Repair Practices in Phone Conversations: A Case Study of Chinese English Speakers

Repair Conversation analysis Repair avoidance Chinese English speakers Case study


October 29, 2021


Repair, one key concept in conversation analysis, usually refers to the ways of dealing with troubles of speaking, understanding, and hearing in the talk (Schegloff et al., 1977). This paper focuses on the latter two trouble sources, i.e., troubles of hearing and understanding. The study here, of a dataset of interactions concerning information inquiries between two Chinese learners of English and eight service employees in hotels or airlines, investigates how the repair is initiated and completed via phone through the perspective of conversation analysis. It mainly explores (a) how trouble sources are identified by the recipient over the phone; (b) how the repair is initiated in phone conversations; and (c) how repair strategies and repair avoidance are used based on the recipients’ identification of the trouble source type and the importance of the mistake or misunderstanding, in the service industry. The results showcase that Chinese English speakers encounter troubles of understanding and hearing in phone conversations frequently. A selection of initiators and strategies are identified, such as repair preface (e.g., ‘I mean’) and pre-framing. The analysis also illustrates that the service personnel involved tend to either accept the customer’s candidate understanding to avoid the repair or continuously make repairs on their own turns to clarify. Such empirical evidence further supports and validates Kitzinger’s (2013) idea that a) specific repair forms and practices are constrained by a range of local factors, and b) people adopt diversified methods and strategies to ‘fix’ troubles of hearing and understanding.