At any point in a conversation, you can run into trouble. Perhaps an utterance is not fully understood. Or you didn’t hear it. Or you’re not sure what you can say next, even if you heard the words just fine. Or you don’t know what a word means. In such cases, there needs to be a process by which the conversation can get back on track. That process is repair.
It is worth taking a moment to be clear that we are using the word “repair” here in a technical sense for describing the means of overcoming an obstacle blocking the smooth progression of a conversation. There are more everyday meanings for “repair”, e.g. “repairing a relationship” being about getting back on good terms with someone, or “repairing a car” being about fixing a car. In this document, repair is narrowly referring to the process of fixing an issue (“trouble source”) blocking the conversation’s progress.
The repair strategy depends on the nature of the issue, and may involve asking the speaker to repeat themselves, to clarify, to correct, to define, to paraphrase or something else. If a “trouble source” occurs, a user could choose to initiate repair or use a “let-it-pass” strategy. The initiation of repair is often accomplished by asking a question. The interactional force of questioning may be achieved with interrogative syntax, but also could be indicated with question marks, dashes, explicit statements of non-understanding and presenting candidate understandings. Secondary strategies include declarations of non-understanding (“I don’t get it”, “unclear”) and dictionary look-ups.
The taxonomy of repair is sometimes divided between who initiates the repair (self or other) and who completes the repair (self or other). A simple type of repair is speaker self-correction, often accomplished within a single turn. Other-repair takes more work, comes at least a turn later, is less common and can be more elaborate.