Mutual understanding mechanism in verbal exchanges between carers and multiply-disabled young people: An interaction structure analysis

Christine Bocerean and Michel Musiol


The present article describes a study in which conversation analysis was used to investigate the verbal interactions between carers and profoundly multiply disabled young people. We examine the cognitive processes that come into play in conversations, and describe and analyze the interactional effects of pathologies on the cognitive processes involved in comprehension. We identify the rationality and reasoning processes to which the disabled person is susceptible, that is to say, that person’s cognitive efficiency, and the communication strategies employed by the “normal” interlocutor. The corpus, which was gathered at a specialist institute in France, consists of video recordings of interactions between a multiply disabled young person and one or more carers. In total, thirteen conversations involving six different young people were recorded. Analysis of the characteristics of the conversational exchanges revealed that conversational exchanges are based on two very precise modes of interaction that foster the mutual understanding process. Learning outcomes: These two modes of interaction represent exchange structures that favor the emergence of mutual understanding and that reveal the multiply disabled person’s cognitive efficiency in the conversation. We highlight the role of repetition as a conversation repair and we discuss the relationship between the carer and the disabled person.

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