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Parlametrics is a comparative study of conversational style undertaken during 1971 and 1972 by
Alan Lomax with Norman Markel, Norman Berkowitz, Dorothy Deng, and Carol Kulig. It is concerned
with how people talk — with the style rather than the substance of
spoken communication. Like Cantometrics and Choreometrics this study focused on meta-communications
in relation to culturally shared domains of behavior and interaction, which operate largely at the
unthinking or unconscious level.
Culture should be understood not merely as an unknowable "web of significance" in the Geertzian
sense but also as a stream of particular behaviors, which themselves engender meaning and values.
In communication terms, it is anchored in common ways of handling space, force, timing, dominance,
sequence, and gender. In speech, Lomax noted, "such shared patterns of identification enable culture
members to calibrate and synchronize their behavior, thus ensuring the success of verbal interchange
and cooperative action. They form the warp of communication through which the web of particular
relationships, acts, and interchanges is woven." Parlametrics considered language from the
perspective of living speech, as a social act regulated by trans-generationally inherited and
socially transmitted conventions. Its premise was that identifying such codes, tracing their
variability across many cultures, and observing their co-variation with cultural indicators would
provide the key to their interpretation.
Parlametrics was directly inspired by the pioneering research on communications theory and
paralanguage by Edward Hall (1959, 1963), George L. Trager (1958), and Raymond Birdwhistell
(1952, 1970), building directly upon Trager and Henry Lee Smithís work on vocal qualities and
extra-linguistic vocalizations (1951), and Charles F. Hockett et al (1960) on speech rate,
register, volume, and tone quality, as well as pauses, hems, haws, sighs, gasps, coughs and
throat-clearings. The overall approach was indebted to the interaction studies of Conrad
Arensberg and Eliot Chapple (1940, 1972), which attempted to decipher human behavior through
the discrimination, measurement, and sequencing of interpersonal interactions. Prior linguistic
research by Lomax, Edith Trager Johnson, and Fred C. Peng on the phonotactics of folk song (1964, 1973)
was a source of ideas, as was Cantometrics, upon which the research design of Parlametrics was based.
The Human Relations Area Files classification of languages, which was based on George P. Murdockís
Outline of World Cultures, 5th rev. ed. (1975), and Outline of Cultural Materials (1960), 4th ed.,
and on the work of Joseph Greenberg and Carl Voegelin, guided the selection of a sample
representative of the worldís language families. The United Nations lent its cooperation
to the project in gathering recordings of speech, as did individual linguists, anthropologists,
and other scholars. Consisting of 156 languages, a number of which are endangered, the sample
was examined for paralinguistic features that varied across cultures. A standardized rating
scheme was tested and applied to upwards of three 2–5-minute stretches of natural dialogues
and monologues from each language. The data were factor-analyzed into geographic and stylistic
clusters, and were then evaluated against the same societal variables that had been used in
Cantometrics. As in the cases of Cantometrics and Choreometrics, the analysis produced a
number of interesting hypotheses, as well as quite similar results.
At the time the Parlametrics sample was gathered, there were no existing libraries of recorded
speech representative of the world or even of world regions. The Parlametrics Collection contains
150 hours of recordings, a number of which are of endangered languages or languages now extinct.
In 2005 the collection was digitized and preserved by the Rosetta Project, a global collaboration
of language specialists and native speakers.
Arensberg, Conrad M.
1972 Culture as Behavior: Structure and Emergence. Annual Review of Anthropology 1: 1-27.
Birdwhistell, Ray L.
1957 Kenesics in the Context of Motor Habits. Read at the December 28, 1957 meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Unpublished (available from Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, Philadelphia, Pa.).
1970 Kinesics and Context: Essays on Body Motion Communication. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.
Chapple, Eliot and Conrad Arensberg
1940 Measuring Human Relations: An Introduction to the Study of the Interaction of Individuals. Genetic Psychology Monographs 23: 3–147.
Costanzo, Frances S, Norman N. Markel, et al.
1969 Voice Quality Profile and Perceived Emotion. Journal of Counseling Psychology 16 (3): 267–70 (May).
Hall, Edward T.
1959 The Silent Language. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
1963 A System for the Notation of Proxemic Behavior. American Anthropologist 65: 1003–1026.
1974 Handbook For Proxemic Research. Washington, D. C.: Society for Visual Anthropology.
Hockett, Charles F. et al.
1960 "The Origin of Speech." Scientific American 203: 89-9.
1974 Cross-Cultural Factors in Phonological Change. Language in Society, vol. 2: 161–75.
1975 Culture-Style Factors in Face-to-Face Interaction. In Organization of Behavior in Face-to-Face Interaction. Adam Kendon, et al., Eds. Pp: 457–74. The Hague: Mouton.
Lomax, Alan and Edith Crowell Trager
1964 (April) Phonotactique Du Chant Populaire. LíHomme: Revue Francaise díAnthropologie: 1–55.
Markel, Norman N. and Gloria L. Roblin
1961 Connotative Meaning of Several Initial Consonant Clusters in English. In Monograph Series on Languages and Linguistics 14:81–87. Washington, D.C., Georgetown University Press.
1965 The Reliability of Coding Paralanguage: Pitch, Loudness, and Tempo. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 4 (4): 47–61. Buffalo, NY: University of Buffalo.
1965 The Effect of Content and Sex-of-Judge on Judgments of Personality from Voice. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 11 (4): 295–300.
1957 Linguistic Transcription and Specifications of Psychiatric Interview Material. Psychiatry 20: 79–86.
Peng, Fred C.
1974 Communicative Distance. Language Sciences 31: 32-38.
Trager, George L.
1958 Paralanguage: A First Approximation. Studies in Linguistics, Vol. 13, 138: 1–12. Reprinted 1964 in Language in Culture and Society. Dell Hymes, ed. Pp. 274–87. New York: Harper Collins.
1964 Paralanguage: A First Approximation. In Dell Hymes, ed. Language in Culture and Society. New York: Harper and Row. First published in 1958 in Studies in Linguistics 13: 1–19.
Trager, George L. and Henry Lee Smith
1951 (1973) An outline of English Structure. Studies in Linguistics, Occasional Papers (No. 3). Norman, OK: Battenberg Press.
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