The pragmatic function of intonation: cueing agreement and disagreement in spoken English discourse and implications for ELT
Although prosody is central to the interpretation of spoken language and understanding of speaker intent, it has traditionally been neglected in cross-cultural studies of pragmatics and overlooked in ESL/ EFL materials. This study investigates prosodic (mis)matching to indicate (dis)agreement by native speakers of American English (AES) and Chinese learners of English (CLsE) in order to contribute to our understanding of cross-cultural manifestations of speech acts and the study of second language intonation acquisition and teaching. Twelve AESs and 12 CLsE completed an interactive preference task in pairs. Each pair viewed ten pictures of concept cars and was asked to browse through the pictures and agree together on one of the ten cars as their top choice. Their conversations were audiotaped using headset microphones and analyzed using a Kay Elemetrics Computerized Speech Laboratory. (Dis)agreement sequences were coded for pitch (mis)matching using Brazil’s (The communicative value of intonation in English. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997) model of discourse intonation. The results showed that both AESs and CLsE manifested pitch concord in the majority of agreement sequences. However, while AESs consistently used pitch mismatching as a cue to signal disagreement with their interlocutor, this was not the case in the CLsE discourse, suggesting that pedagogical intervention may be appropriate.