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The longing for meaning deceives the ear

News: Feb 02, 2015

It is primarily the reality of our instinctive and immediate desire to create intelligibility and meaning, not the language itself, that causes us to hear wrongly or to misunderstand.

In an article in Language & Communication, Per Linell, Senior Professor of Communications at the Department of Education, Communication and Learning, concludes that the explanation for the mishearing that  sometimes occurs in conversations between people does not primarily
belong to the language, which has been the usual explanation in linguistics for many years.
Instead, it is often our irrepressible urge to really want to understand and interpret that causes mishearing.
“Mishearing is not the result of reflection or the result of a deliberate and analytical examination of what has been heard. It is instead the result of the immediate interpretation of what has just been said, the gestures, and the facial expressions as well as by what is happening in the immediate surroundings of the person who is speaking,” observes Per Linell.

Connection to what has just been said

The basis of the study is 220 mishearings in discussions between people that have been analysed by Per Linell.
The most common forms of mishearing are the listener either having a connection to what was said just prior in the conversation – where the mishearing is the most reasonable – or that the environment in which the conversation is occurring enables the situation where the mishearing becomes reasonable when an association is made to the situation or to the conversation’s environment.
The mishearing phenomenon is transient and is something that is often forgotten by those involved a short time afterwards and not usually made public.
“But the phenomenon is real and cannot be ignored. This has something important to say about what happens during a conversation,” stresses Per Linell.

Read the article Mishearings are occasioned by contextual assumptions and situational affordances in Language & Communication

More information: Per Linell, senior professor: per.linell@gu.se, cellphone: +46 730-537108.


Originally published on: uf.gu.se


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