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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 giles@ntu.edu.tw. Propositional Density – a summary.

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propositional density a new measure of oral fluency
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

giles@ntu.edu.tw

propositional density a summary
Propositional Density – a summary

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

task based language teaching
Task Based Language Teaching

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?

fluency
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?

formulaic sequences
Formulaic sequences
  • Sinclair's (1991) idiom principle: certain combinations of words are favoured over other, equally grammatically correct combinations.
  • Pawley & Syder (1983): key role of formulaic expressions in native speaker fluency and idiomaticity.
  • Wray 2002: formulaic sequences are stored, retrieved and produced whole
  • Formulaic sequences require less attention on the part of the speaker, thus enhancing fluency.
small words
Small words

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.

small words7
Small words

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.

examples of smallwords from hasselgreen 19 in total
sort/ kind of

a bit

just

or something

not really

& everything/stuff/that

I know

you see

I see

Examples of smallwordsfrom Hasselgreen (19 in total)‏
  • well
  • right
  • all right
  • okay
  • oh, ah
  • you know
  • I think
  • I mean
  • like
framing
Framing

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

non propositional words
Non-propositional words

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.

rationale for definition of non propositional words
Rationale for definition of non-propositional words

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.

key tests for non propositional words
Key tests for (non-) propositional words

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.

examples of non propositional or small words in this study
maybe

no

right

so

still

then

too

well

yes, yeh

Examples of non-propositional or small words in this study
  • after
  • that
  • and
  • because
  • but
  • for example
  • I think (that)‏
  • just
  • OK
propositional language
Propositional language
  • Whole speech units “I agree with you”, “Yes” /“No”
  • Repaired words playing no role in final utterance.
  • Non-nativelike use of words, e.g. “yeh” at end of clauses.
  • Non-words such as “oh” or “uhun”.
  • Words that cannot be omitted because they are grammatically and semantically necessary
  • Explicit reference to times, causes, contrast, interaction and evaluation .
the data
The Data

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.

analysis
Analysis

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.

correlations with propositional density 1
Correlations with Propositional Density (1)‏

AR

Articulation

-0.529

Pruned AR

-0.584

SR

Speech

-0.606

Pruned SR

-0.574

Prop. density

correlations with propositional density 2
Correlations with Propositional Density (2)‏

RR (Repair Rate)‏

MLR (Mean length of run)‏

Pruned MLR

PhTR

Proposit-ional density

-0.407

-0.360

-0.432

-0.349

results
Results

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

discussion
Discussion

Correlation ≠ causation

Speakers who use more non-propositional language (smallwords):

  • speak faster
  • produce longer runs
  • pause less often
  • pause for less time overall
unresolved questions
Unresolved questions

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?

an idea
An idea

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.

conclusions
Conclusions

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).

slide24
References:
  • Bygate, M. and Samuda, V. (2005). Integrative planning through the use of task repetition. In Ellis, R. (ed.) Planning and task performance in a second language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp.37-74.
  • Ejzenberg, R. (2000). The juggling act of oral fluency: A psycho-sociolinguistic metaphor. In: Riggenbach, H. (Ed.), Perspectives on fluency. The University of Michigan Press, Michigan, pp. 287–314.
  • Foster, P. (2001). Rules and routines: a consideration of their roles in task-based language production of native and non-native speakers. In Bygate, M., P. Skehan and M. Swain (Eds.) Researching Pedagogic tasks: second language learning and testing, Harlow: Longman, pp.75-94.
  • Foster, P. and Tonkyn, A. and Wigglesworth, G.(2000). Measuring spoken language: a unit for all reasons. Applied Linguistics, 21/3: 354-375.
  • Halliday, M. (2004). An introduction to functional grammar (3rd edition). London: Arnold.
slide25
Hasselgreen, A. (2004). Testing the spoken English of young Norwegians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pawley, A. and Syder, F. (1983). “Two puzzles for linguistic theory: nativelike selection and nativelike fluency.” In J. Richards and R. Schmidt (Eds.) Language and communication (pp. 191—226). New York: Longman.
  • Sinclair, J. (1991). Corpus, Concordance, Collocation. London: Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Chapter 8]
  • Sperber, D. and Wilson. (1995). Relevance. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Tavakoli, P. and Skehan, P. (2005). ‘Strategic planning, task structure, and performance testing.’ In R. Ellis (ed.) Planning and Task performance in a second language, Amsterdam: John Benjamin, pp. 239-273.
  • Wray, A. (2002).Formulaic Language and the Lexicon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.