Aspects of confused speech: a study of verbal interaction between confused and normal speakers

Shakespeare, Pamela (1996). Aspects of confused speech: a study of verbal interaction between confused and normal speakers. PhD thesis The Open University.



This ethnographic study examines talk between normal and confused speakers. Most data derive from loosely structured research interviews, but use is also made of data from household situations.

The analysis draws on theoretical traditions which examine everyday social interaction. From this perspective, confused speakers represent a case of naturally occurring deviance which allows for the investigation of 'normal talk' and how speakers deal with its absence.

I focus on minimally active, moderately active, and very active confused speakers. All deviate from what ordinary members would commonsensically describe as normal, appropriate talk for the circumstances, in both what they say and how they talk. None of these groups can handle their own biographies, or routine common-sense knowledge, as effectively as ordinary members. However, minimally active speakers abrogate responsibility for context-sensitivity; moderately active speakers seem aware of context issues but may not act in a context-renewing way; while very active speakers seem not to be influenced by contextual issues but maintain a highly active part in the conversation.

Normal speakers may take over the management of context for confused speakers, model context-sensitive talk, or withdraw their full participation. Frequently these strategies promote reasonably normal conversational appearances, but they do not entirely make good the impaired identity of confused speakers.

My analysis suggests the definition of normal talk is constrained by how participants jointly construct social occasions. Normal speakers appreciate issues of context, acknowledging how it shapes and renews conversation. Confused speakers tend not to be context-sensitive in these ways, and their difficulties in this respect and in the generation of an identity appropriate to the event, creates problems within the conversation both for them and for others.

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