Why do we use the same words when we disagree with each other? An experimental approach to interactive alignment

Nele Poldvere, Victoria Johansson, Carita Paradis

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOral presentationpeer-review


Interactive alignment, or the reuse of ideas and constructions from prior speaker turns, is a compelling type of meaning negotiation, dialogue management and stance coordination in everyday face-to-face conversation. Du Bois (2014) argues that engaging in this way with prior speaker contributions is a socially motivated phenomenon that speakers use for various communicative purposes. Garrod and Pickering (2004) consider alignment to be a largely automatic cognitive process that makes conversation smooth and easy. In a previous corpus study (Põldvere, Johansson & Paradis, 2021), we brought these two approaches together to investigate why and when speakers make use of each other’s contributions in conversation, and what the social and cognitive underpinnings of this behaviour might be. The study showed that (i) speakers tend to align with each other when they disagree, and (ii) the disagreements are produced very quickly (with no-gap-no-overlap). Both of these results point to the mitigating function of alignment in disagreement situations.

Using the overhearer paradigm (Bögels & Levinson, 2017), we investigate how participants perceive interactive alignment in disagreement situations in a controlled laboratory setting. This experimental study concerns the social processes underpinning the interpretation of alignment by drawing on insights from Du Bois’ notion of dialogic engagement and Garrod’s and Pickering’s observations of turn transitions. From the perspective of an overhearer of a conversation, does alignment influence the overhearer’s judgments of social closeness among speakers in disagreement situations? Are there differences between the different types of alignment? What role does timing play in the overhearer’s reactions? In the experiment, the participants listen to pre-recorded conversations between two people who disagree with each other. The stimuli were recorded with two actors who spoke with a British English accent. The manipulations involved the presence or absence of alignment, the extent of the alignment (formal vs. semantic) and the timing of the disagreement (no-gap-no-overlap vs. a gap of one second). The participants in the experiment are native speakers of British English. After listening to the recordings, the participants rate their agreement with two statements on a seven-point Likert scale, designed to elicit their intuitions about social closeness among speakers in the recordings (I feel that these people share similar views, these people seem to be comfortable with each other). Contrary to expectation, though, alignment, and particularly formal alignment, received lower ratings of social closeness in the pilot study than non-alignment. This result was modulated by time whereby alignment expressed after a no-gap-no-overlap was rated higher than non-alignment that was expressed after a gap.
Translated title of the contributionVarför använder vi samma ord när vi inte håller med varandra?: En experimentell ansats för att undersöka alignment i samtal
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2023-Jul-09
Event18th International Pragmatics Conference - Bryssel, Bryssel, Belgium
Duration: 2023-Jul-092023-Jul-14
Conference number: 18


Conference18th International Pragmatics Conference
Abbreviated titleIPRA
Internet address

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics (60201)

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