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When do people not use language to make requests?*

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Abstract

In everyday joint activities (e.g. playing cards, preparing potatoes, collecting empty plates), participants often request others to pass, move or otherwise deploy objects. In order to get these objects to or from the requestee, requesters need to manipulate them, for example by holding them out, reaching for them, or placing them somewhere. As they perform these manual actions, requesters may or may not accompany them with language (e.g. <i>Take this potato and cut it</i> or <i>Pass me your plate</i>). This study shows that adding or omitting language in the design of a request is influenced in the first place by a criterion of recognition. When the requested action is <i>projectable </i>from the advancement of an activity, presenting a relevant object to the requestee is enough for them to understand what to do; when, on the other hand, the requested action is <i>occasioned</i> by a contingent development of the activity, requesters use language to specify what the requestee should do. This criterion operates alongside a perceptual criterion, to do with the affordances of the visual and auditory modalities. When the requested action is projectable but the requestee is not visually attending to the requester&#8217;s manual behaviour, the requester can use just enough language to attract the requestee&#8217;s attention and secure immediate recipiency. This study contributes to a line of research concerned with the organisation of verbal and nonverbal resources for requesting. Focussing on situations in which language is not &#8211; or only minimally &#8211; used, it demonstrates the role played by visible bodily behaviour and by the structure of everyday activities in the formation and understanding of requests.

References

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