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Ragnar Rommetveit’s Approach to Everyday Spoken Dialogue from Within

Initiating a dialogue . . . is to ‘transform a certain kind of silence into speech’ (Merleau-Ponty 1962, p. 184). Once the other person accepts the invitation to engage in the dialogue, his life situation is temporarily transformed. The two participants leave behind them whatever were their preoccupations at the moment when silence was transformed into speech. From that moment on, they become inhabitants of a partly shared social world, established and continuously modified by their acts of communication

(Rommetveit 1974, p. 23).

We view Rommetveit’s integration of conceptions like perspectival relativity and meaning potentials into a social-cognitive theory of language and communication as a unique contribution to present-day psycholinguistic theory integrating disciplines and scientific traditions

(Hagtvet and Wold 2003, p. 194).

Abstract

The following article presents basic concepts and methods of Ragnar Rommetveit’s (born 1924) hermeneutic-dialogical approach to everyday spoken dialogue with a focus on both shared consciousness and linguistically mediated meaning. He developed this approach originally in his engagement of mainstream linguistic and psycholinguistic research of the 1960s and 1970s. He criticized this research tradition for its individualistic orientation and its adherence to experimental methodology which did not allow the engagement of interactively established meaning and understanding in everyday spoken dialogue. As a social psychologist influenced by phenomenological philosophy, Rommetveit opted for an alternative conceptualization of such dialogue as a contextualized, partially private world, temporarily co-established by interlocutors on the basis of shared consciousness. He argued that everyday spoken dialogue should be investigated from within, i.e., from the perspectives of the interlocutors and from a psychology of the second person. Hence, he developed his approach with an emphasis on intersubjectivity, perspectivity and perspectival relativity, meaning potential of utterances, and epistemic responsibility of interlocutors. In his methods, he limited himself for the most part to casuistic analyses, i.e., logical analyses of fictitious examples to argue for the plausibility of his approach. After many years of experimental research on language, he pursued his phenomenologically oriented research on dialogue in English-language publications from the late 1980s up to 2003. During that period, he engaged psycholinguistic research on spoken dialogue carried out by Anglo-American colleagues only occasionally. Although his work remained unfinished and open to development, it provides both a challenging alternative and supplement to current Anglo-American research on spoken dialogue and some overlap therewith.

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Correspondence to Sabine Kowal.

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We wish to dedicate the following article to the memory of Robert W. Rieber, a good friend, wise editor, and loyal colleague. We also wish to express our special thanks to the anonymous reviewer of this article who has provided critical commentary and worthwhile suggestions for its improvement.

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Kowal, S., O’Connell, D.C. Ragnar Rommetveit’s Approach to Everyday Spoken Dialogue from Within. J Psycholinguist Res 45, 423–446 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-015-9404-0

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Keywords

  • Spontaneous spoken dialogue
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Perspective
  • Meaning potential
  • Epistemic responsibility