A cross-linguistic study of self-repair: Evidence from English, German, and Hebrew

Barbara A. Fox, Yael Maschler, Susanne Uhmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper presents the results of a quantitative analysis of recycle and replacement self-repairs in English, Hebrew and German. The analysis revealed patterns of similarities and differences across the languages. Beginning with patterns of difference, we found first that English and Hebrew speakers engage in simple recycling about two-thirds of the time, while German speakers make less frequent use of simple recycling. Second, we found that English speakers frequently recycle back to the subject pronoun of a clause, while Hebrew and German speakers make much less use of subject pronoun as a destination of recycling. Third, we found that Hebrew and German speakers recycle back to prepositions much more frequently than do English speakers. With regard to similarities across the three languages, we noted that all three languages used function words as destinations of recycling more often than content words, while replacing content words at a disproportionately high rate. We claimed that entrenched word order patterns play a crucial role in explaining the facts we have observed; patterns of morphological dependence across collocates also shape self-repair practices in these languages. This study is thus further evidence of the shaping role that morpho-syntactic resources have on the self-repair practices of a speech community.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2487-2505
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grant BCS0406512 from the National Science Foundation. We are grateful to the audience at the 2006 ICCA-Conference in Helsinki for the rare chance to not only present an earlier version of the paper twice but for also having two discussions. We are also grateful to Fay Wouk for comments on an earlier version, and to Vince Sarich for help with statistics on an earlier draft. Some of the English data were coded by Alexander Ferguson, who was funded by a grant from the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder. We are also grateful to Mareike Stausberg and Regina Pustet, who helped to code the German data. Yael Maschler would like to thank the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS) at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Freiburg, Germany, for an External Senior Fellowship during which the manuscript was revised. We also acknowledge the insightful comments of three anonymous reviewers.


  • Comparative syntax
  • Discourse-functional syntax
  • Self-repair
  • Typology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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