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Universal principles in the repair of communication problems.

Dingemanse, Mark, Roberts, Seán G., Baranova, Julija, Blythe, Joe, Drew, Paul, Floyd, Simeon, Gisladottir, Rosa S., Kendrick, Kobin H., Levinson, Stephen C., Manrique, Elizabeth, Rossi, Giovanni and Enfield, N. J. 2015. Universal principles in the repair of communication problems. PLoS ONE 10 (9) , e0136100. 10.1371/journal.pone0136100

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Abstract

There would be little adaptive value in a complex communication system like human language if there were no ways to detect and correct problems. A systematic comparison of conversation in a broad sample of the world’s languages reveals a universal system for the real-time resolution of frequent breakdowns in communication. In a sample of 12 languages of 8 language families of varied typological profiles we find a system of ‘other-initiated repair’, where the recipient of an unclear message can signal trouble and the sender can repair the original message. We find that this system is frequently used (on average about once per 1.4 minutes in any language), and that it has detailed common properties, contrary to assumptions of radical cultural variation. Unrelated languages share the same three functionally distinct types of repair initiator for signalling problems and use them in the same kinds of contexts. People prefer to choose the type that is the most specific possible, a principle that minimizes cost both for the sender being asked to fix the problem and for the dyad as a social unit. Disruption to the conversation is kept to a minimum, with the two-utterance repair sequence being on average no longer that the single utterance which is being fixed. The findings, controlled for historical relationships, situation types and other dependencies, reveal the fundamentally cooperative nature of human communication and offer support for the pragmatic universals hypothesis: while languages may vary in the organization of grammar and meaning, key systems of language use may be largely similar across cultural groups. They also provide a fresh perspective on controversies about the core properties of language, by revealing a common infrastructure for social interaction which may be the universal bedrock upon which linguistic diversity rests.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Additional Information: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited
Publisher: Public Library of Science
ISSN: 1932-6203
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 10 June 2020
Date of Acceptance: 29 July 2015
Last Modified: 24 Jun 2020 10:00
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/132306

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