Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet


Nonverbal Coordination as a Possible Evolutionary Precursor of Conversational Cooperation: The Case of Adaptor Mirroring

Slawomir Wacewicz (University of Torun, Poland)

Like all signalling, language involves several classes of constraints, such as the physical constraints of signal production, reception and noise; and the cognitive constraints related to the content of the message or inferences in the hearer’s mind. However, a third, and more fundamental, type of constraints refers to honesty and stability of signalling. In what follows, I describe a research programme, currently underway, that will address the origins of stable cooperative signalling in conversation.

Cooperation is a foundational feature of human linguistic communication, and one whose evolutionary bases are still an unresolved question. It is most clearly visible on the 'Gricean' level, i.e. the level of content; however, the general cooperative character of conversation extends well beyond the transmission of meaning. The underlying layer of mechanics and structuring of interaction – including phenomena such as synchronisation, turn-taking, back channelling or postural mirroring, which are not directly related to the content of messages or inferences – shows patterns of organisation that can be described as cooperative. This relation is likely to be hierarchical, with the level of mechanics/structuring being primary and forming a basis for the higher-level, Gricean cooperation (and beyond, i.e. the actual cooperation over achieving common goals in extra-linguistic reality).

Our research aims at shedding light on the mechanisms that enable and govern cooperation at the basic, low-level, layer of the communicative interaction, and their implications for the successive layers of communicative cooperation. We target one specific type of nonverbal behaviour for experimental investigation, i.e. we purport to test empirically the influence of non-matching mirroring of adaptors on the flow of conversation and the formation of the disposition to cooperate. The non-matching mirroring of adaptors is a hitherto unexplored phenomenon.