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Nature of incomprehension


Living with Incomprehension and Uncertainty (Part #3)


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Insights from language acquisition: As noted below, various disciplines -- including theology -- offer special degrees of insight into the nature of incomprehension. One valuable example is that offered by the challenge of second-language acquisition (SLA) as presented by Tsuyoshi Kida (Does Gesture Aid Discourse, 2008) with valuable references to the relevant literature:

In fact, the notion of (non-) comprehension has been controversial for a long time....

To gain clarification of non-comprehension as part of SLA, there have been several attempts at classification..., which consist of distinguishing "misunderstanding," "total incomprehension," and "partial incomprehension". Misunderstanding presupposes understanding, but involves an interpretation of the message in a direction other than that intended by the speaker. Partial incomprehension arises, theoretically, when the source of a communication problem is identified, whereas total incomprehension occurs where the interlocutor does not locate the source of the problem. In practice, however, it is difficult to reveal all types of non-comprehension.

For analysts, partial incomprehension might be easier to identify since the source is often indicated. Nevertheless, partial incomprehension cannot be treated as such, because often the incomprehension seems total in the contexts of social interaction, even if certain understanding is present in the inner language of the interlocutor pretends not to have understood. Moreover, total incomprehension can be linked to other factors than just communication difficulties. The declaration of non-comprehension depends on psychological factors such as self-confidence, personality, and strategic knowledge of the speaking subject. Therefore, real non-comprehension can be different from the message of non-comprehension as interactional practice...

One of the critical difficulties in analyzing discourse understanding on the part of non-native speakers is that partial incomprehension and misunderstanding are not clearly distinguishable in non-native speakers' reactions... (p. 133)

The irony of any such articulation, despite its apparent clarity, is that it is itself relatively incomprehensible outside the context of that discipline. The challenge for any such articulation has been well formulated in the works of Magoroh Maruyama with respect to contrasting "mindscapes" determining preferences for presentation and comprehension of information (Mindscapes, social patterns and future development of scientific theory types. Cybernetica, 1980, 23, 1, pp. 5-25). The potential for mutual incomprehension and disagreement has been fruitfully indicated by other authors through a variety of frameworks (Systems of Categories Distinguishing Cultural Biases, 1993). Most notable amongst these is the work on axes of bias by W. T. Jones (The Romantic Syndrome: toward a new method in cultural anthropology and the history of ideas, 1961).


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