Repair (Inge WIP)

At any point in a conversation, any party can run into difficulties. Perhaps what was said was not understood, or one party isn't sure what to say or do next. Maybe you don’t know what a word means. In voice assistants, maybe the utterance wasn't heard or understood. In such cases, there needs to be a process by which the conversation can get back on track. That process is repair.

We use the word “repair” here to describe "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 and context, repair is narrowly referring to the process of fixing an issue (“trouble source”) blocking the conversation’s progress.

Being prepared to repair an issue is critically important, because of the ramifications: without it, the conversation may break down to the point where the conversation can not be completed successfully. Think back to a time where you were not able to complete your task because the conversation irreparably halted. This represents a blocker, and leaves you with a negative feeling, as you need to find other ways to complete your task.

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.

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