Addressee Backchannels Influence Overhearers' Comprehension of Dialogue

Jackson TolinsUniversity of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California, United States
Jean E. Fox TreeUniversity of California, Santa Cruz

Abstract

We tested whether overhearers made use of the relationship between specific (e.g. really, oh) and generic (e.g. uh huh, mhm) backchannels and speakers’ talk in online dialogue comprehension. In Experiment 1 we found that words that followed specific backchannels were recognized more slowly than words that followed either generic backchannels or pauses. In Experiment 2 we found that the type of backchannel and the discourse relationship between the speaker’s subsequent and previous turn predicted overhearer’s recall of words that preceded backchannels and pauses. When the turn was a continuation of the narrative preceding the test point, specific backchannels resulted in faster responses. When the turn was an elaboration of the narrative preceding the test point, specific backchannels resulted in slower responses. We conclude that overhearers make use of the predictive relationship between listener backchannels and speakers’ discourse in comprehending dialogue.

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