Understanding Phatic Aspects of Narrative when Designing Assistive and Augmentative Communication Interfaces

Understanding Phatic Aspects of Narrative when Designing Assistive and Augmentative Communication Interfaces

Benjamin Slotznick (Point-and-Read, Inc., Mt. Gretna, PA, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/IJACI.2014070105
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Users of Assistive and Augmentative Communications (AAC) systems sometimes have difficulty engaging in the quick and varied banter demanded of many social situations, or contributing to social conversations with their own previously developed narratives, opinions, experiences, or jokes. This chapter presents tools and approaches that have been developed to remedy these challenges. These include special interfaces that rely on “phatic” vocabularies or retrieve previously saved narratives that are used phatically. A phatic approach uses language to convey social participation through gesture, affirmation, or emotive support as much as or more than to convey wants, needs, or spontaneous and novel narrative. This chapter does not propose replacing standard AAC vocabularies, but instead suggests how a supplementary phatic approach can significantly enhance a user's participation in social interactions.
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This chapter is an extension of (and motivated by) work on developing computer interfaces for non-literate users of assistive and augmentative communications (AAC) devices and software. The author’s earlier research considered interfaces and vocabularies for using instant messaging and social chat over the Internet (Slotznick, 2010) or for participating in low-content face-to-face social chat (Slotznick, 2014). The particular very-low-content social chat discussed in the latter paper – often denigrated as small talk – is central to active listening, participating in a social queue, or playing certain child “run-around” games. Most of this type of chit-chat is not narrative and does not convey the speaker’s own story. Nor is it designed for constructing unique utterances. However, it does encompass important social responses and gestures that inform a social matrix and provide both the conversational lubricant than enables and promotes speech reciprocity as well as the glue that holds conversations between people together. You can’t hold a conversation without it – and by some measures it may comprise over half of conversational messages.

This type of low-content social chat is characterized as “phatic” and gestural. It uses a unique type of vocabulary and semantic structure and benefits from a unique one-to-many AAC interface to speed user response. This paper will examine continued research which explores (a) additional conversational settings in which this type of interface can be deployed, (b) situations in which very-low-content social chat in fact becomes the narrative, (c) conversational gambits in which narrative that is recited often assumes phatic characteristics, and (d) interface requirements and teaching methods to provide a quickly accessed plethora of such conversational gambits to non-literate users of AAC devices and software.

This chapter is prompted by a conversation which this author had in 2014 after he gave a presentation on the Fat Cat Chat software apps (software which embodies the phatic principles of Slotznick, 2014). An audience member was intrigued, but said he had a different question. He said that many people complain that a loved family member, such as a grandparent, has only one story – which is told over and over at every family occasion. He remarked that this wasn’t really true, but rather that the raconteur would tell pieces of the story (or parts of related stories) on different occasions and in different orders. His point was that even though this sort of story teller had a limited repertoire, it was large enough and effective enough for the story teller to fully participate in social conversation. In addition, such people had a much larger repository of stories and anecdotes to smoothly, quickly, and efficiently relate in a conversational setting than any of his clients who used AAC devices. He wondered if some of the insight into phatic interfaces could be used to enlarge the story-telling abilities and conversational contributions of his clients. The answer is yes – and that is the thrust of this chapter.

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