Conversation partner responses to problematic talk produced by people with aphasia: some alternatives to initiating, completing, or pursuing repair

Scott Barnes*, Alison Ferguson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Problems with intersubjectivity (i.e., mutual understanding) are prevalent during interactions involving people with aphasia. The linguistic restrictions imposed by aphasia mean that conversation partners must often assist with repairing intersubjective problems if they are to be resolved efficaciously. However, conversation partners can resist participation in repair activities. This may have serious negative implications for how people with aphasia participate in conversation.

Aims: This study uses conversation analysis (CA) to examine responses to problematic talk produced by people with aphasia. It focuses on three alternatives to initiating, completing, or pursuing repair: receipting responses, accounting responses, and “other” responses. The interactional organisation and consequences of these responses are described.

Methods & Procedures: Three people with aphasia and nine of their familiar conversation partners were video-recorded during their everyday conversations. Approximately 9.5 hr of recordings was collected. Ninety-seven responses were identified in this data set and analysed using collection-based conversation-analytic practices.

Outcomes & Results: Receipting responses register that the person with aphasia has produced a turn, but provide little support for the action implemented by the turn. They do not index problems with intersubjectivity and often result in the problematic talk being abandoned. Accounting responses index problems with intersubjectivity, but do not work towards resolving them. Instead, they deal with why an appropriate response to the problematic talk cannot be delivered, and which party is responsible for its absence. “Other” responses comprise a more eclectic category. One type—non-serious responses—is examined. Non-serious responses take the appearance of repair, but ultimately delay authentic repair attempts.

Conclusions: The responses examined can have negative consequences for the participation of people with aphasia, restricting their ability to implement social action, and making relevant their status as linguistically incompetent. However, they can also help with navigating the sensitive environments created by problems with intersubjectivity. Interaction-focused interventions might focus on these practices in addition to repair practices when attempting to improve how communication breakdown is addressed. CA and qualitative interviewing are well suited to future explorations of how conversation partners decide that they will not initiate, complete, or pursue repair.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-336
Number of pages22
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • aphasia
  • conversation
  • conversation partners
  • intersubjectivity
  • repair


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