The Complex Process of Mis/Understanding Spatial Deixis in Face-To-Face Interaction

  • Carla Bazzanella University of Turin
Palabras clave: spatial deictics, understanding, context, face-to-face interaction, multimodality


In general, understanding requires cognitive and linguistic skills, encompasses cultural, social, contextual and individual aspects, and is characterised by gradualness and dynamicity. In this study, the intertwined set of relevant components involved in the complex process of understanding space deixis will be analysed in the specific context of face-to-face interaction. In everyday conversation, this process is unavoidably mutual and may include misunderstanding (which often opens up a way to understanding), repairs, reformulations and negotiation cycles, all of which eventually lead to understanding and mutual comprehension or to communication failure. Many scholars have already pointed out several elements that influence interactants’ understanding in a positive or negative way: on the one hand, shared physical context, cotext, common ground, shared knowledge and avoidance devices; on the other, ambiguity, speakers’ failures, and interactants’ asymmetric features with regard to language and culture. The interactional context, the cotext and the use of multimodal resources (resorted to as co-speech or to substitute language) play a significant role in the dynamic process of understanding spatial deixis, often helping to overcome the difficulties related to peripheral cases of spatial deictics and other causes of misunderstandings, which can either work as a starting point for understanding or lead to communication failure.