Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Open Linguistics

Editor-in-Chief: Ehrhart, Sabine

Covered by:
Elsevier - SCOPUS
Clarivate Analytics - Emerging Sources Citation Index

Open Access
See all formats and pricing
More options …

Issues in Action Formation: Requests and the Problem with x

Barbara A. Fox / Trine Heinemann
  • Finnish Centre of Excellence in Intersubjectivity in Interaction, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2017-03-30 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2017-0003


In previous interactional studies of formats for utterances doing requests, attention has been given to the initial verb (such as can/could or wonder) and possibly the subject (especially I vs you). The current study examines the main types of grammatical variation found in what we call the “x component,” that is the segment after the initial verb and subject. We examine two types of requests: those with can you x and those with wonder x, and we find that variations in the x component in these requests are associated with variations in the unfolding development of the request sequences. We thus suggest that the x component is crucial to the interactional work accomplished by the requesting utterance.

Keywords: Conversation Analysis; Requests; Action formation


  • Aijmer, Karin. 1996. Conversational routines in English: Convention and creativity. London: Longman.Google Scholar

  • Beach, Wayne A. 1993. Transitional regularities for ‘casual’ “Okay” usages. Journal of Pragmatics 19, 325-352.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Blum-Kulka, Shoshana, Juliane House, Gabriele Kasper (eds.). 1989. Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: Requests and Apologies. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.Google Scholar

  • Bolden, Galina. 2004. The quote and beyond: Defining boundaries of reported speech in conversational Russian. Journal of Pragmatics 36, 1071-1118.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Bolden, Galina. 2009. Implementing incipient actions: The discourse marker ‘so’ in English conversation. Journal of Pragmatics 41(5), 974-998.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Bybee, Joan. 2010. Language, usage and cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Childs, Carrie. 2012. I’m not X, I just want Y: Formulating ‘wants’ in interaction. Discourse Studies 14, 181-196.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Clift, Rebecca. 2001. Meaning in interaction: the case of actually. Language 77, 245-291.Google Scholar

  • Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth. 2001. Interactional prosody: High onsets in reason-for-the-call turns. Language in Society 30, 29-53.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth. 2014. What does grammar tell us about action? Pragmatics 24 (3), 623-647.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Curl, Traci, Paul Drew. 2008. Contingency and action: A comparison of two forms of requesting. Research on Language and Social Interaction 41 (2), 129-153.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • de Saussure, Ferdinand. 1959. Course in general linguistics. Edited by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, in collaboration with Albert Riedlinger. Translated by Wade Baskin. New York: Philosophical Library.Google Scholar

  • Drew, Paul, Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen (eds.). 2014a. Requesting in social interaction. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.Google Scholar

  • Drew, Paul, Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen. 2014b. Requesting - from speech act to recruitment. In Drew, Paul, Elizabeth Couper- Kuhlen (eds.), Requesting in social interaction. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1-34.Google Scholar

  • Ervin-Tripp, Susan M. 1964. An analysis of the interaction of language, topic, and listener. American Anthropologist 66 (6, Part 2), 86-102.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Ervin-Tripp, Susan M. 1976. Is Sybil there? The structure of some American English directives. Language in Society 5, 25-66.Google Scholar

  • Fox, Barbara. 2015. On the notion of pre-request. Discourse Studies 17 (1), 41-63.Google Scholar

  • Fox, Barbara, Trine Heinemann. 2015. The alignment of manual and verbal displays in requests for the repair of an object. Research on Language and Social Interaction 48 (3), 342-362.Google Scholar

  • Fox, Barbara, Trine Heinemann. 2016. Rethinking format: An examination of requests. Language in Society 45, 499-531.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Goodwin, Charles. 2000. Action and embodiment within situated human interaction. Journal of Pragmatics 32, 1489-1522.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Heinemann, Trine. 2006. ‘Will you or can’t you?’: Displaying entitlement in interrogative requests. Journal of Pragmatics 38, 1081-1104.Google Scholar

  • Heinemann, Trine, Jakob Steensig. In press. Three imperative action formats in Danish talk-in-interaction: The case of imperative + modal particles bare and lige. In Sorjonen, Marja-Leena, Liisa Raevaara, Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen (eds.), Imperative turns at talk: The design of directives in action. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.Google Scholar

  • Heritage, John, Jeffrey Robinson. 2011. ‘Some’ vs ‘Any’ medical issues: Encouraging patients to reveal their unmet concerns. In Antaki, Charles (ed.), Applied Conversation Analysis: Changing institutional practices. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 15-31.Google Scholar

  • Heritage, John, Marja-Leena Sorjonen. 1994. Constituting and maintaining activities across sequences: And-prefacing as a feature of question design. Language in Society 23, 1-29.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Hopper, Paul. 1987. Emergent grammar. Proceedings of the thirteenth annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 139-157.Google Scholar

  • Houtkoop-Steenstra, Hanneke. 1987. Establishing agreement: An analysis of proposal-acceptance sequences. PhD thesis. Universiteit van Amsterdam. Dordrecht: Foris.Google Scholar

  • Jefferson, Gail. 2004. Transcription. Glossary of transcript symbols with an introduction. In Lerner, Gene H. (ed.), Conversation Analysis: Studies from the first generation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 13-31.Google Scholar

  • Keisanen, Tiina. 2012. “Uh-oh, we were going there”: Environmentally occasioned noticings of trouble in in-car interaction. Semiotica 191, 197-222.Google Scholar

  • Kendon, Adam. 1990. Spatial organization in social encounters: The F-formation system. In Adam Kendon (ed.), Conducting interaction: Patterns of behavior in focused encounters. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 209-238.Google Scholar

  • Kendrick, Kobin, Paul Drew. 2016. Recruitment: Offers, requests and the organization of assistance in interaction. Research on Language and Social Interaction 49, 1-19.Google Scholar

  • Kent, Alexandra, Kobin H. Kendrick. 2016. Imperative directives: Orientations to accountability. Research on Language and Social Interaction 49, 272-288.Google Scholar

  • Kirsner, Robert. 1993. From meaning to message in two theories: Cognitive and Saussurean views of the modern Dutch demonstratives. Conceptualizations and mental processing in language 3, 81-114.Google Scholar

  • Klewitz, Gabriele, Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen. 1999. Quote-unquote? The role of prosody in the contextualization of reported speech sequences. Pragmatics 9 (4), 459-485.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Levinson, Stephen. 2013. Action formation and ascription. In Stivers, Tanya, Jack Sidnell (eds.), The handbook of conversation analysis. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 103-130.Google Scholar

  • Lindholm, Camilla, Jan Lindström. 2003. Får jag fråga? Frågeramar i institutionell interaktion [May I ask? Question frames in institutional interaction]. Språk & Stil 13, 35-64.Google Scholar

  • Lindström, Anna. 1997. Designing social actions: Grammar, prosody, and interaction in Swedish conversation. PhD thesis. Irvine, CA: University of California, USA.Google Scholar

  • Lindström, Anna. 2005. Language as social action. A study of how senior citizens request assistance with practical tasks in the Swedish home help service. In Hakulinen, Auli, Margret Selting (eds.), Syntax and lexis in conversation: studies on the use of linguistic resources in talk-in-interaction. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 209-230.Google Scholar

  • Mandelbaum, Jenny, Anita Pomerantz. 1991. What drives social action? In Tracy, Karen (ed.), Understanding face-to-face interaction. Issues linking goals and discourse. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 151-166.Google Scholar

  • Mondada, Lorenza. 2014. Conventions for multimodal transcription. https://franz.unibas.ch/fileadmin/franz/user_upload/redaktion/Mondada_conv_multimodality.pdfGoogle Scholar

  • Mondada, Lorenza, Marja-Leena Sorjonen. 2016. Making multiple requests in French and Finnish convenience stores. Language in Society 45, 733-765.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Nolen, Jason A., Douglas W. Maynard. 2013. Formulating the request for survey participation in relation to the interactional environment. Discourse Studies 15 (2), 205-227.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Ogiermann, Eva. 2009. Politeness and in-directness across cultures: A comparison of English, German, Polish and Russian requests. Journal of Politeness Research 5, 189-216.Google Scholar

  • Rossi, Giovanni. 2012. Bilateral and unilateral requests: The use of imperatives and mi x? interrogatives in Italian. Discourse Processes 49, 426-458.Google Scholar

  • Rossi, Giovanni. 2015a. The request system in Italian interaction. PhD thesis. Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen.Google Scholar

  • Rossi, Giovanni. 2015b. Responding to pre-requests: The organization of hai x ‘do you have x’ sequences in Italian. Journal of Pragmatics 82, 5-22.Google Scholar

  • Rossi, Giovanni, Jörg Zinken. 2016. Grammar and Social Agency: The Pragmatics of Impersonal Deontic Statements. Language 92 (4).Google Scholar

  • Schegloff, Emanuel A. 2007. Sequence organization in interaction: A primer in conversation analysis, vol.1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Sorjonen, Marja-Leena, Liisa Raevaara. 2014. On the grammatical form of requests at the convenience store: Requesting as embodied action. In Drew, Paul, Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen (eds.), Requesting in social interaction. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 241-266.Google Scholar

  • Stivers, Tanya. 2011. Morality and question design: ‘Of course’ as contesting a presupposition of askability. In Stivers, Tanya, Lorenza Mondada, Jakob Steensig (eds.), The morality of knowledge in conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 82-106.Google Scholar

  • Thompson, Sandra, Barbara Fox, Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen. 2015. Grammar in everyday talk: Building responsive actions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Vinkhuyzen, Erik, Margaret H. Szymanski. 2005. Would you like to do it yourself? Service requests and their non-granting responses. In Richards, Keith, Paul Seedhouse (eds.), Applying conversation analysis. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 91-105.Google Scholar

  • Wierzbicka, Anna. 1985. Different cultures, different languages, different speech acts: Polish vs. English. Journal of Pragmatics 9, 145-178.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Wootton Anthony J. 1981. Two request forms of four year olds. Journal of Pragmatics 5, 511-523.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Wootton, Anthony J. 1997. Interaction and the Development of Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Wootton, Anthony J. 2005. Interactional and sequential configurations informing request format selection in children’s speech. In Hakulinen, Auli, Margret Selting (eds.), Syntax and lexis in conversation: studies on the use of linguistic resources in talk-ininteraction. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 185-208.Google Scholar

  • Zinken, Jörg. 2015. Contingent control over shared goods. ‘Can I have x’ requests in British English informal interaction. Journal of Pragmatics 82, 23-38.Google Scholar

  • Zinken, Jörg, Deppermann, Arnulf. 2015. Towards a typology of imperative request actions. Paper given at the International Pragmatics Association Conference, Antwerp, Belgium, July 2015.Google Scholar

  • Zinken, Jörg, Eva Ogiermann. 2011. How to propose an action as an objective necessity. The case of Polish trzeba x (“one needs to x”). Research on Language and Social Interaction 44 (3), 263-287.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Zinken, Jörg, Eva Ogiermann, 2013. Responsibility and action: Invariants and diversity in requests for objects in British English and Polish interaction. Research on Language and Social Interaction 46 (3), 256-276.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

About the article

Received: 2016-09-16

Accepted: 2017-01-11

Published Online: 2017-03-30

Published in Print: 2017-01-26

Citation Information: Open Linguistics, Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 31–64, ISSN (Online) 2300-9969, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2017-0003.

Export Citation

© 2017. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in