Repairing conversational misunderstandings and non-understandings

Graeme Hirst, Susan McRoy, Peter Heeman, Philip Edmonds, Diane Horton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Participants in a discourse sometimes fail to understand one another, but, when aware of the problem, collaborate upon or negotiate the meaning of a problematic utterance. To address non-understanding, we have developed two plan-based models of collaboration in identifying the correct referent of a description: one covers situations where both conversants know of the referent, and the other covers situations, such as direction-giving, where the recipient does not. In the models, conversants use the mechanisms of refashioning, suggestion and elaboration, to collaboratively refine a referring expression until it is successful. To address misunderstanding, we have developed a model that combines intentional and social accounts of discourse to support the negotiation of meaning. The approach extends intentional accounts by using expectations deriving from social conventions in order to guide interpretation. Reflecting the inherent symmetry of the negotiation of meaning, all our models can act as both speaker and hearer, and can play both the role of the conversant who is not understood or misunderstood and the role of the conversant who fails to understand.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-229
Number of pages17
JournalSpeech Communication
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Dec 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • Abduction
  • Collaboration
  • Conversation
  • Misunderstanding
  • Negotiation
  • Non-understanding
  • Reference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Science Applications


Dive into the research topics of 'Repairing conversational misunderstandings and non-understandings'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this