Speech Prosody 2014

From Prayer to Protest: An Initial Look at Joint Speech

Fred Cummins
Joint speech is an umbrella term covering choral speech, synchronous speech, chant, and all forms of speech where many people say the same thing at the same time. Prosodists, more than most, should be aware of the incompleteness of a structuralist description of language. Much of our use of language is ignored or missed when lin guistic behaviour is viewed through the narrow lens of phonological/syntactic structure. I will discuss Joint Speech, as found in prayer, protest, classrooms, and sports stadia around the world. Despite its deep embedding in practices we value very much, joint speech has not hitherto attracted the attention of scientists as a distinct form of language behavior, because it is uninteresting from a structuralist point of view. If we merely take the time to look, however, there is much to be found in joint speech that is crying out for elaboration and investigation. I will attempt to sketch the terra incognita that opens up and present a few initial findings (phonetic, anthropological, neuroscientific) that suggest that Joint Speech is far from being a peripheral and exotic special case. It is, rather, a central example of language use that must inform our theories of what language and languaging are.