Symptom or Signal?: The role of disfluency in dialogue
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Disfluencies are a regular occurrence within spoken speech. While commonly seen as the result of a problem of speech production, there are some who suggest that rather than merely being a symptom of one of these problems they are in fact a signal to the listener. To support the notion that speakers may be influenced by their interlocutors there will be a discussion of some of the theories for alignment. Following this disfluency as signal theories will be discussed, with particular attention to the possible role of prolongations and filled pauses as predictors of delays in speech. These will be contrasted with the theory that disfluency is merely the result of a cognitive burden. These two views are tested through an experiment involving picture naming, where in one condition participants will speak in monologues, while in another they play a picture matching game with a confederate of the experimenter. As predicted by both views, it is observed that speakers are influenced by their listeners and disfluency is influenced by the difficulty of speech production. While evidence is not found that disfluency acts as a signal, we are able to show flaws in the competing theory. Finally, the experiment is assessed and proposals are made for further research.