The Language Teacher
November 2001

Conditions for Other-Repair in NS/NNS Conversation

Hosoda Yuri

Temple University Japan

This study is concerned with conditions for other-repair and the relevance of the categories "native" and "nonnative" in the other-repair sequences in native(NS)/nonnative(NNS) conversations in Japanese.

Recently, some researchers from the Conversation Analysis (CA) paradigm have questioned whether studies in second language acquisition (SLA) accurately describe second language (L2) speakers' competence in using their L2 during interaction (e.g., Firth & Wagner, 1997). Problems discussed partly arise from the difference in the ways native and nonnative categories are viewed by SLA and CA.

Traditional SLA research usually takes "the positivist stance" (Schegloff, 1992, p. 108), in which analysts treat native and nonnative categories as successful categories that are relevant at any time of interaction. On the other hand, in CA, analysts are concerned about showing that characterizations of the participants' interactions are empirically grounded, and that the participants themselves are demonstrably oriented to the categories at the moment for which the account is being provided (Drew & Heritage, 1992; Schegloff, 1992). In NS/NNS interaction, participants orient to native and nonnative categories at one moment of interaction, while the same participants do not at other moments. As I will discuss, I have found that in NS/NNS conversations in Japanese, the categories are activated in other-repair sequences. "Repair" in this study refers to any responses to problems of speaking, hearing, and understanding; and "other-repair" refers to repair carried out by the other speaker.

The Study


The data analyzed for this study are based on 15 sets of casual NS/NNS conversation and 15 sets of casual NS/NS conversation in Japanese. All NNSs are NSs of English.

Results and Discussion

The analysis revealed that native and nonnative categories were relevant in other-repair sequences, which were found to occur in the following specifiable interactional conditions: when one invited the other's repair; when there was a problem with mutual understanding; and when one corrected the katakana English used by his/her interlocutor.

Self-Initiation of Other-Repair

Other-repair occasionally occurred following the speaker's invitation of repair in both NS/NNS and NS/NS conversations. However, one of the differences between NNS/NS conversations and NS/NS conversations was found in the preferred way of self-initiating other-repair.

In both types of conversations, a speaker's search for a word resulted in other-repair. However, in the NS/NNS conversations, in addition to invitation of other-repair in word search, NNSs solicited their interlocutors' help in a more overt way: NNSs occasionally stopped the talk-in-progress in order to check the correctness of vocabulary items they had just produced, as seen in (1).

(1) Bill: NNS; Koma: NS

1. Bill: un. >sou sou sou.< (.) demo (.) anmari nanka: ima yatteru kamosirenai

2. ano:::: kyouyui:::n kaigi?

Uh-huh, right, right, right. But not much, like, the talk {they're} probably doing now, you know, uhm, a kyouyui:::n meeting*?

3. Koma: >kyouin.< un

Teachers. Yeah.

In checking vocabulary, as Bill does in the example above (kyoyui::n kaigi? at line 3), NNSs marked the vocabulary items in question with rising intonation and in response to NNSs' vocabulary check, NSs provided repair. Thus, NNSs invoked their nonnative or "novice" status by seeking help on vocabulary items, while NSs oriented to their native or "expert" status by providing help.

Problem of Mutual Understanding

In the NS/NNS conversations, the NSs repaired the NNSs when their mutual understandings were jeopardized, and the trajectory of the interaction displayed the participants' orientation to nativeness and nonnativeness. Below is the interactional format employed on such occasions.

Repair Sequence Format A (RSFA)

T1. Talk that contains a repairable by NNS

T2. Next turn repair initiation (NtrI) by NS

T3. Attempt at self-repair (SR) by NNS

T4. Other-repair (OR) by NS

T5. NNS's acceptance of OR in the form of repetition

T6. Main sequence

In (2), RSFA is employed.

(2) Dean: NNS; Toku: NS

T1 1. Dean: ano:: sigoto kankei no ryokou wa?

Uhmm, how about work related travel?

T2 2. Toku: nn? kankei?

Huh? Relation?

T3 3. Dean: a:: sigoto kankei ryoukou a a ano (.)

4. ryokukou zya naku te ano tch e:: nihongo de wa

5. wakan nai kedo ((cough))

6. (.) ano::: Osaka: e:: [ka Nagoya e::]

Uhmm, work relation travel, uh, uh, uhm, not travel but well, tch, uhmm, I don't know {the word} in Japanese but uhmm, to Osaka or to Nagoya,

T4 7. Toku: [ah syuttyou] desu ne.

Oh, you mean a business trip.

T5 8. Dean: syuttyou aa SYUTTYOU.=

Business trip, oh, business trip.

9. Toku: =syuttyou.=

Business trip.

10. Dean: =hai. [ºsyttyouº]

Yes, business trip.

T6 11. Toku: [u:::::::n] syuttyou wa...

Hmmmmmmm, as for a business trip,...

Although RSFA itself does not appear to be very different from repair sequences in NS/NS interaction, there is something distinctive about the NS/NNS conversations in T3, T4, and T5. At T3, in the course of a self-attempt to repair, the NNSs' produced some utterances that displayed their orientation to nonnativeness. In the example above, at lines 4-5, Dean explicitly states nihongo de wa wakan nai kedo (I don't know {the word} in Japanese but), in which he himself orients to the fact that he is a NNS of Japanese. At T4, NSs repaired the word (line 6). At T5, NNSs accepted the repair by repetition (line 8). The items that were accepted by repetition were single lexical items or single phrases, and this finding is consistent with that of Ohta (2001) who examined classroom discourse. This may imply that even in casual conversations, when the NNSs orient to their nonnative roles, the structures of interaction become similar to those in language classrooms. Furthermore, as shown in line 8, in the NS/NNS conversations, even after NNSs accepted the repair, NSs further pursued NNSs' uptake of the repaired words and thus showed their orientation to their expert category. This "teacher-like" behavior by NSs was observed exclusively in the NS/NNS conversations.

Correcting Katakana English

In Japanese conversations, NSs of Japanese frequently use words that are borrowed from English. We usually call words borrowed from English and pronounced in the Japanese sound system "katakana English." Although the use of katakana English does not cause any problems in NS/NS conversation, in NS/NNS conversations studied, the use of katakana English by NSs of Japanese sometimes triggered repair by the NNSs whose L1 was English, as shown in (3). Toku's use of katakana English results in other-repair by Dean.

(3) Dean: NNS of Japanese, NS of English; Toku: NS of Japanese, NNS of English

1. Toku: ano:: yappari (1.0) e::to:: fairu ne:mu o a:: fairu ari [masu ne]

Uhmmm, of course, well, fairu name, uh, there is a fairu, right?

2. Dean: [file]

3. Toku: file.

4. Dean: un. file mhm hai.

Uh-huh, file, mhm, yes.

5. Toku: file no neimu o: . . .

Names of the file are . . .

In (3), Toku pronounces katakana English fairu (lines 1-2). At line 3, Dean offers a candidate understanding by producing "file" with English pronunciation. This understanding check by Dean also functions as a repair of Toku's pronunciation of the word fairu. In the next turn, Toku accepts the repair as well as ratifies Dean's understanding by repeating the word in the English pronunciation Dean had produced (line 4), and the participants then go back to the main sequence (line 6). In this example, Dean orients to his category as a NS of English, as it provides repair with "correct" English pronunciation, while Toku orients to his categories as NSs of Japanese and NNSs of English as he produces katakana English.

In short, when the use of katakana English resulted in repair sequences in NS/NNS conversations, the participants displayed their orientations to their native and nonnative categories.


In this study, using the framework of CA, I have discussed contexts of other-repair and the relevance of native and nonnative categories in the other-repair sequences.

This way of looking at native and nonnative categories in natural NS/NNS conversation might contribute to second language learning and teaching. As this study has shown, although the participants in ordinary NS/NNS conversations do not always orient to their native and nonnative categories, when they do, the structures of the conversations become similar to those of language classrooms. Therefore, even in interaction outside classrooms, when participants orient to their nativeness and nonnativeness, NNSs may be provided with opportunities to learn something from interaction with NSs. Thus, findings from NNS discourse in ordinary conversation may have the potential to show what L2 learners can and cannot learn from ordinary conversation.


Drew, P., & Heritage, J. (1992). Analyzing talk at work: An introduction. In D. Borden, & D. H. Zimmerman (Eds.), Talk and social structure (pp. 3-65). Cambridge: Polity Press.

Firth, A. & Wagner, J. (1997). On discourse, communication, and (some) fundamental concepts in SLA research. The Modern Language Journal, 81, 285-300.

Ohta, A. S. (2001). Second language acquisition processes in the classroom. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Schegloff, E. A. (1992). On talk and its institutional occasions. In P. Drew, & J. Heritage (Eds.), Talk at work (pp. 101-134). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

All materials on this site are copyright © by JALT and their respective authors.
For more information on JALT, visit the JALT National Website