Formats for other-initiation of repair across languages: An exercise in pragmatic typology

In conversation, people regularly deal with problems of speaking, hearing, and understanding. We report on a cross-linguistic investigation of the conversational structure of other-initiated repair (also known as collaborative repair, feedback, requests for clarification, or grounding sequences). We take stock of formats for initiating repair across languages (comparable to English huh?, who?, y’mean X?, etc.) and find that different languages make available a wide but remarkably similar range of linguistic resources for this function. We exploit the patterned variation as evidence for several underlying concerns addressed by repair initiation: characterising trouble, managing responsibility, and handling knowledge. The concerns do not always point in the same direction and thus provide participants in interaction with alternative principles for selecting one format over possible others. By comparing conversational structures across languages, this paper contributes to pragmatic typology: the typology of systems of language use and the principles that shape them.
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