Towards a typology of systems of language use: The case of other-initiated repair

Enfield, N. J., Dingemanse, M., Rossi, G., Baranova, J., Blythe, J., Drew, P., Floyd, S., Gisladottir, R. S., Levinson, S. C., Kendrick, K. H., Manrique, E., & Roberts, S. G. (2013). Towards a typology of systems of language use: The case of other-initiated repair. Talk presented at the 13th International Pragmatics Conference. New Delhi, India. 2013-09-08 - 2013-09-13.
This presentation will report on the findings of a large-scale comparative project on other-initiated repair in 12 languages, representing major and minor languages of Europe, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Australia, South America, and Papua New Guinea (and including a sign language). This comparative project is based on a multilanguage corpus of video-recorded interaction in informal settings in homes and villages, among family and friends. Building on findings from qualitative work, a research team in the "Interactional Foundations of Language" Project at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen has developed a detailed coding scheme for the systematic comparison of other-initiated repair sequences across languages. These languages belong to different language families, have different typological profiles, and are spoken by members of distinctly different cultures. Despite the diversity of languages and cultures represented, the findings of this study show a striking set of commonalities in the sequential and formal organization of other-initiated repair. This lends some support to an ''interactional infrastructure'' hypothesis, which suggests that interactional structures are more likely to be universal than lexico-grammatical structures. At the same time, however, we also observe differences across the languages in how the common system of possibilities for other-initiated repair is used: for example, while most if not all languages allow speakers to use both an interjection ("Huh?") and a WH-word ("What?") strategy for ''open-class other-initiation of repair'', the relative frequency of these strategies varies, with English showing quite common use of ''What?'' for this function, but with many other languages almost exclusively using a ''Huh?'' strategy. The presentation will summarize and explain findings of the coding study, with reference not only to the different strategies available for other-initiation of repair, but also the kinds of repair operations that can be carried out as a function of the choice of repair initiator. There will also be some discussion of the relevance of these results to our understanding of the cultural status of rights and responsibilities in the domain of social agency.
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