Grammar And Context 2013


Leelo Keevallik

The Temporality of Grammar and its Coordination with the Body

Leelo Keevallik

University of Linköping

Grammar has traditionally been researched as an atemporal phenomenon, describable from “a bird’s eye view” as a system of hierarchical structures. The current talk subscribes to an alternative approach where grammar is seen as continuously emergent in real time interaction. It argues that at least some syntactic structures, such as the Estonian biclausal correlate pattern, can be explained more adequately when the time constraints on spoken language production are taken into account. Participants hear the pro-form as a projective device, rather than a “replacement” for what is yet to come. Thus, see ‘this/it’ in the following utterance by a telemarketer projects either a noun or another clause before the turn can be considered as complete.

1      M:       jah, .h ag- kas sobiks see teile et,

        ‘Yeah, but would see suit you’

2      ma helistaksin teile omme tagasi. näiteks.

        ‘if I called you back tomorrow. For example.’

More crucially, the paper shows how the study of co-present interaction can reveal qualitatively new patterns of human communication. The emerging structures indeed make use of grammar but also involve the body that may be deployed simultaneously or interchangeably with the grammar. For example, reference is accomplished multimodally; body movements are quoted similarly to words; embodied demonstrations regularly take the role of obligatory predicates and arguments within the clause.

A Dance teacher:  so we have [embodied demonstration]

B Dance teacher:  sis tuleb [embodied demonstration]

‘then comes’

Multimodal syntagmas abound at dance classes, where most of the data for the current talk have been found, but they also occur in many other settings. It is therefore suggested that the structural options of timing an embodied demonstration with incomplete clausal syntax should be systematically described in grammars. Participants in real life encounters orient to these multimodal syntactic-bodily units as complete gestalts that make perfect sense. Embodied demonstrations are treated as yet another type of element in the construction of meaningful action as well as of “correct” grammar.