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Human-Robot Interaction Lab Sønderborg

About the project

Project Team

Project Coordinator: Kerstin Fischer
Principal Investigators: Søren Wind Eskildsen, Oliver Niebuhr
PostDoc: Maria Alm
PhD student: Nathalie Schümchen
Associated: Lars Christian Jensen
Assistants: Selina Sara Eisenberger

The projekt was funded by The Danish Council for Independent Research

About the Project

Traditional teaching materials for the learning of foreign languages commonly focus on grammar and vocabulary, and, to some degree, on pronunciation. In contrast, the pragmatic and prosodic features of these languages are usually left out, for reasons of obscurity and complexity; it is difficult to pin down the relevant functions and to convey them efficiently to students. A basic, but not trivial example is learning to ask a question; in English, for instance, questions with a declarative syntax typically have rising intonation (e.g., Stivers 2010; Heritage 2011; Eskildsen 2015; Petrone & Niebuhr 2013). In contrast, in Danish all utterances seem to have more or less falling intonation contours; even questions with declarative syntax have supposed to have a very slight fall or an almost level intonation (Grønnum 2005). The question is: If the prosody in the new language clashes with the second language learner’s expectations, how can the learner learn to distinguish between questions and statements?

This project aims to fill the gap regarding the teaching of prosody to second language (L2) learners. We analyze real conversation with conversation analytic (CA) methods in order to identify the prosodic features that are used by native speakers to fulfill certain communicative tasks. These are then compared with the linguistic behavior of language learners engaged in interaction in their second languages (here: Danish, English and German).

Once we have identified a linguistic feature as a candidate for a trouble source, we use Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) experiments to investigate communicative functions of that feature in a controllable way, by varying one feature at a time in the robots’ behavior, yet still embedding it in an interactional context. We can use video clips of human-robot interactions directly from our experiments to teach the communicative functions of prosodic features in interaction, or we develop further visualization methods in the project to help L2 learners to properly understand and use L2 prosody. The teaching materials will be freely accessible for teachers (and learners) to download and use.

Last Updated 31.10.2023