Fluency at AAAL
My sabbatical year is nearly over, but I'm managing to squeeze in one more formal trip and conference with a visit to the annual American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) conference in Chicago, Illinois. This is familiar ground for me as I spent some of my undergraduate years living in the outer suburbs and some of my graduate years living in the city proper. Nevertheless, I found that many things have changed since I last was here. When I left, Millenium Park was just a big construction dig, so it was neat to see it all done.
However, the main purpose of the trip wasn't sightseeing, but rather the conference, of course. In fact, this was my first time at a AAAL conference. I have wanted to attend one sometime, but the schedule just never really jibed with my own: either I had something else already planned at that time, or I just didn't have anything suitable to submit when the deadline rolled around. So, this year it worked out perfectly as closure to my sabbatical year.
I enjoyed several very good presentations on fluency (and, of course, other topics) throughout the conference. An early talk that caught my interest was by Mushi Li, a student at Tufts. Her talk focused on the interlanguage speech comprehensibility benefit in the context of Mandarin-accented English speech. Like work I reported a year earlier at the (Dis)Fluency conference in Belgium, her interest was on whether the benefit depends on the whether the speaker and listener share the same native language or not. Interestingly, she observed a proficiency effect: low-proficiency learners have a benefit listening to low-proficiency speakers, but a detriment when listening to high-proficiency speakers. This makes sense and yet is quite interesting in that it would suggest that perceptual fluency would also be modulated by listener's proficiency. My earlier study did not test that point, so I have no evidence to bring to the question. But it seems like a good future project.
Other talks of interest include one by Bill Crawford (Arizona U) and Eniko Csomay (San Diego State U) on complexity in spoken language. Topically, this talk was probably the closest talk to my own (see below). Their angle, though was to look at the spoken and written output of learners to examine how grammatical complexity can indicate proficiency development. Also of interest were talks by Derrin Pinto and Donny Vigil on clicks as discourse markers, David Crouch also looking at the relationship between oral fluency and writing, as well as a talk by my friend Lorenzo García-Amaya (U Michigan) on instruments for evaluating the study abroad experience of students (Daily Linguistic Questionnaire 2.0).
As for my talk, I focused on an analysis of the Crosslinguistic Corpus of Hesitation Phenomena (CCHP) in which I related the complexity and fluency of the speakers' speech in terms of production of silent and filled pauses. The unique feature of this work is the fact that CCHP has both first and second language speech data from each speaker so intra-speaker comparisons can be done to look at speakers' development. Basically, I reported that as lexical complexity increases, length of silent pauses increase while occurrence of filled pauses decrease. Syntactic complexity had a far weaker effect. Interestingly, L2 proficiency was not a factor in the results.
So, I suggest that it may not be effective to assess learner's lexical development through any measure that depends on the occurrence of pause in their speech. This is in some contrast to what one might conjecture based on earlier work by Corley et al (2006) which shows a relationship between filled pause occurrence and noun frequency.
[Note: This post was written in September, 2020. However, in order to preserve the chronology of the blog, it has been dated to reflect when the described events actually took place.]