A major unit of psycholinguistics that I have not seen described: convertations

When we consider psycholinguistics from the point of view of interpersonal communication (especially psychologically rich communication) we can identify a unit of communication that springs from the working memory as it indexes deeper and more extensive information stored elsewhere in the mind/brain.

This unit of communication is used to start a conversation and then maintain it.

For example, my partner recently had a performance review at her job. This morning I asked her about it. When I asked her, I intended to start a conversation. Along with my intention, I knew a few things:

  • that she would be interested in the topic
  • that she would have new information
  • that I knew a good deal about it but not as much as her
  • that we would almost certainly engage in a conversation that is of practical as well as psychological interest to both of us

In raising the subject, I held an amorphous notion in my working memory roughly described by the text just above. I embarked on the subject with a pointed yet open-ended question, “So how is the job review going…”

That question signaled in my mind, and it turns out in may partner’s as well, that I wanted to converse with her about her job review.

I want to call what I did there the initiation of a convertation,(which is the word conversation with a “t” in place of the “s”). I am using a special term because I want to isolate and describe it as a psycholinguistic unit of major importance to both speech and psychology.

I submit that a convertation, which the above is merely a single example of, is a major psycholinguistic unit; a major piece of psychology and language both together and separately.

A convertation springs from the working memory where it appears as an index of much more. Many convertations could be described as “gambits,” but gambits are only one type.

Loosely speaking, a convertation includes an intention, a purpose, somewhat defined content, and open-endedness. In the example above:

  • My intention was to converse with my partner, listen to her speak, enjoy the morning, have fun talking with her, and find out how her job review was going.
  • My purpose was to get new information and assess how the review was affecting her and if I had any role to play in it.
  • The content (once it began) of now our convertation was the job review and my partner’s psychological responses toward it. Less important but also significant were my psychological responses to hers.
  • The open-endedness could be anything sparked by the original premise of the convertation.

In the case above, everything went smoothly. My partner was not stressed by the review. It seemed to be going well. I felt some relief but was not surprised. At some point, we began a discussion of why her employer did the review the way they did. Lastly, I said our talking constituted a good example of what I mean by convertation.

Convertations can be fruitful and very pleasant as in the above example. Or they can be fraught with dangerous misunderstandings, misplaced emotions, psychological and linguistic harm.

Sometimes a convertation constitutes an entire conversation. Sometimes a convertation is a sub-unit of a larger conversation. If you isolate convertations and view them as units in themselves, sharper distinctions can be made about how and why people speak to each other.

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