Effects of manner of delivery in on-line pragmatic inferences

Jia Loy

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract / Description of output

In everyday discourse, the way a speaker produces an utterance is often as important as the content of the message. Therefore, taking into account their manner of delivery is relevant for successful comprehension. This thesis investigates the influence of a speaker’s manner of delivery on a listener’s pragmatic inferences, with a focus on the nature and timing of such effects during on-line comprehension.

Previous research has established the role of a speaker’s manner in driving listeners’ off-line pragmatic comprehension, as well as its effect on their on-line content-based expectations. However, considerably less attention has been paid to its influence on listeners’ on-line pragmatic inferences.
The thesis focuses on two general contexts in which pragmatic inferences arise: The comprehension of scalar expressions and the perception of deception. The former has been investigated with a class of scalar implicatures from a time course perspective, but is under-explored with respect to a speaker’s manner of delivery; the latter has been studied extensively in relation to manner of delivery, but has yet to be addressed in terms of the timing of the process. We focus on these two areas in attempt to address broader questions about the perceptual relevance of manner of delivery and the time course of pragmatic comprehension.

We approach these questions through a series of comprehension experiments that combine eye- and mouse-tracking technologies. We measured listeners’ eye movements and mouse coordinates as they selected between objects on a screen in response to unfolding speech. Critical utterances were either conventional, fluent forms, or characterised by disfluency. Our results demonstrate the immediacy with which this manipulation influenced listeners’ pragmatic inferences, in both the comprehension of scalars and the perception of deception. In the case of deception, this effect is robust even in the face of other sources of information which might modulate the effect. This time course of events has implications for traditional models of language comprehension, which maintain the view that pragmatic comprehension is slow and resource demanding.

In a final experiment, we situated the comprehension paradigm in an ecological, interactive context, to explore the production and perception of manner of delivery in real-time conversation. Here, we found a surprising mismatch between speakers’ production and listeners’ perception of manner-based cues to deception. Taken together, the results from the studies highlight the role of manner of delivery, as well as broader contextual factors, in shaping the pragmatics of an act of communication.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Corley, Martin, Supervisor
  • Rohde, Hannah, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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