办事指南

Grunt if you know what I mean...

点击量:   时间:2019-03-07 08:10:04

By Marina Chicurel YEAH, uh-huh, right. A listener will utter these little words many times during a conversation, and a prime cue for them may be a drop in the pitch of the speaker’s voice. Almost a fifth of our utterances are “backchannels”—small words that often serve as information receipts, acknowledging we have heard what another person has said. Researchers have long suspected that speakers somehow prompt listeners when to utter backchannels, but what these prompts are has been unclear. Researchers at the University of Tokyo, Japan, recorded informal conversations in both English and Japanese. They then used statistical methods to fish out patterns of speech that correlated with backchannelling. “We’re interested in the pacing of conversation,” says the team leader, Nigel Ward. “We looked for cues that tell one person to speak, or to shut up, or to say uh-huh.” In both languages, the scientists found that listeners tend to backchannel when speakers lower the pitch of their voice for 0.11 seconds or longer. Using software built round this rule, the researchers can now talk to their computers and hear them respond with seemingly natural yeahs and uh-huhs. David Beaver, a linguistics expert at Stanford University in California, says that Ward’s discovery of the correlation is an important step forward, but he thinks it is premature to regard low pitch as a cue. Jean Fox Tree of the University of California at Santa Cruz agrees. “It’s not just dropping in pitch that elicits a backchannel,” she speculates. “It’s the meaning behind the drop in pitch.” Ward, whose work will appear in the Journal of Pragmatics, concedes he has yet to prove low pitch is itself a cue. But if he can,