Speech prosody and possible misunderstandings in intercultural talk: A study of listener behaviour in Standard Vietnamese and German dialogues

Author(s): Kieu-Phuong Ha, Samuel Ebner and Martine Grice


A perception experiment testing the interpretation of backchannels by Vietnamese native listeners (Ha 2012) indicates that the pitch reflecting affective meanings may not be derived from the Frequency Code as proposed for a large number of languages (Ohala 1983, Gussenhoven 2004). In the current study we investigate the prosodic patterns of backchannels used by Vietnamese and German speakers in map task dialogues. The analysis focuses on the rechecking phase of the map task. Our findings show that Standard Vietnamese backchannels are produced consistently with a falling/level pitch contour. For German, although there is variation in the form of backchannels, they are predominantly produced with a rising contour. The study points out potential misunderstandings that may occur in intercultural talk in general, and in Vietnamese-German dyads in particular.