Psychology W2640y

Human Communication

Optional Term Project

Spring 2006

       This project focuses on dysfluency in speech production.  First,  for some theoretical and methodological background on the topic, read the articles marked with an asterisk in the bibliography.  (The unmarked articles are relevant, but less central.  You will probably want to refer to them when writing your report.)  The study examines fluency in natural speech and the occurrence of certain speech events.  The particular events you will be examining will be filled pauses and  use of definite and indefinite article.  The project is designed to give you the experience of attending to the microstructure of speech, transcribing it, coding certain speech events, evaluating the data, and reporting your findings.  The study is modeled roughly after the Linde and Labov (1975) research.

       Participants  For subjects you will need two people who are native speakers of English and are unacquainted.  The only other requirement is that their apartments (or the places they regard as their domiciles) have more than two rooms.

       Materials  To do the project, you will need a sound recording device that can record and play-back (a cassette-type audio tape recorder, an MP3 player-recorder, etc.), some pencils and some graph paper.  If you do not have access to a recorder, you can sign one out. (If you plan to do the Project and will need to borrow a recorder, please notify Lexi immediately.) The recorded cassette or digitized sounnd file must accompany your Project Report when it is turned in.  To run the experiment, you will need a relatively quiet room with two chairs and a table or stand on which to put the tape recorder.

       Procedure  During the experiment, your subjects should be seated back-to-back, so they are unable to see one another.  Locate the microphone to one side, equidistant from the two subjects.  Tell them that because neither will be speaking directly into the microphone, it is important that they speak loudly enough to be recorded.  (You should check beforehand to be sure your set-up will produce usable recordings.)  Randomly designate (e.g., by flipping a coin) one of your subjects as the Describer and the other as the Addressee.  First, have the Describer  sketch the layout of his/her apartment on the graph paper.  Read Instruction 1.  Label and retain this sketch.  Next, have the Describer  describe the layout of his or her apartment to the Addressee.  Read Instruction 2.  Then have the Addressee sketch the layout of the DescriberÕs apartment.  Read Instruction 3.  Label and retain this sketch. 

            If you wish, you may have your two subjects reverse roles, and have the former Describer describe his/her apartment to the Addressee, but that is optional.

       When you have finished, you should take some time to explain to your subjects the purpose of the experiment, and how you will be analyzing the data.  Anyone who expresses particular interest in learning more about the experiment can be referred to the articles on the reading list.

       Transcribing the interaction  Transcribe your subjectsÕ descriptions in segments that correspond to one phonemic clause per line.  Read the  Dittmann and Llewellyn article for a discussion of phonemic clauses.  Essentially they are short sequences of words marked by an intonation contour and a single  primary stress.  It will take a little practice before you begin to ŌhearĶ the phonemic clauses.  Often (but not always) the phonemic clauses will be grammatical units, and the junctures will be the points at which you would place punctuation marks in text.  But it is important that you mark the junctures while listening to the tape.  The transcript should not be conventionally punctuated; instead, each line should be punctuated according to its clause-final prosody (i.e., the ŌshapeĶ of the contour at the clauseÕs termination).  Use a period (.) to indicate final pitch lowering; a question mark (?) to indicate final rising (regardless of whether or not the sentence is an interrogative); a comma (,) for the end of a tone unit in mid-clause, a dash (-) for a sudden self-cutoff on level pitch.  Be sure that your transcription is accurate and that it includes all occurrences of such dysfluencies as filled pauses, parenthetic remarks, repetitions, and false starts. You can refer to the Beattie article for definitions of these dysfluencies.  However, for filled pauses you should distinguish between uh  (or ah) and uhm (or ahm).  In you transcript, the DescriberÕs and AddresseeÕs  contributions should be indicated separately.  for example

Describer:                               when you enter,

                                                    uh you walk you walk down a sort of uh,

                                                    a narrow hallway,

                                                    into a dining area.

Addressee:                              okay,

Describer:                               and beyond that is the living room.

                                                    extending beyond-

                                                    uhm thereÕs a kitchen is on the left.

Addressee:                              of of the living room?

Describer:                               ah. actually no.

                                                    the uhm the dining room.

Addressee:                              the dining room.


Describer:                               then,

                                                    uh well itÕs kinda,

                                                    uh itÕs kinda hard to describe.

                                                    uhm about where the dining area becomes uhm the living room?

Addressee:                    uh-huh,

Describer:                               thereÕs a uhm a corridor goes off to the right.

Addressee:                              okay.                                                         

       When you have finished, check your transcript carefully against the recording to be sure it is accurate, making whatever changes are necessary  The transcript is your basic data source, and its accuracy sets an upper limit on the validity of you results. 

       Tabulation of results  

            (1)  Examine each instance in which a definite (the) or indefinite article (a, an) is used by either subject.  Determine whether or not the noun in its noun phrase has been referred to before in the description. (Eliminate references to direction: Ōthe leftĶ.)   The tabulation is for the excerpt above:

Type of Article



Initial Reference



Referred to Previously



       (2)  Examine each instance of initial reference (row 1 in the table above).  List in separate columns the nouns preceded by definite articles and those preceded by indefinite articles.  For the excerpt the tabulation would look like this

First Reference




1. living room

1. hallway

2. dining area

3. kitchen

4. corridor

       (3)  Examine clause-final prosodic marking, and determine whether or not it precedes a contribution by the Addressee.  Construct a table that shows the relationship between terminal juncture and addressee contribution.  For the excerpt:

Terminal Intonation

Followed by





Addressee Response





No Addressee Response





       (4)  Locate all filled pauses in the transcript.  In a table like the one below, tally whether (1) they occur at the clause juncture or within the body of the clause; (2) whether they are of the uh (ah) or uhm (ahm) variety.  For the excerpt, the tabulation would look like this:

Type of Filled Pause



At Clause Juncture



Within Clause



            Finally, do one (or more) additional analysis of your own design.  (For example, you might compare the AddresseeÕs  drawing of the DescriberÕs  apartment with the DescriberÕs version, noting in what respects the two layouts differ, and try to infer from the transcripts of their interactions the reasons for the discrepancies.)

       Reporting your results  Your report should have four sections: (1) A brief Introduction describing the purpose of the study.  (2) A Method section detailing the procedure you followed for collecting the speech samples and making the transcripts.  (3) A Results section in which you describe the results of your analyses in words and also present them in tabular form.  Use the tables above as models.  Include a copy of your transcription as an appendix.  (4) A Discussion section in which you interpret you results and discuss their possible significance for understanding the function of definite vs. indefinite articles, terminal contours, and different types of filled pauses.  Interpreting your data is an important part of the project, so be sure to give it some thought.  If you want to (and know how), you may compute statistical tests of significance on your results, but that is not required. 

       IMPORTANT:  Because of the amount of time it takes to grade the Project Reports,they must be turned in on or before the last day of the study period (i.e., by 5 p.m. Thursday, May 4th).  No Projects will be accepted after that time.  If you have digitized sound files of your subjects' interaction, you may submit your Project Report and sound files electronically. If you have a recorded tape cassette, you should submit your Report in hard copy along with the cassette. However you submit your Report, the sound files or cassette and your transcripts must be turned in with it. The Report will not be graded without them. For those submitting electronically, send your report as an attachment to Lexi (; she will send an acknowledgement that your Report was received. Hard copies (and accompanying material) should be handed to one of the TAs or the instructor. Christina will be in room 312 Schermerhorn from noon-5 pm on May 4th to receive Project Reports. Do not submit your Report by putting it someone's mailbox, or by giving it to someone to give too us. It is your responsibility to make certain that your report is delivered and received on time.


       Instruction 1  First,     (Describer)     ,  IÕd like you to sketch the layout of your apartment or home on this graph paper.  DonÕt worry about being too precise, or drawing it to exact scale.  The general layout is what I want.  Be sure to include all of the rooms, but donÕt bother about the placement of furniture or that sort of thing.  If there are any special architectural features, like an arch or a fireplace, you might include them.  Okay?

       Instruction 2  Now,     (Describer)     , IÕd like you to describe the layout of your apartment or home to    (Addressee)    .  Be sure to include all of the rooms, and if there are any special architectural features, you might include them.  Afterwards, IÕm going to ask (Addressee)    to draw the layout based on your description.

       Instruction 3   Okay, (Addressee)    ,  will you please sketch the layout of    (DescriberÕs)     apartment, based on his/her description.



(Starred references can be downloaded from CourseWorks, under Assignments)

*Beattie, G. W. (1981). A further investigation of the cognitive interference hypothesis of gaze patterns during conversation. British Journal of Social Psychology, 20, 243-248.

Boomer, D. T., & Dittman, A. T. (1964). Speech rate, filled pauses and body movement in interviews. Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, 139, 324-327.

Butterworth, B. (1980). Evidence from pauses in speech. In B. Butterworth (Ed.), Speech and talk. London: Academic Press.

*Dittmann, A. T., & Llewellyn, L. G. (1967). The phonemic clause as a unit of speech decoding. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6, 341-349.

*Linde, C., & Labov, W. (1975). Spatial networks as a site for the study of language and thought. Language, 51, 924-939.

Maclay, H., & Osgood, C. E. (1959). Hesitation phenomena in spontaneous English speech. Word, 15, 19-44.

Ragsdale, J. D., & Silvia, C. F. (1982). Distribution of kinesic hesitation phenomena in spontaneous speech. Language and Speech, 25, 185-190.

*Rochester, S. (1972). The significance of pauses in spontaneous speech. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 2, 51-81.

Schachter, S., Christenfeld, N., Ravina, B., & Bilous, F. (1991). Speech disfluency and the structure of knowledge. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 362-367.