I attempt here to be succinct and I hope that the question is clear. I am looking for the names of the phenomena (in conversational English) that I am attempting to describe.

Consider a dialog between two people, A and B.

We see person A providing some technical answer to a question asked by person B. As A is providing the answer, B offers feedback, while listening, in the form of body language and facial expressions, maybe positive/neutral/negative utterances, such that person A modulates the narrative "on the fly" (perhaps using more complicated dialog as B seems capable of keeping up, or speaking more simplistically if B appears confused).

And when A is done responding to this particular question, B asks "so what's you're point?" (clearly signifying that he did not understand the answer).

First, what do we call this "modulating narrative on the fly" in dialog? This as opposed to if B offered zero feedback during the answer such that A would not have modulated the answer.

Second, on the "what is your point" question. It occurs to me that there are fundamentally at least two types of answers (dialog?): the first type of answer is, metaphorically speaking, where the speaker uses words to walk around a subject such that the listener is to create a picture of the point in their own head...while the second type of answer is where the speaker, metaphorically speaking, walks the listening up to the object...literally drawing the conclusion for the listener such that the listener could only draw the same conclusion as the speaker.

If the second question makes any sense, I see the first type of answer type is akin to a Socratic approach, while the second answer type is...very problematic if trying to encourage a listener to develop critical thinking, but may be required for slower-thinking types.

Thank you for any feedback!

  • 1
    If I may: So, what is your point?! I am commenting, not giving an answer. not an answer. My feedback here is that the phrase of the second type, "walks the listening up to the object" (the listener?) makes no sense to me; drawing of the conclusion for the listener would be the positive response to a request, butvthat's trivial. It can be identical to the first type, is the request was about the internal state of the correspondent. Your verbiage using "dialog" for a singular speech act is peculiar; I would compare the adaption to feedback with running a programm (a plan) that receives input
    – vectory
    Jun 19, 2020 at 18:11

2 Answers 2


Surely there are many interpretations of these sorts of phenomena, however semiotics seems apt based on your explanation/how you seem to be thinking about this. From the paradigm of topological semiotics, communicating to convey information is much like plotting points (albeit more like diffuse regions) on a high-dimensional map, in which the intersection along the axes of these points at any particular moment is the approximate position of the intended information. This relies on the similarity of comprehensible space between communicators, the variance of which, although it may seem vast in experience, is contrariwise much more akin to genetic variance among a particular species. Nevertheless, general relativity precludes any two identical comprehensible spaces (one might simply say 'human minds' or 'experiences of existence'), which Descartes loosely identified as the origin of the differences of opinions. Since our 'maps' are not the same, one can speak words that point to a concept either within or without a listener's comprehensibility. In the latter case, other points must first be located (e.g. other words must first be spoken) such that the intersection along their axes can point to this new territory. Both are guiding the listener's mind toward the intended point; the difference is that a point already existing within comprehensible space can be recollected, and may be based on experiential observation, while attempting to reach a point outside of comprehensible space requires building a support structure, which is the understandings of regions necessary for incorporating the new terrain into one's map. As you can see, one requires guiding the listener, while the other can be almost directly accessed (walked right up to, so to speak).

Looking at the first bit of dialogue, semiotics would say that the physical motions of the listener are communication, merely non-verbal. The speaker might consider these unspoken coordinates (communications) from the listener as an affirmation that the listener is able to locate the intersection of meaning of the current target interpretant (e.g. concept in the mind), and that the process of moving along these thoughts to the target has raised in their sensibilities no errors, which is to say that the speaker believes that the listener believes that they understand what the speaker means. This action can be seen as a shared navigation, which attempts to rectify topological variance in comprehensible space; since speech is more salient to our attention than most non-verbal communications, it's easy to think that the speaker is the sole navigator for the exchange, but of course they seldom are. Anyway, this is real-time conversation modulation, although a specific term doesn't readily come to mind.

In your example, whether the listener intends to produce feedback is irrelevant, because the action of inferring feedback takes place within the speaker's mind; the listener may stay as still as a statue, which may seem like no signal, but spacetime keeps expanding; there is a signal nevertheless, and one that will be interpreted as having meaning on account of the learned expectation of exchange in conversation. In other words, the speaker cannot cease receiving signals, and, in receiving signals, will necessarily have expectations on account of having had conversations previously. Whether these signals converge toward or diverge from expectations, they will invariably modulate the speaker's thoughts, and thereby words. After all, reality is continuous.

Of course, this is just one school of thought. I hope that I've understand your meanings well enough for that all to make sense and some amount of contribution!

  • Outstanding, you have nailed it! Topological semiotics is precisely what I was looking for! What I was conceptualizing was the back-and-forth if topological (map-like) perspective shifts. FWIW, when I first learned of the Pareto distribution of words in a book I was reminded of the "Logo" graphics computer program I learned as a kid. Lots of "go here, go there" commands, the rare function to draw a circle/shape. Sounds very dumb to say, but it occurs to me that ~most language is trying to explain to someone where to find something, look at it, using physics metaphor. Thanks a bunch!
    – BHotep
    Jun 23, 2020 at 22:37

First, maybe, some kind of the "positive feedback" in particular and "feedback" terms at all.

It seem to use this terms in field of psyhology.

But this is more about your questions - there are not only one phenomenon (which more close to 'Transactional Model', see below), but 'of communication' theory series: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Models_of_communication

  • Welcome to Linguistics! This post would benefit from adding further details. Being a one-line post, it may attract downvotes and criticism. Please edit it to add further relevant information — preferably with references to credible sources. Jun 19, 2020 at 14:01
  • Thanks a lot! Try to do so.
    – TrmIntrs2
    Jun 20, 2020 at 17:30

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