Head movements in the context of speech in Arabic, Bulgarian, Korean, and African-American Vernacular English

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Abstract:

A previous study among European-Americans (McClave, 2000) observed that particular forms of head movements occur in specific communicative environments. The present study investigates whether any of the form–function relationships observed in the original study are cross-cultural. The database consists of seven hours of videotaped spontaneous conversations in Arabic, Bulgarian, Korean, and African-American Vernacular English.
This study suggests that head movements are used for semantic, discourse, and interactive functions in these four languages from three genetically unrelated language families.1 Identical head movements occur in three environments across all four cultures: lateral movements co-occur with expressions of inclusivity, the head changes position for each item on a list, and the head orients toward a specific location selected by the speaker when referring to non-present or abstract entities. Head movements function as speaker backchannel requests in each culture as well, but the particular form of movement corresponds to the culture’s head motion for affirmation.

Keywords: African-American; Arabic; Bulgarian; Korean; backchanneling; deixis; gesture; head movements; intensifiers

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: California State University 2: Saddleback College 3: Sofia University, Bulgaria

Publication date: January 1, 2007

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