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PhD ceremony Mr. T.M. Benjamin: Signaling trouble. On the linguistic design of other-initiation of repair in English conversation

When:Th 21-11-2013 at 11:00

PhD ceremony: Mr. T.M. Benjamin, 11.00 uur, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Dissertation: Signaling trouble. On the linguistic design of other-initiation of repair in English conversation

Promotor(s): prof. G. Redeker

Faculty: Arts

Trevor Benjamin’s thesis examines how speakers of English signal that they have trouble hearing, understanding or accepting what another person has just said. The principal finding is that speakers regularly offer quite specific diagnoses of the trouble they are having. For instance, by initiating repair with the word “who”, produced with falling intonation, a speaker claims that the trouble is understanding who a pronoun (“he”, “she”, “they”) or similar form (“that guy”) is referring to. This differs from “who” produced with rising intonation, which addresses other types of troubles (e.g., hearing a name used). Similarly, it is shown that by repeating what another person has said, and doing so with high-rise fall intonation, a speaker claims specifically that the repeated item is “wrong” and in need of correction. These and other findings contribute to our understanding of conversational repair in two main, interlocking ways. First, they highlight the linguistic variety one finds among these repair-initiating actions, especially with respect to their prosodic design. Second, by demonstrating the diagnostic consequences of these linguistic choices, this thesis underscores the active role played by the recipient (the repair-initiating speaker) in the process of repairing communicative troubles. The resolution of communicative problems, and hence re-establishment of a shared understanding, is truly an interactional accomplishment. The study draws its data from recordings of 150 hours of naturally occurring conversation, and combines linguistic analysis with the methods and framework of Conversation Analysis.