Socially-mediated syntactic alignment

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The first step in our OSU-Rochester collaboration on socially-mediated syntactic alignment has been submitted a couple of weeks ago. Kodi Weatherholtz in Linguistics at The Ohio State University took the lead in this project together with Kathryn Campbell-Kibler (same department) and me.

Welcome screen with sound  check from our web-based speech recording experiment.
Welcome screen with sound check from our web-based speech recording experiment.

We collected spoken picture descriptions via Amazon’s crowdsourcing platform Mechanical Turk to investigate how social attitude towards an interlocutor and conflict management styles affected syntactic priming. Our paradigm combines aspects of psycholinguistic paradigms and manipulations that are more commonly used in social psychology and sociolinguistics. Attitude was manipulated through a politically charged diatribe delivered by speakers differing in accent standardness. Syntactic priming was assessed in an independent picture description after exposure to the diatribe.

Building around the WAMI flash recorder (provided by Ian McGraw at MIT), HLP Lab manager Andrew Watts developed a novel HTML/Javascript platform, allowing us to gather audio recordings from 340 participants over just a couple of days. The recordings were annotated syntactically. A post-experimental-survey assessing speaker attitudes to their interlocutor and conflict management styles was reduced to its most important dimensions using factor analysis (we discuss how to do this in a principled way, avoiding inflating the researchers’ degrees of freedom). One manipulation check is shown in the figure below.

Manipulation check, comparing factor scores for speaker similarity and speaker self-reported political ideology depending on whether the speaker heard the politically liberal or politically conservative diatribe.
Manipulation check, comparing factor scores for speaker similarity and speaker self-reported political ideology depending on whether the speaker heard the politically liberal or politically conservative diatribe.

The predictors derived from this analysis were used to investigate how speaker attitude towards the interlocutor and conflict management styles affected the degree of alignment. We discuss the consequences for accounts of syntactic alignment — both in psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics/social psychology.

Given that the journal we submitted to conducts peer review by sending out paper copies to reviewers (sic), we probably will have a few months before revisions. Your comments are welcome. Please feel free to direct them at any of us (or leave them as comments to this page). For example, one question that comes up in the general discussion relates to the extent to which attention has been found to modulate priming. I sent a few emails at that point to experts in syntactic priming but –like me– nobody could really think of any paper that directly addressed this question. If you know any work that would be relevant to this question, please let us know!

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2 thoughts on “Socially-mediated syntactic alignment

    tiflo responded:
    March 6, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Lauren Hall-Lew made me aware of this really cool paper on style-shifting based on political affiliation in congressional speeches: http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~lhlew/Hall-Lew_etal_pre-proof.pdf. The paper investigates the pronunciation of the “a” vowel in the words “Iraqui()” based on party affiliation. The main finding is that the pronunciation indeed is affected by party affiliation and that this difference is unlikely to be reduced to differences in the dialectal language background of the respective party members, but rather seems to reflect a contextually-conditioned style-shift that serves to mark one’s identity (and perhaps alignment). The paper is a collaboration between Lauren Hall-Lew, Rebecca Star, and Elizabeth Coppock.

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    […] few days ago, I posted a summary of some recent work on syntactic alignment with Kodi Weatherholtz and Kathryn Campell-Kibler (both at The Ohio State University), in which we […]

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