We present the questions, methods, and findings of a major comparative project on ‘recruitments’. These are sequences in which one party’s behavior is solicited or otherwise occasioned by that of another party, ranging from directives to indirect requests to subtle hints. Though there has been considerable research in this area, we present a new systematic and comparative approach, working with a broad sample of languages and cultures based on closely comparable video recorded corpora, representing Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia and the Americas. We present results from this comparison looking for cross-linguistic differences and similarities in the formal resources of each language (their “grammars of recruiting”) and in how these resources are used in sequential context.
The questions motivating this detailed comparison concern the ways in which people use semiotic resources in managing relationships in social life, particularly in the distribution of agency in which people act in the service of others’ goals, including shared goals (see Enfield 2013). The recruitment sequences we are interested in here allow us to study the fission-fusion agency whereby people navigate the interactional contingencies of distributed social and practical agency. This is a wider domain of sociality than what is usually covered by the term ‘request’, so we apply the term ‘recruitment’ to a broader class of actions. The recruitment sequences that we compare cross-linguistically minimally consist of (1) two people, A and B, (2) a first move in which A says and/or does something that B can hear or see, and (3) a second move in which B responds by doing something practical (other than saying something) that is fitted to what A just said and/or did. Other terms such as ‘rejection’ and ‘fulfillment’ characterize the different things that can be done by B after A’s recruitment move. Project members have each collected 200 such recruitment cases among adult speakers in naturally-occurring conversational video corpora and then further characterized them into sub-types of sequences, many of which are ‘requests’ in the usual sense of that term.
Previous studies of recruitments in interaction have added to our understanding by identifying relationships between the selection of formal resources for requesting and the contingencies of interaction (Craven & Potter, 2010; Curl and Drew, 2008; Heinemann, 2006; Schegloff, 1979; Taleghani-Nikazm, 2006; Vinkhuyzen & Szymanski, 2005; Wootton 1997; Zinken & Ogiermann, 2011). In the large-scale cross-linguistic comparative framework of this project we can ask further questions about cultural variation in relations between formal resources and social action by keeping the sequence type constant across 8 language corpora and studying how speakers of different languages accomplish similar recruiting actions in interaction. Our quantitative results show how certain sets of resources recur cross-linguistically as practices for achieving similar actions. For example, in all of the languages speakers choose among imperative, declarative and interrogative sentence types, between spoken, visual, or multimodal formats, and between ‘bare’ requests and mitigated requests including accounts or minimizers like diminutive marking: we discuss how speakers select from among all these options according to interactional contingencies. Speakers in different linguistic and cultural contexts handle similar interactional contingencies with largely similar means, but they also show some areas of cultural variation.
The research team contributing to this project has developed a detailed coding scheme which has been administered with reference to comparable corpora of video-recorded everyday conversation in 8 languages from around the world: Siwu (Ghana), Lao (Laos), Cha’palaa (Ecuador), Murriny-Patha (Australia), Dutch, Russian, English, Mandarin Chinese, and Italian. In this session we will present a concise and comprehensive overview of the questions, methods, and results of this comparative project.