Agreeing to disagree: Constant non-alignment of speech gestures in dialogue

Authors: Holger Mitterer

Corresponding: Holger Mitterer (

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Issue: Xjenza Online Vol. 2 Iss. 1 - March 2014

Numerous studies suggest that interlocutors in a dialogue align with each other in terms of their articulatory gestures. It is often suggested that this, rst, is the consequence of an automatic tendency for imitation and, second, this fosters mutual understanding. Making use of online archives of media, it was tested whether alignment is hence inevitable. The focus was on the pronunciation of the German word ist (Engl., 'is'). The standard pronunciation is [ist], but speakers with a Swabian accent produce [i R t], acoustically re ected in the fricative spectra. We measured the spectra of fricatives in ist from interviewers while interviewing either a prominent German politician using the Swabian variant or an interviewee using the standard variant. Results showed neither an overall in uence of the interviewees' pronunciation on the fricative realization by the interviewer nor a tendency to align over time for interviewer-interviewee pairs with different pronunciations. This shows that phonetic alignment in conversation is a more complex process than most current theories seem to suggest. Moreover, failure to align may not impede mutual understanding.

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