‘Incrementing’ in conversation. A comparison of practices in English, German and Japanese

Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen and Tsuyoshi Ono

Abstract

This cross-linguistic study focuses on ways in which conversationalists speak beyond a point of possible turn completion in conversation, specifically on turn extensions which are grammatically dependent, backward-looking and extend the prior action. It argues that further distinctions can be made in terms of whether the extension is prosodically integrated with the prior unit, its host, (Non-add-on) or not, and in terms of whether it repairs some part of the host (Replacement) or not. Added-on, non-repairing extensions are further distinguished in terms of whether they are grammatically fitted to the end of the host (Glue-ons) or not (Insertables). A preliminary survey of TCU continuation in English, German and Japanese conversation reveals a number of significant differences with respect to frequency and range of extension type. English is at one extreme in preferring Glue-ons over Non-Add-ons and Insertables, whereas Japanese is at the other extreme in preferring Non-add-ons and Insertables over Glue-ons. German occupies an intermediary position but is on the whole more like Japanese. The preference for Glue-ons vs. Insertables appears to reflect a language’s tendency towards syntactic left- vs. right headedness. In conclusion the study argues for a classification of ‘increment’ types which goes beyond the English-based Glue-on, attributes a central role to prosodic delivery and adopts a usage-based understanding of word order.

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