A Layered Approach to a Common Ground Reading

I just posted another paper on the Social Science Research Network, it is an analysis of a multi-layered communication situation using Herbert Clark’s notion of the Common Ground.  Here is the abstract:

In a January 27, 2011 interview on the National Public Radio radio show Fresh Air (hosted by Terry Gross), guest Robert Spitzer made this comment: “Brazil doesn’t have a second amendment in their constitution.” However, as of May 2010 the Citizen Constitution (Brazil’s constitution since 1988) has been amended 64 times, which necessarily includes a second instance of an amendment being made. This fact renders a literal reading of Spitzer’s remark to be infelicitous. Instead, it is argued that Spitzer’s remark utilized the architecture of the situation to engage participants in a joint activity of maximizing the common ground.

This essay explores the role of a shared common ground in layered communication situations which enables participants to understand speaker construals. This falls within the domain of joint attention and pragmatic analysis of communication situations. Clark’s (1996) notion of Common Ground will be used to analyze the situation and untangle the communication layers to question what each participant needs to understand in order to orient on the intended meaning of the speaker. Using attested data from a radio interview, this paper explores three layers of communication and identifies the various aspects of a common ground that are required for a proper reading of a speaker’s intended meaning. This common ground is argued to be essential in the process of the negotiation of meaning. What follows is an initial exposition of the methodological process in this analysis, followed by a situating of the context for the data, and finally the application of the analytical method to the data with appropriate conclusions.

Attention Hot Heads (of any stripe): I want to be clear about this, I am analyzing the structure and content of someone’s statements about the Second Amendment; I am not making any kind of evaluation (positive, negative, or neutral) of the content of the surrounding political discourse about gun laws.  I will not debate in the comments about any aspect of this political discourse, but I will debate aspects of my analysis and of Clark’s notion of the common ground.

Download my paper here: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1794523

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2 thoughts on “A Layered Approach to a Common Ground Reading

  1. Dominik Lukes says:

    Great example. I found it interesting since my first instinct would have been to use Fauconnier’s mental spaces (or domains) and interpret the processing as blending. Reading your paper, it seems to me, that the common ground concept does pretty much the same thing. I prefer blending because it seems to show how the domains interact a bit more straightforwardly but otherwise I could find little difference.

  2. ryandewey says:

    Thanks Dominik, I think you are on to something. The conclusion section of my first draft started with a sentence about blending and as I was editing I took out the blending reference because I knew I had not used it in the analysis. Maybe I will revisit this; I have a writing assignment coming up where I will have to use mental spaces, maybe I will do a comparative paper looking at the two models. Thanks for your input. I can see how Fauconnier & Turner’s 1998 optimality principles for topology, web, and unpacking would also be useful in analyzing the notion of that common ground/blend at each of the three layers (the face-to-face interview, the radio broadcast, and the transcript). Thanks for reading the paper and commenting. – Ryan

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