Jessica de Villiers

Associate Professor

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Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Discourse coherence and atypicality in autistic adults: from corpus analysis to subjective impressions of spoken discourse (2019)

Adequate and efficient participation in a social interaction requires the ability to produce and interpret coherent discourse. Coherence can be achieved using a diverse set of cognitive and linguistic tools such as topic continuity or connectives. Failing to produce enough coherence cues or to interpret them as such can lead to communication breakdowns, potentially compromising the on-going interaction. In a neurodevelopmental disorder like autism, characterized by impairments in social communication, autistic individuals often fail to produce and understand coherent discourse.Numerous studies have already used discourse analysis to examine discourse (in)coherence and (a)typicality in autistic individuals. However, the studies have been one-sided in terms of methodology, viz. investigating either discourse production or comprehension, but not both. They have also been one-sided in terms of the perspective of the analysis, viz. only considering discourse coherence from the standpoint of neurotypical individuals, without also considering the perspective of autistic individuals. However, social communication is a two-sided dynamic, whereby both communication partners contribute to the coherence of the unfolding discourse. Therefore, the aim of this dissertation is to define the qualities of discourse (in)coherence and (a)typicality in autistic adults by combining both detailed transcript analyses and more subjective interpretation of spoken discourse, by both neurotypical and autistic individuals.To achieve these aims, a corpus of interviews of French-speaking autistic adults and French-speaking neurotypical adults, matched on gender, age and IQ was collected. The data of three interview tasks was annotated and underlie the entire work of this dissertation. On the basis of the annotated data, detailed transcript analyses were performed to examine both the content and the delivery strategies of spoken discourse in autism. In a subsequent step, discourse features identified in transcripts are related with their perception by naïve listeners with and without a diagnosis of autism as well as their contribution to impression formation of the speaker. Taken together, this dissertation shows a consistent difficulty in the production of coherent discourse which transpired both in content and delivery strategy. Crucially, reduced discourse coherence resulted in a one-sided ‘neurotypical’ bias towards autistic individuals, which is likely to further hinder their communication success.

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Affixed interjections in English and Polish: a corpus-based study of emotional talk in digital communication and literary dialogue (2018)

Extensive cross-linguistic research documents a wide range of functions and semantic-pragmatic meanings of interjections in English and Polish that typically correspond with a primary function of conveying emotion. With many forms that have changed over time and appear in a variety of written and spoken mediums, interjections have been mainly considered ‘morphologically simple’; that is, they typically do not take on affixes. However, recent research has shown that interjections do, indeed, acquire various slang, diminutive and augmentative suffixes to change the register, to intensify or diminish the base interjections’ meaning, and/or to convey jocularity and non-serious meanings associated with play. This dissertation addresses some major gaps in the descriptive and empirical research of the semantic and pragmatic functions and meanings of affixed interjections in Polish, a synthetic Slavic language, and English, an analytic Germanic language. These two languages are compared and analyzed by examining the core and peripheral meanings of affixed interjections, their typology, and their pragmatic potential as attitudinals. The morphology and pragmatics of these affixed interjections are examined qualitatively and quantitatively by examining definitions from online dictionaries and standard corpora. It is argued that three fundamental semantic constraints underlie the formation of affixed interjections: [+INFORMAL], [+EMOTION], and [+ATTITUDE]. These three features can be subdivided into secondary semantic and pragmatic features that may or may not always apply, including [+PLAYFUL], [+CUTE], [+SILLY], [+GOOD HUMOUR], [+INTIMATE] and [+WARM]. Given the volume and variety of forms considered, affixed interjections would be methodologically challenging to gather in naturally occurring spontaneous speech; therefore, the study combines data from corpora of online sources that provide novel, current and slang words, including the micro-blogging site Twitter, Google Books, fanfiction, blogs, and blog comments. The dissertation also examines the Appraisal resources (Martin and White 2005) used for diminutive interjections. It is argued that English uses diminutive interjections mainly for positive APPRECIATION (positive meanings), negative JUDGEMENT (sarcasm), and negative AFFECT (negative meanings). These interjections are relatively rare compared to Polish. In comparison, Polish diminutives are much more frequent and conventional, and are used to facilitate social bonding, and show warmth and affection.

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