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.
(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.
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.