Linguistics Colloquium: Yotam Ben Moshe

09/11/2021 - 14:00 - 15:30

Yotam Ben Moshe, University of Haifa

Title: Hebrew turn-initial clicks as epiphenomena and as discourse markers


This study is part of an interactional linguistic (Couper-Kuhlen & Selting 2018) investigation of clicks (especially [|]) in audio- and video-recordings from the Haifa (Multimodal) Corpus of Spoken Hebrew (Maschler et al. 2021a,b). Spoken data were also compared with literary works from Project Ben-Yehuda ( This talk builds upon previous work by Ben-Moshe & Maschler (e.g. 2019, 2021).

Phonemic clicks are rare, mostly restricted to the south of Africa; non-phonemic clicks, however, are common across continents and language families (Gil 2013). The latter have been mostly ignored by linguists, though interest in them has been growing recently, among other ‘liminal signs’ (Dingemanse 2020). Recent research has shown that non-phonemic clicks serve a wide range of roles in conversation: indicating ‘incipient speakership’ (Ogden 2013), stance-taking (ibid.), new sequences (Wright 2011), word searches (Wright 2005), ‘no’ and ‘yes’ (e.g. Lionnet 2020). These works demonstrate the interactional significance of clicks, and some identify them as discourse markers (Pinto & Vigil 2018), while at the same time describing them as ‘non-lexical,’ ‘paralinguistic,’ perhaps epiphenomenal, lacking ‘core semantics.’

In this talk I attempt to reconcile these views and provide a clearer, wider picture of the status and functions of clicks. I explore these questions through four functions of Hebrew clicks in turn-initial position: negation; negative stance-taking; marking transformative responses (Stivers & Hayashi 2010); and signaling frame shifts (Goffman 1981). By analyzing their phonetics and syntactic position, I show that various clicks in the same language differ in their linguistic status: some are epiphenomena, some are fully conventionalized discourse markers, and some lie somewhere in between. Finally, I identify paths of semantic change which may have led to the recruitment of clicks into the expressive arsenal of Hebrew, and suggest that transformative responses may have served as the bridging context enabling their development.


Ben-Moshe, Yotam Michael & Maschler, Yael. “Hebrew clicks: From the periphery of language to the heart of grammar.” 16th International Pragmatics Conference (IPrA), Hong Kong, June 9-14, 2019.

Ben-Moshe, Yotam Michael & Yael Maschler. “A multimodal study of clicks at frame shifts in Hebrew Interaction.” 5th Usage-Based Linguistics conference (UBL5), Tel Aviv, Israel, July 5-7, 2021.\

Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth and Margret Selting. 2017. Interactional Linguistics: Studying Language in Social Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dingemanse, Mark. 2020. Between Sound and Speech: Liminal Signs in Interaction. Research On Language And Social Interaction 53 (1): 188–196.

Gil, David. 2013. “Para-Linguistic Usages of Clicks.” In The World Atlas of Language Structures Online, edited by Matthew S. Dryer and Martin Haspelmath, Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Goffman, Erving. 1981. Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Lionnet, Florian. 2020. “Paralinguistic Use of Clicks in Chad.” In Click Consonants, edited by Bonny Sands, Leiden: Brill.

Maschler, Yael, Hilla Polak-Yitzhaki, Stav Fishman, Carmit Miller Shapiro, Netanel Goretsky, Gallith Aghion & Ophir Fofliger. 2021a. The Haifa Corpus of Spoken Hebrew.

Maschler, Yael, Hilla Polak-Yitzhaki, Stav Fishman, Carmit Miller Shapiro, Netanel Goretsky, Gallith Aghion, Ophir Fofliger, Nikolaus Wildner, Yotam M. Ben Moshe & Rotem Lagil. 2021b. The Haifa Multimodal Corpus of Spoken Hebrew.

Ogden, Richard. 2013. Clicks and Percussives in English Conversation. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 43 (03): 299–320.

Pinto, Derrin and Donny Vigil. 2018. “Clicks as Discourse Markers in Peninsular Spanish.” Spanish in Context 15 (3): 441–464

Stivers, Tanya and Makoto Hayashi. 2010. “Transformative Answers: One Way to Resist a Question’s Constraints.” Language in Society 39 (1): 1–25.

Wright, Melissa. 2005. Studies of the Phonetics-Interaction Interface: Clicks and Interactional Structures in English Conversation. PhD diss., University of York.

Wright, Melissa. 2011. On Clicks in English Talk-in-interaction. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 41 (2): 207–29.




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