Is there modality neutrality in interaction? Exploring the case of copula constructions

Thematic Section: Multilingual interaction – questions of participation and belonging
intercultural encounters; language ideologies; learning ‘in the wild’; linguistic asymmetries; multimodal conversation analysis

Maria Frick, University of Oulu
Ivana Leinonen, University of Oulu
Niina Lilja, Tampere University
Elina Palola, University of Oulu
The interdependence of syntactic and bodily resources in meaning-making have evoked much discussion recently (e.g., Keevallik 2018, Couper-Kuhlen 2018). Conversation analysts and interactional linguists have noticed that even the smallest building blocks of turns in interaction, turn constructional units, can be designed by combining verbal and bodily elements (Olsher 2004; Keevallik 2013). At the same time, construction grammarians have sought cognitive explanations of the phenomenon. For instance, Ziem (2017) distinguishes between inherently multimodal constructions (whose meaning would not be comprehensible without a bodily element) and frame+slot schemas (whose modality-neutral slot can be filled with either a verbal or bodily element). The examples in this study are of the latter type.
A collection of 32 instantiations of copula constructions [NP + copula + X] were examined, in which the subject, NP, is followed by a copula and a bodily enactment or gesture (X). X may or may not be accompanied by vocal sounds, but may not be accompanied by such a linguistic element that would make the sentence syntactically complete in the traditional sense. This collection is compared with a collection of purely verbal utterances that contains instantiations with the same construction type.
The data is drawn from naturally occurring Finnish, English, and code-mixed conversations among people of different linguistic backgrounds. In addition to modality neutrality, possible language neutrality of the constructions that, for bilingual speakers, may be instantiated with a different language frame and slot will be discussed. As the [NP + copula + X] schema is the same in English and Finnish, the possibility that, for speakers, this construction might represent a diasystematic construction (cf. Höder 2018) will be explored. However, there is no evidence of language mixing in the frame (NP + copula) of the constructions, which suggests a cognitive separation of the two languages.