An investigation of the types and structure of misunderstandings
This thesis is based on the premise that when speaker-hearers are involved in misunderstandings, they provide analysts of talk with valuable evidence of a process which is not normally amenable to direct investigation, namely, the process of 'successful communication'. A number of scholars, working independently from different disciplinary perspectives, have begun to investigate such evidence but there has been no systematic programme of research to determine either the structural characteristics of misunderstandings or the different types of misunderstandings which could occur in everyday interaction. In order to facilitate such a programme, a corpus of one hundred misunderstandings was collected by the diary method. As a first step towards analysing the corpus a communication model was developed in order to account for the salient structural characteristics of misunderstandings. Four major integral components were identified which provide an important source of evidence for establishing (i) that a misunderstanding has occurred, (ii) the extent, course and outcome of a misunderstanding and (iii). the type of misunderstanding which has occurred. The components are both 'textual', such as utterances, and 'non-textual', such as understandings, and therefore enable the essential aspects of communication to be accommodated in the analysis. The fact that nineteen different types of misunderstandings were identified indicates the complexity of the phenomenon. The "process" analysis of the corpus and of additional data, drawn from the work of other researchers, shows that speaker-hearers are able to negotiate understanding by means of a number of devices'. In detailing these 'devices' and the inter-relationship between them, it is suggested that the correct use of'devices' and the recognition of inappropriate responses are crucial communicative skills. The majority of misunderstandings are detected and resolved because speaker-hearers draw on these skills. Nevertheless, some misunderstandings are not resolved and these data emphasize how important it is that speaker-hearers utilize the resources available to them. By specifying what these resources might be, this thesis argues that successful communication requires highly complex, structured interaction in which the monitoring of understanding is of paramount importance.