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Conversation Analysis

5. CA in Action

Example 8d

At this point in the interaction, the physician and patient are no more than two feet apart. Yet the patient's response to the question is to ask the physician to repeat it. In his analysis of these kinds of repeat requests, Drew (1997) observes that they are produced either when there is a hearing problem, or alternatively, when there is a problem in grasping the relevance of the talk to be responded to. A hearing problem is out of the question because of the objective circumstances of the participants, and it is subsequently ruled out by the conduct of both of them. However a 'relevance' problem is not out of the question. After all the patient's remark at lines 9 and 10 (that she didn't get out of the restaurant "very much") was most likely on its way to suggesting that she didn't have many opportunities to drink. The transition from this implication to an inquiry about whether she drinks on a "daily" basis may indeed have been somewhat jarring, and difficult to process.

Earlier it was suggested that the parties ruled out a 'hearing problem' as the basis for the patient’s request for repetition. The physician rules this out when, rather than fully repeating his previous question, he repeats a reduced form in which only the two most salient words are left: "daily" and "or." Only a full repeat would have been compatible with a belief that his patient had not heard him. A drastically reduced repeat like this one conveys, to the contrary, that he believes she heard him. For her part, the patient confirms this analysis when she proves fully able to respond to this abbreviated repeat, beginning before it is even concluded. Here then the objective circumstances of the interaction and the actual conduct of the parties is compatible with only one interpretation of the patient's "Pardon?": that it expressed a difficulty with the relevance of the question.

This same difficulty is expressed in a different way when the patient begins to respond. The response includes "huh uh," a casual and minimizing version of "no" designed to indicate that "daily?" is far off the mark. It is also prefaced by “oh” which, as noted earlier, communicates that a question was irrelevant or inapposite (Heritage, 1998).

Drew P. (1997). 'Open' class repair initiators in response to sequential sources of trouble in conversation. Journal of Pragmatics 28: 69-101.
Heritage J. (1998). Oh-prefaced responses to inquiry. Language in society 27(3): 291-334.