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Propositional Density - a new measure of oral fluency?. The role of small words and fillers in oral fluency Giles Witton-Davies Lancaster University & National Taiwan University firstname.lastname@example.org. Propositional Density – a summary.
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The role of small words and fillers in oral fluency
Lancaster University & National Taiwan University
The percentage of words devoted to the essential proposition of an utterance.
High propositional density (>90%) = most words devoted to the proposition
Low propositional density (<90%) = more words used to link, evaluate, react, or frame the proposition.
Propositional density correlates with fluency
Focus on oral tasks in the classroom contributes to speaking fluency.
Key measures of fluency, accuracy and complexity in studies of task-based learning (Foster & Skehan 1999, Tavakoli and Skehan 2005).
1. What is fluency?
2. How can fluency be measured?
3. How can learners increase their fluency?
....an impression on the listener’s part that the psycho-linguistic processes of speech planning and speech production are functioning easily and efficiently(Lennon 1990).
...the rapid, smooth, accurate, lucid, and efficient translation of thought or communicative intention into language under the temporal constraints of on-line processing (Lennon 2000).
Temporal measures: AR (articulation rate), SR (speech rate), MLR (mean length of run), PTR (phonation time ratio), ratio of internal pauses, RR (repair rate).
The listener: Smooth? Lucid? Coherence and cohesion?
Hasselgreen’s (2004) definition:
small words and phrases, occurring with high frequency in the spoken language, that help to keep our speech flowing, yet do not contribute essentially to the message itself.
Hasselgreen 2004: smallwords (and, but, so, well) and their role in fluency. Small words:
1. ...aid fluent production, allowing the speaker time to plan, and replacing filled pauses.
2. ...make speech sound smooth and to the listener.
3. ...provide cues to facilitate ostensive /inferential communication (Sperber & Wilson 1995) and indicate the relevance of utterances.
I seeExamples of smallwordsfrom Hasselgreen (19 in total)
Bygate and Samuda (2005):
“Framing” language – any elaboration beyond the “bare bones” of a narrative.
More framing language when task repeated.
Task repetition allows for more elaboration and comment, and for greater cohesion.
Much of this framing involves complete clauses and gives new information.
Framing will still require the speaker's full attention
1. ... do not affect the ideational or propositional meaning of an utterance.
2. ... carry instead evaluative, interpersonal or textual meanings and functions.
3. ... may relate to the framing, ordering, and other linking between utterances and parts of utterances.
4. ... may relate to the speaker's evaluation of an utterance, or the speaker's reaction to a previous utterance.
1. They can be used as fillers, allowing time for planning of the next words, clause or unit.
2. In their absence, speakers are likely to need to pause (with either silent or filled pauses).
3. They may allow the speaker to produce utterances accurately, with no need for repair.
4. They may enable the speaker to speak more rapidly.
1. They can be omitted with no change of propositional or ideational meaning
2. They can be omitted without creating a need to change the remaining utterance syntactically.
3. If they are removed, the utterance will still be complete.
4. They modify the whole clause or utterance rather than single words or phrases.
yes, yehExamples of non-propositional or small words in this study
17 Taiwanese university students at English Language and Literature Dept.
Year 1 first term and year 4 last term at university.
Students work in pairs on same narrative and discussion tasks.
Transcriptions made using AS units (Foster et al 2000), pauses of over 25 msecs measured to nearest 10 msec. using Transcriber software.
Non-propositional words marked in transcripts and counted.
Percentage calculated of non-propositional words as compared to total words.
Non-propositional words per unit/ per clause also tried.
RR (Repair Rate)
MLR (Mean length of run)
Strong correlation with propositional density :
speech rate, articulation rate, pruned speech rate
Medium correlation with propositional density:
repair rate, mean length of run, phonation time ratio
Weak correlation with propositional density: percentage of internal pauses
Correlation ≠ causation
Speakers who use more non-propositional language (smallwords):
1. Why do fluent speakers use more smallwords?
2. Why do less fluent speakers use fewer smallwords?
3. Do smallwords require any less attention than other words and phrases?
4. Can smallwords be used as a short-cut to fluency?
Chaining versus integration in speech (Pawley and Syder, 1983).
Chaining involves linking of clauses without subordinate clauses, integration links clauses grammatically through subordination.
Ejzenberger (2000): chaining associated with greater fluency, integration with reduced fluency in the speech of both high and low fluency EFL speakers.
There is a relationship between fluency and the amount of non-propositional language / the use of smallwords.
Non-propositional language MAY contribute to fluent production (on the part of the speaker) and to the perception of fluency (on the part of the listener).