Repetition and the prosody-pragmatics interface

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Curl, T.S. ; Local, J. ; Walker, G. (2006)
  • Publisher: Elsevier

Repetition poses certain problems for pragmatics, as evidenced by Sperber and Wilson’s claim that ‘‘the effects of repetition on utterance interpretation are by no means constant’’. This is particularly apposite when we examine repetitions produced in naturally occurring talk. As part of an ongoing study of how phonetics relates to the dynamic evolution of meaning within the sequential organisation of talk-in-interaction, we present a detailed phonetic and pragmatic analysis of a particular kind of self- repetition. The practice of repetition we are concerned with exhibits a range of forms: ‘‘have another go tomorrow . . . have another go tomorrow’’, ‘‘it might do . . . it might do’’, ‘‘it’s a shame . . . it’s a shame’’. The approach we adopt emphasises the necessity of exploring participants’ displayed understandings of pragmatic inferences and attempts not to prejudge the relevance of phonetic (prosodic) parameters. The analysis reveals that speakers draw on a range of phonetic features, including tempo and loudness as well as pitch, in designing these repetitions. The pragmatic function of repetitions designed in this way is to close sequences of talk. Our findings raise a number of theoretical and methodological issues surrounding the prosody– pragmatics interface and participants’ understanding of naturally occurring discourse.
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