Speaker’s Meaning: The Problem of Participation of People with Speech Impairments in Communicative Interaction

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Dmitriy Kolyadov


Context, Co-Construction of Meaning, Indexicality, Multimodality, Face-to-Face Interaction, Sequential Organization, Participation, Speech Impairments


The article considers the problem of participation in social activities of people with disabilities from a perspective of face-to-face interaction. The analysis focuses on episodes of interaction between people with speech impairments and staff members of a daycare center during regular group meetings. Communication in such cases may be difficult because of impairments that affect capacities of speech production (e.g., inability to speak, extremely limited vocabulary, problems with articulation) by disabled participants. These impairments lead to the ambiguity of some of their utterances and actions. However, as studies of “atypical interaction” demonstrate, participants can successfully overcome such obstacles relying on the context of interaction—previous sequences of utterances and actions, bodily orientation, posture, gaze direction, interactional environment, current activity, and common background knowledge. Tying current potentially ambiguous communicative act (e.g., gesture or phonetically distorted utterance) to one or another aspect of the context, fully competent speakers demonstrate their interpretation of that act by their subsequent responses. Due to such coconstruction of meaning, their partners with speech impairments get an opportunity to make contributions to the interaction, in other words, to participate in it. However, such contextualizations and interpretations may not only enhance participation but restrict it as well. The article demonstrates how staff members ascribe meaning to some of those ambiguous actions and utterances by tying them to the prior turns in the interaction. However, there is evidence that staff members’ ascriptions probably do not quite agree with communicative intentions of their partners. As analysis of the video recording of these interactions demonstrates, there are aspects of the context that may suggest different interpretations. But these aspects go unnoticed, and this probably leads the people with speech impairments to the loss of partial control of meaning of their actions and reduction of their participation.

Article in Russian

DOI: 10.25285/2078-1938-2020-12-3-100-125

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