Symposium on Prosody and Interaction,
Uppsala, November 10-11, 2001.

‘We speak prosodies and we listen to them.’ (J. R. Firth, 1948)

Richard Ogden & Gareth Walker
Department of Language & Linguistic Science, University of York
YORK YO10 5DD, England,

The term ‘prosody’ in modern phonology goes back at least to Hjelmslev & Uldall (1934), and Firth (1948). In those theories, ‘prosody’ is defined by function and domain, not by phonetic extent.

>From lecture notes taken by Elizabeth Anderson (1938-9) (Firthian Phonology Archive, ms):

“Phonetics—study of social actions.”
“You can only study [the individual’s] activity in relation to the system which he tends to construct and maintain in function.”
“You’ve got to find the values of the elements you analyse out. To be interpreted from the point of view of the person whose values they are and who’s performing the action.”

Aim of this talk.
To argue that prosodies are the ‘syntagmatic glue’ that create local coherence in talk, and to illustrate this from structures: lists and increments.


Fragment 1.
1 BC No I don’t think it’s vague, I think it’s very interesting
2 that- that people’s- I mean whatever one thinks about the
3 specific remarks, what seems to be: (.) the tone that all of
4 these callers share, is a sense that human beings’
5 relationship to the earth is
6 /k/ changing and has to change and that a cult
7 /k/ of coercion
8 /k/ conquest
9 and dominion is what is being challenged

Fragment 2.
1 B things that were being said
2 /p/ by Penny
3 and Tony
4 /p/ and Pamela all relate to (.) this millennium resolution

Fragment 3.
1 BC it was what we did with it ((technology)) and that’s
2 /st/x2 really the story of all this stuff
3 none of this stuff in the end whether we’re talking about
4 /p/ inventors of pills
5 /p/ inventors of penicillin
6 inventors of chips they themselves are heroic.

Fragment 4.
1 S eräänä päivänä aion viettää tasaesta ja
2 säännöllistä perheelämää
Well one day I intend to lead an ordinary regular family life

3 M nii nii
oh yes

4 S sillee et joskus on .hhh
so sometime I’ll have

5 / ?ammatti ja?|
a career and

6 / ?asunto jap| /2.0/
a flat and

7 / pe–rheº j–aº /2.0/
a family and

8 M / ystäv[iä [hehe]

9 S [velkaa ja [hehe]
debt and

10 M ystäviä

11 S ja ystäviä no niitä on nytki [mutta]
and friends well I’ve got some now too but

12 M [niin ]

Increments (Ford, Fox & Thompson 2001; Schegloff 2000ms).

The general shape of increments:

A: a> a turn which is hearable as reaching completion
B: b> (response)
A: c> a turn whose beginning is A’s prior turn, and is hearable as complete

Assessing increments.
Increment provides an assessment of the host.

Relevance delimiting increments.
Increment delimits set of responses made relevant by question in host.

Post-response informational augments.
Increment adds to information given in host.

Stance modifying increments.
Increment weakens the stance, belief or position put forward in the host.
Phonetic properties of increments of this type:

Fragment 5.

1 H hmmm
2 G yeah
3 H there's loads of pretty stuff round (0.6) like that
4 region though
5 (0.6)
6 G mmm [(.) I hear
7 H [that part of bavaria .hhh it's really [beautiful
8 G [germany
9 and stuff was my parents' favourite country when they
10 were [here
11 H [yeah cos people don't go to germany at least
12 a> english people don't go to germany on holiday
13 b> (0.3)
14 c> [generally
15 G [mm mm
16 (0.2)
17 H they go to like they go to france and they go to italy
18 (0.2) [and they go to spain
19 G [they go to warm places
20 (0.5)
21 H [yeah but germany
22 G [they like the beach
23 H germany gets beautiful and [hot
24 G [((cough))

More detail:
12 H* H* L-H%
H a> english people don't go to germany on holiday
13 b> (0.3)

14 H* L-H%
c> [generally

Fragment 6.

17 D we didn't walk oh we did walk home with them didn't we
18 (1.1)
19 did [we
20 C [yeah
21 (0.2)
22 with who
23 (0.5)
24 D no we didn't
25 C no::: not with Pete and Sal they stayed there till like
26 after everyone had l[eft .hhhh
27 D [ah right
28 C a> till like (0.2) quarter to three or something
29 b> (0.7)
30 c> they said
31 (2.4)
32 but I'm a bit (0.2) suspicious I mean (0.3) I do
33 believe that they met this guy and that he ge- let
34 them have a free drink each but whether anything'll
35 come of it
36 (0.4)
37 D is it meant to what's meant to happen they're gonna be
38 [best mates or
39 C [that they can get into Toff's free if they (0.4)
40 phone him up

More detail

28 H* L-H%
C a> till like (0.2) quarter to three or something
all------------- p,B------
29 b> (0.7)

30 H* L-H%
c> they said
pp-- p---

Fragment 7.


((S & D have been talking about the preserved hand of a mediaeval saint. Now they have established where it is kept. D’s friend Sue lives opposite the convent.))

1 D there’s a convent there called the convent of
2 St Cla[ire ]
3 S [is that] where Sue lives
4 D Sue lives opposite it
5 S mm
6 (1.0)
7 D so yeah
8 don’t know whether that’s it or not
9 (1.3)
10 S so has she: left uni now or
11 (0.9)
12 [what]
13 D [she ] graduated last year
14 (0.3)
15 S what's she doing now
16 (0.3)
17 D she's working as a temp
18 (0.7)
19 S doin what
20 (1.0)
21 D .hhhh I don't know
22 a> secretarial things I think I don't know
23 b> (0.3)
24 c> really
25 (0.9)
26 b[u-
27 S [mmm
28 (1.2)
29 D she's working we still see her (0.3) on a thursday
30 (1.0)
31 and sometimes at the weekend
32 (0.4)
33 S yeah
34 (1.0)
35 D we're going to see toy story two next weekend
36 (0.4)
37 S when does it come out

More detail.

21 ´+ d4E3_>)¨4n?nE_I
D .hhhh I don't know

sEk®´tE®I´lÏ f=I)N>z4 a-h)I)N? åd´)nE_ˆ¢
a> secretarial things I think I don't know

23 b> (0.3)

c> really

Fig. 1. Pitch trace of I don’t know... really (Fragment 7).

• Not prosody but prosodies: phonological resources for producing coherence in speech.
• Like any phonological category, the phonetic exponents of prosodies, and their extent in time need to be stated.

Firth, J R (1948). Sounds and Prosodies. In F R Palmer (ed.) Prosodic Analysis. Oxford: OUP, 1-26.
Firth, J R (1957). A Synopsis of Linguistic Theory. In Studies in Linguistic Analysis, Special Volume of the Philological Society.Oxford, Blackwell, 1-32.
Ford, Cecilia, Barbara A Fox & Sandra A Thompson (2001). Constituency and the grammar of turn increments. To appear in Cecilia E Ford, Barbara A Fox & Sandra A Thompson (eds) The language of turn and sequence. New York: Oxford University Press.
Local, John & Richard Ogden (1996): Nordic Prosodies: Representation and phonetic interpretation. In Stefan Werner (ed.) Nordic Prosody. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 9-24.
Ogden, Richard & John Local (1994) Disentangling Autosegments from Prosodies: a note on the misrepresentation of a research tradition in phonology. Journal of Linguistics 30, 477-498.
Ogden, Richard (1999). A declarative account of strong and weak auxiliaries in English. Phonology, 16, 55-92.
Ogden, Richard (2001, to appear). Turn transition, creak and glottal stop in Finnish talk-in-interaction. Journal of the IPA Vol 31, Klaus Kohler & Adrian Simpson (eds), special edition on unscripted speech.
Schegloff, Emanuel (2000). On turns’ possible completion, more or less: increments and trail-offs. Paper delivered at the EuroConference on Interactional Linguistics, Spa, Belgium, September 2000.
Walker, Gareth (2001). A phonetic approach to talk in interaction—increments in conversation. MA Dissertation, University of York. Available from