A Candidate continuer forms in 10 unrelated languages, B shown in their natural sequential ecology (annotations as in the original data), C with spectrograms and pitch traces of representative tokens made using the Parselmouth interface to Praat (Jadoul et al., 2018; Boersma & Weenink, 2013).
Response tokens like English mhmm, uhuhh, yeah or Catalan mm, sí, vale are tricky to study in the wild: their phonetic realizations can be quite different from how they are transcribed. Here we use UMAP, a method for dimensionality reduction used in bioacoustics and other fields, to explore the shape of inventories of response tokens in 16 languages. Every point represents a single response token; the closer two points are the more similar they are acoustically. Spectrograms drawn around the rim of the plots provide a direct view of the acoustic structure of tokens and enable quick sanity checks.
L: The vowel space with colour associations by a synaesthete. R: The same vowels displayed according to tongue position when produced. Visualization: Christine Cuskley & Mark Dingemanse. For an interactive version of this visual, see here.
Pitch trace of a Japanese utterance starting with two tokens of the ideophone zabɯ:n ‘splash’, showing how they are produced in the upper part of the speaker’s pitch range, and how their articulation is drawn out relative to other non-ideophonic elements in the utterance. This illustrates the special treatment that ideophones often get in everyday speech, which makes them stand out from the surrounding material.