Dialogue and group dynamics
Jan de Ruiter, Lorenz Sichelschmidt
In the CRC project A3, „Dialogue and Group Dynamics“, we pursue
two different but closely related research strands.
(1) Can the notion of alignment fruitfully be extended from dialogue to
communication within groups of three or more? This aspect builds on earlier studies that have
demonstrated interlocutors to converge on particular conversational strategies in the
course of verbal exchange. Demonstrably, this holds not only for participants in dialogue but
also within larger groups. However, the necessary and sufficient conditions of such an alignment
are not fully understood yet. For example, it is not entirely clear if active participation
is a prerequisite for convergence or if conversational goings-on also take any alignment
effects on overhearers too. Hence, we shall introduce a person’s participation status as a
factor in our investigations.
Phase 1: “Yellow“ as participant vs. overhearer
(2) Is it possible to distinguish empirically between various modes of
alignment that may complement each other in dialogue? This aspect is based on the proposed
distinction between „explicit common ground“ and „implicit common
ground“. At present, some researchers claim that convergence in communication is mainly
due to the (overt or tacit) implementation of conversational strategies such as ad-hoc
referential pacts between the interlocutors. In contrast, other researchers proceed from the
assumption that convergence is mainly due to (mechanistic) priming of verbal and mental
structures within and between the interlocutors. Disentangling theseclaims constitutes a major
challenge to communication science.
Phase 2: “Yellow“ as director; familiar vs. unfamiliar
A3 has developed an experimental rationale which will enable us to tackle
both aspects at the same time. Employing a newly developed communication task, and introducing,
to some extent, a „Humpty Dumpty“ style of verbal reference, we shall systematically
compare participants to overhearers as to the development and the degree of lexical overlap in
naturalistic conversational settings. In other words, we will systematically investigate which
conditions are likely to make an interlocutor take up a particular referential expression she or
he has heard before.
"When I use a word,"
Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean
– neither more nor less."
"The question is," said
Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said
Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master – that's all."
Lewis Carroll (1871), „Through the Looking Glass“ (chapter 6)
This research will have important practical bearings for the optimization of
the flow of information in the classroom, the media, the administration, and the economy as well
as in human-computer interaction.