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First encounters: Repair sequences in cross-signing

Byun, K.-S., De Vos, C., Bradford, A., Zeshan, U., & Levinson, S. C. (2017). First encounters: Repair sequences in cross-signing. Topics in Cognitive Science. Advance online publication. doi:10.1111/tops.12303.
Most human communication is between people who speak or sign the same languages. Nevertheless, communication is to some extent possible where there is no language in common, as every tourist knows. How this works is of some theoretical interest (Levinson 2006). A nice arena to explore this capacity is when deaf signers of different languages meet for the first time, and are able to use the iconic affordances of sign to begin communication. Here we focus on Other-Initiated Repair (OIR), that is, where one signer makes clear he or she does not understand, thus initiating repair of the prior conversational turn. OIR sequences are typically of a three-turn structure (Schegloff 2007) including the problem source turn (T-1), the initiation of repair (T0), and the turn offering a problem solution (T+1). These sequences seem to have a universal structure (Dingemanse et al. 2013). We find that in most cases where such OIR occur, the signer of the troublesome turn (T-1) foresees potential difficulty, and marks the utterance with 'try markers' (Sacks & Schegloff 1979, Moerman 1988) which pause to invite recognition. The signers use repetition, gestural holds, prosodic lengthening and eyegaze at the addressee as such try-markers. Moreover, when T-1 is try-marked this allows for faster response times of T+1 with respect to T0. This finding suggests that signers in these 'first encounter' situations actively anticipate potential trouble and, through try-marking, mobilize and facilitate OIRs. The suggestion is that heightened meta-linguistic awareness can be utilized to deal with these problems at the limits of our communicational ability.
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