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Addressee backchannels steer narrative development

  • Author(s): Tolins, Jackson
  • Fox Tree, Jean E
  • et al.

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Brief addressee responses such as uh huh, oh, and wow, which are called backchannels, are typically considered reactive phenomena – devices that respond in various ways to what was just said. Addressees, in providing backchannels, actively shape story telling in spontaneous dialogue ( Bavelas et al., 2000). We contrasted generic backchannels with context-sensitive specific backchannels within a collection of face-to-face dialogues and in a narrative completion experiment. The analysis demonstrates that storytellers respond in distinct patterns to the two categories of backchannels. After generic backchannels, they provide discourse-new events. After specific backchannels, they provide elaborative information on previously presented events. Results from an experiment support this analysis, indicating that people reading transcripts of the conversation predict a similar pattern of story continuation following generic versus specific backchannels. We conclude that addressee responses are not only reactive, but proactive and collaborative in the shaping of narrative.

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