Grounding in communication

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Citation: Herbert H. Clark, Susan E. Brennan (1992) Grounding in communication. Readings in Groupware and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: Assisting Human-Human Collaboration (RSS)
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Grounding in communication
Tagged: Computer Science (RSS) psychology (RSS), language (RSS), communication (RSS), CSCW (RSS)


Clark and Brennen's unpacks normal speech acts at a very normal level to argue that context -- grounding in the authors' terms, is an means of creating a common ground between speakers that make speech acts possible and comprehensible.

The paper argues that speakers frequently have to work to ensure that the person they are speaking to understands them and that grounding is the collaborative process through which a participations try to reach mutual belief. They argue that this happens through explicit acceptance following a presentation. That it can be seen through negative evidence , acknowledgements and back-channel responses (like "uh huh"), or through continued attention.

They argue against the principle of least effort in conversation which they argue assumes flawless presentations and instead argue for what they call the principle of least collaborative effort that argues that communicators will try to minimize their collaborative effort in order to reach mutual understanding.

The paper then moves on the ways in which grounding is established. These include references made up of alternative descriptions, gestures, referential installments and trial references and the way that individuals ground verbatim content (like an address) through verbatim displays, installments, and spellings.

The authors also explain how grounding changes based on mediums and discusses constraints on grounding and costs on grounding with long lists of each.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

Clark and Brennen's article is hugely influential and has been cited more than 2000 times in the 18 years since its publication. Most of these have been in the computer science literature with a large focus in CSCW, HCI, and related sub-disciplines.

Design for conversation: Lessons from Cognoter is another classics CSCW article is a good example of references and the problems with establishing these reference in support of communication.