Vowels and feelings : vowel space size as a resource for affect and interpersonal positioning
- In sociolinguistics, it has become increasingly evident that affect matters for variation. Whether to embody smiling, express cuteness, or convey fear, vocalic variation is an important resource for indexing affective meanings. However, the theoretical framework surrounding affect in sociolinguistic research remains limited, leading to a restricted understanding of affective experiences. We reduce the complex embodied experiencing of affect to singular dimensions (e.g., pleasantness) filtered through speakers' interactional acts (e.g., doing cuteness). This process fails to capture the intricate interplay between the pleasantness and intensity of emotional reactions, and our subsequent behavioural responses. This dissertation presents a new approach to affect, highlighting moment-to-moment variation in vowel space size as an index of the multifaceted dimensions of affect. Drawing on psycho-socio constructionist theories, I take a holistic perspective that recognizes the inherently complex and embodied nature of affect. Furthermore, a comprehensive approach to vocalic variation reveals that the coordinated centralization and dispersion of the vowel space allows speakers to index affective meaning and position themselves relative to interlocutors. I argue that vowel space size is a proprioceptive index of approaching (centralization) and avoiding (dispersion) affective stimuli that mimics embodied sensation. Across three studies, this dissertation unpacks the relationship between affective meanings and vowel space size. The first study examines whether vowel space size can cue interlocutors' interpersonal positioning. Analyzing unscripted dyadic interactions between strangers or familiar interlocutors, this chapter targets the relationship between a speaker's vocalic realization and how they evaluate their interlocutor and the interaction. It finds that speakers who 'click' more with their interlocutor employ more vocalic centralization. While this suggests that vowel space size can reflect a speaker's feelings towards an interlocutor, it remained unclear whether it is a resource that speakers vary throughout an interaction. The second study focuses on a close-knit community of non-binary individuals and how their vocalic realizations within and across interactions with cis-gender friends and non-binary friends cue interpersonal and affective meanings. By combining quantitative analyses of vocalic variation with stance coding and a discourse analytic approach, this study develops a method for capturing moment-to-moment vocalic variation and its interactional implications. It finds that centralization is employed when building solidarity and commiserating with other non-binary individuals, emphasizing shared emotional experiences and common ground. Conversely, dispersion primarily conveys negative affective stances towards personally and emotionally significant topics, as well as disaffiliation from cis-gender friends during disagreements. Notably, extreme dispersion signals particularly intense negative stances. This demonstrates how vowel space size can reflect speakers' changing affective stance and affiliation, while suggesting a relationship between vocalic variation and the emotional embodiment of affect. The third study analyzes vocalic variation during an 8-hour couch co-op video game session between two friends, quantifying facial emotional displays for valence, intensity, and discrete emotions. It finds an interaction between valence and intensity, such that vowel spaces disperse with high intensity negative expressions but centralize with high intensity positive ones. Furthermore, an embodied approach to affect reveals that vowel space size serves as an index of approach-avoidance motivations, with approach emotions exhibiting increased centralization (e.g., happiness, playfulness, annoyance), while avoidance emotions display dispersion (surprise, worry, sadness). The proprioceptive mimicking of bodily sensations by the vowel space supports the notion that vowel space size is an embodied index of affect and its associated interactional meanings. Collectively, these studies complicate our current understanding of affect in sociolinguistics and present a framework in which vowel space size is an embodied proprioceptive index of approach and avoidance. This embodied relationship can be exploited to create interpersonal and expressive meanings, encompassing interlocutor connections, intense affective stances, and the conveyance of specific emotions. Importantly, this holistic approach provides insight into the intrinsically felt nature of affect, providing a window into how people are feeling in interactions, as well as how feelings bear on meaningful linguistic variation.
|Type of resource
|electronic resource; remote; computer; online resource
|1 online resource.
|Degree committee member
|Stanford University, School of Humanities and Sciences
|Stanford University, Department of Linguistics
|Statement of responsibility
|Submitted to the Department of Linguistics.
|Thesis Ph.D. Stanford University 2023.
- © 2023 by Chantal Gratton
- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).
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