Contextualizing Conversational Strategies: Backchannel, Repair and Linguistic Alignment in Spontaneous and Task-Oriented Conversations

Do interlocutors adjust their conversational strategies to the specific contextual demands of a given situation? Prior studies have yielded conflicting results, making it unclear how strategies vary with demands. We combine insights from qualitative and quantitative approaches in a within-participant experimental design involving two different contexts: spontaneously occurring conversations (SOC) and task-oriented conversations (TOC). We systematically assess backchanneling, other-repair and linguistic alignment. We find that SOC exhibit a higher number of backchannels, a reduced and more generic repair format and higher rates of lexical and syntactic alignment. TOC are characterized by a high number of specific repairs and a lower rate of lexical and syntactic alignment. However, when alignment occurs, more linguistic forms are aligned. The findings show that conversational strategies adapt to specific contextual demands.
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