Benefactors and beneficiaries

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The implementation and ascription of ‘first actions’ has until recently been an understudied area within conversation analysis. Recently, exploratory studies in the domains of epistemics and deontics have led to a revival of interest in this problem. This paper addresses the same issue through the lens of ‘benefactives’ and its relevance to the production of requests and offers. It argues that when persons are confronted with a turn at talk that proposes some future action and its agent, they parse this turn by reference to the distribution of benefits (if any) that will accrue to speaker and recipient. The paper identifies some of the key ingredients in the linguistic construction of benefactive stance: reference to the agent and recipient of the future action, reference to the interests that can be satisfied through the action, and action formulations indexing costs and benefits. It is demonstrated that these features can be mobilized in pursuit of an accepting response. The paper further develops the argument that there will normally be a congruence between the ‘benefactive status’ of the action and the ‘benefactive stance’ taken in and through the design of the utterance that nominates the action. Correspondingly, in the case of incongruency benefactive status trumps benefactive stance in the ascription of the action and the interpretive determination of its social meanings.


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