On divisions of labor in request and offer environments

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Dividing the labor for achieving a common goal is a routinized practice that is found in both request and offer environments in English and Finnish everyday conversations. There are specific linguistic resources deployed in the two languages for this practice. Divisions of labor are typically proposed with a bi-partite construction that consists schematically of a Request to Other to carry out some action X, and a Commitment by Self to carry out a complementary action Y. Where there is a possible chronological order for the actions X and Y, the request and commitment are ordered accordingly. Although in both languages there is a common schematic structure underlying the linguistic constructions used in proposing divisions of labor, the attested patterns vary in the degree of certainty that they express concerning the future actions. In addition, the patterns in Finnish vary in the explicitness with which the agents of the future actions are expressed. In neither of the languages are the variant patterns interchangeable. Instead, the patterns have distinct sequential home environments: the more certainty and explicitness the pattern expresses, the later in the sequence it occurs. Division-of labor proposals divide not only the labor, but also deontic primacy (the right to decide) and responsibility. By construing the venture as a joint one, they transform asymmetric actions such as offers and requests into more symmetric ones. This may explain why divisions of labor typically occur in request and offer sequences that are problematic and run the risk of miscarrying.


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