From Minor Mishap to Major Catastrophe: Lexical Choice in Miscommunication


Miscommunication is often regarded as noise or uninformative in psycholinguistic research. However, Coupland et al. (1991) suggest that miscommunication can provide rich information about how interlocutors come to communicate successfully. Successful communication necessarily needs the individuals involved to coordinate and update their mutual knowledge, experiences, beliefs, and assumptions. However, the process of updating this information may be ridden with unsuccessful attempts that eventually help interlocutors reach a common goal. This study evaluates the relative contribution of linguistic factors to communicative success, based on verbal grounding (e.g., mutual agreement on a referent) and visual congruency (e.g., interlocutor’s visual environments match or mismatch) during a collaborative task. We show that varying levels of communicative success are laden with rich linguistic information that may uncover interesting aspects of successful and less successful communication.

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