaction. The analysis examines a corpus of 391 lip-smack particles produced by English-speaking parents while feeding their infants. A multimodal interaction analysis details the main features: 1) rhythmical production, 2) facial-embodied aspects, and 3) organisation in action sequences. Lip-smacks occurred in chains, produced in a rhythmic tempo in close orientation to the infant, and were co-ordinated with the infants’ chewing. The lip-smacks highlighted the mechanics of chewing while framing eating as a positive interactional event. The paper contributes not only to the distinctly social functions of a vocal tract sound hitherto ignored in linguistics but also to research on early interactional exchanges and their potential connection to the sociality of nonhuman primates.

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