Repair in Conversation Analysis

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Christopher J. Zahn quote
Christopher J. Zahn, "A Reexamination of Conversational Repair." Communication Monographs, March 1984.

 Richard Nordquist

In conversation analysis, repair is the process by which a speaker recognizes a speech error and repeats what has been said with some sort of correction. Also called speech repair, conversational repair, self-repair, linguistic repair, reparation, false start, accommodation, and restart.

A linguistic repair may be marked by a hesitation and an editing term (such as, "I mean") and is sometimes regarded as a type of dysfluency.

The term repair in the linguistic sense was introduced by Victoria Fromkin in her article "The Non-Anomalous Nature of Anomalous Utterances," published in Language, March 1971.

Examples and Observations

  • "Well, I think it’s--you know, I think this has gone beyond, as it were, Al Qaida as a specific network. I mean, this is--there is no central command in this ideology, the way that, you know, you would normally describe one unit of--that leads an operation. It’s not like that."
    (Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, CNN interview, Dec. 8, 2008)
  • "We don't really move. I mean, we'd like to, but my mom is sort of attached to the house. Attached is, I guess, not the right word. She's pretty much wedged in."
    (Johnny Depp as Gilbert in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, 1993)
  • "If I need to stand up in front of an audience and give a speech and it's an audience full of educated people from all walks of life, then I would feel embarrassed about not using correct grammar. I wouldn't want to stand in front and say, 'She don't . . .' or "He don't . . ..' I wouldn't want to say that. But the thing is that I say it so much that it's like I know I would say it at a time that I probably shouldn't say it. But the thing is that what I try to do is when I say that in certain circles, I try to correct myself and I find myself thinking in the middle of my sentences, 'What word do I say next? Which verb agreement am I supposed to use?'"
    (Reia, quoted by Sonja L. Lanehart in Sista, Speak!: Black Women Kinfolk Talk About Language and Literacy. University of Texas Press, 2002)

Self-Repair and Other-Repair

"Repairs are variously classified as 'self-repair' (corrections, etc. made by speakers themselves responsible), vs. 'other-repair' (made by their interlocutors); as 'self-initiated' (made by a speaker without querying or prompting) vs. 'other-initiated' (made in response to querying or prompting)."
(P.H. Matthews, Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics, 1997)
Cordelia Chase: I just don't see why everyone's always picking on Marie-Antoinette. I can so relate to her. She worked really hard to look that good, and people just don't appreciate that kind of effort. And I know the peasants were all depressed.
Xander Harris: I think you mean oppressed.
Cordelia Chase: Whatever. They were cranky.
(Charisma Carpenter and Nicholas Brendon in "Lie to Me." Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1997)

Types of Repair Sequences

  1. Self-initiated self-repair: Repair is both initiated and carried out by the speaker of the trouble source.
  2. Other-initiated self-repair: Repair is carried out by the speaker of the trouble source but initiated by the recipient.
  3. Self-initiated other-repair: The speaker of a trouble source may try and get the recipient to repair the trouble--for instance if a name is proving troublesome to remember.
  4. Other-initiated other-repair: The recipient of a trouble source turn both initiates and carries out the repair. This is closest to what is conventionally called 'correction.'"
  • "[T]here are four varieties of repair sequences:
    (Ian Hutchby and Robin Wooffitt, Conversation Analysis. Polity, 2008)

Repairs and the Speech Process

"One of the ways that linguists have learned about speech production is through the study of repair. The early seminal studies of Fromkin argued that a variety of speech errors (neologisms, word substitutions, blends, misordered constituents) demonstrated the psychological reality of phonological, morphological and syntactic rules and provided evidence for ordered phases in speech production. Such studies have also suggested that although speakers have no little or no overt access to their own speech processes, they are able to continuously monitor their own speech, and if they detect a problem, to then self-interrupt, hesitate and/or use editing terms, and then make the repair."

(Deborah Schiffrin, In Other Words. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006)

The Lighter Side of Self-Repair

"With stealthy steps he crept to the head of the stairs and descended.
"One uses the verb 'descend' advisedly, for, what is required is some word suggesting instantaneous activity. About Baxter's progress from the second floor to the first there was nothing halting or hesitating. He, so to speak, did it now. Planting his foot firmly on a golf-ball which the Hon. Freddie Threepwood, who had been ​practicing putting in the corridor before retiring to bed, had left in his casual fashion just where the steps began, he took the entire staircase in one majestic, volplaning sweep. There were eleven stairs in all separating his landing from the landing below, and the only ones he hit were the third and tenth. He came to rest with a squattering thud on the lower landing, and for a moment or two the fever of the chase left him."
(P.G. Wodehouse, Leave It to Psmith, 1923)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Repair in Conversation Analysis." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Repair in Conversation Analysis. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Repair in Conversation Analysis." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).