Project "Constitution of meaning in social interaction (interactional semantics)"

Formulating an interpretation

Sometimes, a speaker formulates or reformulates what another person has done, said, or implied, and offers this formulation for confirmation.  We refer to such turns as 'formulating an interpretation'.  Interpretations can be an attempt to repair a problem of understanding.  However, often they have functions that go beyond clarification.

In the following example, Philipp explains the role of "cooperation partners" in his professional education in two separate TCUs (lines 28-29). Anita reformulates this explanation, and she designs the reformulation in such a way that it expresses her disbelief regarding the information asserted by Philipp (lines 32-34).

Interpretations name, adjust or otherwise actively shape the 'meaning' of the prior turn for the ongoing interaction. While researchers have extensively studied formulations in institutional contexts such as psychotherapy or broadcast interviews, we also aim to provide an overview of the practices and functions of formulating interpretations in informal interaction. This project examines the border area of the interactional phenomena of 'repair' and 'formulation', and can contribute to an interactional understanding of 'meaning'.

We are currently working on the following topics:

  • How do formulations that are syntactically designed as turn continuations elaborate the course of action pursued by the prior speaker?
  • How are formulations used for affiliation and disaffiliation?
  • What are the types of social action that we can identify within the domain of 'formulating an interpretation'?


  • Deppermann, Arnulf (2011a): The Study of Formulations as a Key to an Interactional Semantics. In: Human Studies 34, 2, pp. 115-128. PDF
  • Deppermann, Arnulf (2011b):  Notionalizations: The transformation of descriptions into categorizations. In: Human Studies 34, 2, pp. 155-181. PDF
  • Deppermann, Arnulf / Helmer, Henrike (2013): Zur Grammatik des Verstehens im Gespräch: Inferenzen anzeigen und Handlungskonsequenzen ziehen mit also und dann. In Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft 32, 1, pp. 1–39. PDF
  • Helmer, H. & Zinken, J. (in press). Das heißt ('that means') for formulations and du meinst ('you mean') for repair? Interpretations of prior speakers' turns in German. Research on Language and Social Interaction.
  • Zinken, J. & Kaiser, J. (submitted). Formulating other minds in social interaction: Accountability and courses of action.

Contact: PD Dr. Jörg Zinken, zinken(at); Dr. Henrike Helmer, helmer(at); Dr. Julia Kaiser, kaiser(at)