Multimodal Assemblies for Prefacing a Dispreferred Response: A Cross-Linguistic Analysis

Simona Pekarek Doehler, Hilla Polak-Yitzhaki, Xiaoting Li, Ioana Maria Stoenica, Martin Havlík, Leelo Keevallik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper we examine how participants’ multimodal conduct maps onto one of the basic organizational principles of social interaction: preference organization – and how it does so in a similar manner across five different languages (Czech, French, Hebrew, Mandarin, and Romanian). Based on interactional data from these languages, we identify a recurrent multimodal practice that respondents deploy in turn-initial position in dispreferred responses to various first actions, such as information requests, assessments, proposals, and informing. The practice involves the verbal delivery of a turn-initial expression corresponding to English ‘I don’t know’ and its variants (‘dunno’) coupled with gaze aversion from the prior speaker. We show that through this ‘multimodal assembly’ respondents preface a dispreferred response within various sequence types, and we demonstrate the cross-linguistic robustness of this practice: Through the focal multimodal assembly, respondents retrospectively mark the prior action as problematic and prospectively alert co-participants to incipient resistance to the constraints set out or to the stance conveyed by that action. By evidencing how grammar and body interface in related ways across a diverse set of languages, the findings open a window onto cross-linguistic, cross-modal, and cross-cultural consistencies in human interactional conduct.

Original languageEnglish
Article number689275
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - 27 Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The French and the Romanian parts of this study were conducted with the generous support of the Swiss National Science Foundation, as part of the project The Emergent Grammar of Clause Combining in Social Interaction, grant no. 100012_178819. The Hebrew part of the study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, grants nos. 1233/16 and #941/20 to Yael Maschler.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Pekarek Doehler, Polak-Yitzhaki, Li, Stoenica, Havlík and Keevallik.


  • conversation analysis
  • epistemic markers
  • gaze
  • multimodality
  • preference organization
  • turn-prefacing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (all)


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