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Visible behaviour in the formation of indirect requests [Invited talk]


Rossi,  Giovanni
Human Sociality and Systems of Language Use, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
International Max Planck Research School for Language Sciences, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Interactional Foundations of Language, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Rossi, G. (2014). Visible behaviour in the formation of indirect requests [Invited talk]. Talk presented at The 4th Nijmegen Gesture Centre Workshop: Communicative intention in gesture and action. Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. 2014-06-04 - 2014-06-05.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0019-B456-1
In this talk, I’m interested in the role of visible behaviour in the production and understanding of everyday requests. In a video corpus of informal interaction among speakers of Italian, requests are formulated in multiple ways. Some come in the form of direct imperatives (e.g. ‘Open the window’) or interrogatives (e.g. ‘Will you open the window?’), others come in more indirect forms, such as necessity statements (e.g. ‘It is necessary to open the window’). With a necessity statement, a speaker expresses the obligation to carry out an action without specifying its agent. The use of this strategy poses an important question: how do interactants determine who will carry out the necessary action? In some situations, the deciding factor appears to be the distribution of rights and obligations to the action in question, which makes a certain individual especially responsible for it. But there are other situations in which the action could potentially be taken on by more than one person. Here, the designation of the agent becomes contingent upon other interactional elements. I argue that, in these situations, two aspects of the speaker’s visible behaviour while uttering the necessity statement become particularly significant. One is the speaker’s bodily posture, which can display their uninvolvement with the necessary action or, conversely, their incipient engagement in it. Another one is the speaker’s gaze, which, if directed to a particular recipient, can increase pressure on them to get involved. This work contributes to a growing body of research on the multimodal formation of social action by documenting how linguistic form interfaces with visible behaviour in mobilising other people’s cooperation.