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'Yeah, I doubt it.' 'No, it's true.' How paradoxical responses impact the common ground Guntly, Erin Alisa


Speakers use paradoxical responses, such as `yeah, that’s not right’ and `no, I agree’, but the function of these responses is not clear. While one use of response particles (RPs) such as 'yeah' and 'no' is to signal acceptance or rejection of at-issue content into the common ground, the linguistic content that follows these RPs in paradoxical responses suggests that `yeah’ is not agreeing to at-issue content, nor is `no’ rejecting it. This raises the question, what are these responses signalling to update the common ground? This dissertation argues that the two components of paradoxical responses, the RPs and the followup content, are selecting different targets. The set of targets includes not only the at-issue content, but also speaker beliefs and the questions under discussion. Testing this hypothesis, called the Response Target Hypothesis, draws on a mix of methodologies, one experimental and one rooted in corpus data. Corpora of transcribed, unscripted conversations were searched for RPs plus followup content; 200 tokens for `yeah’ and `no’ were identified for a total of 400, 173 of which were paradoxical. In addition to accepting and rejecting the at-issue content, responses which targeted speaker belief and questions under discussion were also frequent. In paradoxical responses, the followup content almost exclusively targets the at-issue content, and RPs select the additional targets. The experiment presented two-phase scripted conversations to participants: one phase using a combination of response particle and followup content, and the second phase checking if the common ground was updated by phase one. Participants were asked to rate the acceptability of the conversation after hearing both phases. Conversations which included paradoxical responses had a likelihood of being judged `appropriate’ or `very appropriate’ similar to those conversations which included non-paradoxical responses but which varied only in the RP. In other words `yeah, it wasn’t’ patterened along similar lines as `no, it wasn’t.’ Both data streams support the hypothesis that RPs can target more than at-issue content; the results demonstate that RPs that have followup content can target speaker beliefs and questions under discussion independent of at-issue content.

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