Conversational repair is a prime mechanism for conversationalists to manage, maintain, and — in case of breakdown — restore their common ground. In support of this central claim, this study applies the strictly empiricist method of Conversation Analysis to a research object, common ground, that is based on mental and as such unobservable states of discourse participants.

Based on a corpus of German dinner table conversations, five main types of repair procedures are identified. Case studies demonstrate how participants use these procedures in specific ways when they perceive their common ground to be at risk. Furthermore, it is shown that repairs allow participants to manage their common ground almost in passing, in the background of their interaction and to keep engaged in those activities that are in their mutual focus, e.g., making jokes or talking about food, past events, plans, etc.

By bringing to bear CA methodology to the investigation of common ground, this study represents a broader recent trend in communication studies in which empirical discourse analysis and cognitive studies converge.

Tilo Weber is a professor of German linguistics at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg (Germany) and a senior lecturer at the Technical University of Liberec (Check Republic). His main research interests lie in the areas of discourse analysis, cognitive functionalist grammar, intercultural communication with a focus on Eastern Africa and knowledge transformation through social interaction. He has spent extensive periods of his academic life in the USA and in Kenya.