On the grammatical form of requests at the convenience store

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This article discusses the interplay between verbal and embodied resources when requesting a product at the convenience store. We concentrate on requests for tobacco products, which are not directly accessible to the customers but have to be requested from the seller. We will explore a choice between a phrasal (NP) and clausal format for presenting a request, and show how the choice between these two formats is intrinsically tied to the arrangements of the physical space at the kiosk, the location of and the bodily movements by the participants, as well as to the sequential trajectory of the activity. More specifically, the key element in the verbal request is the description and identification of the product, presented with an NP, and this element is produced to coincide with reaching the counter and achieving a stationary position. There is a practical basis for the choice between an NP and a clause in formatting the request: the extended verbal format is chosen to manage the time it takes for the customer to reach the counter. Thus, the length of the verbal format stands in an iconic relationship to the relative distance and to the time needed for the customer to reach the counter. The verbal format is a flexible resource that is adjustable structurally and temporally to the embodied and sequential trajectory of the on-going activity. The data of the study consist of 101 encounters in which the customer asks for a tobacco product, collected in different parts of Finland.


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