Pragmatic competence without a language model: Other-Initiated Repair in Balinese homesign

Josefina Safar*, Connie de Vos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
65 Downloads (Pure)


Homesigners are deaf individuals who have grown up in the absence of a conventional language model and have co-created a unique communication system with their hearing relatives and other interlocutors. This paper presents the first analysis of Other-Initiated Repair (OIR) sequences as a window into the pragmatic competence of homesigners. Our conversation analyses are based on 2:24 h of video data from five homesigners and their interlocutors from the Buleleng regency of Bali, Indonesia. On a par with speakers and signers of conventional languages, we find that all main OIR formats are adopted in these conversations. Moreover, we find that restricted repair formats are preferred over open ones. Homesigners also upgrade their repair strategies in multiple repair sequences just like speakers and signers of conventional languages do to achieve increasing specificity. Yet, as reported for other sign languages, OIR is more frequent in our dataset compared to previously studied spoken languages. All in all, our findings support the hypothesis that pragmatic competence and interactional abilities develop even in the absence of a language model and can therefore be seen as a foundation for language emergence to take off.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-125
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Conversation analysis
  • Homesign
  • Interaction
  • Language emergence
  • Other-Initiated Repair
  • Sign language


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