Expressing technical malfunctions in spoken interaction in the workplace
Langage et société n°125, septembre 2008
In workplace commmunication in general and in situations of risk at work in particular, the use of natural language can be a barrier to quick and effective understanding. This leads to many pitfalls - ill-grasped meanings, or meanings which vary according to the interlocutors or the extralinguistic situation, implied meanings, ambiguous specialist terminology - all of which increase with the urgency of the situation. One of the aims of this paper is to show how putting a technical malfunction into words can be an aspect of professional risk. Using authentic examples of workplace interaction, we show how this range of linguistic and extralinguistic factors (natural language, varying degrees of expertise, type of malfunction, tense or urgent work situation) may contribute to a definition such language risk in the workplace. More specifically, we present a description of categories of semantic information which, when expressing a technical malfunction, give rise to long, unclear or meaningless exchanges which undermine effective comprehension. We also show that the notion of expertise (operational priorities, knowledge sharing etc.) is closely linked to the risk which natural language can produce in tense work situations.
Key words : spoken interaction, language and work, linguistic regularity, semantic problems, expertise, language risk
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