The request system in Italian interaction
People across the world make requests every day. We constantly rely on others to get by in the small and big practicalities of everyday life, be it getting the salt, moving a sofa, or cooking a meal. It has long been noticed that when we ask others for help we use a wide range of forms drawing on various resources afforded by our language and body. To get another to pass the salt, for example, we may say ‘Pass the salt’, or ask ‘Can you pass me the salt?’, or simply point to the salt. What do different forms of requesting give us? The short answer is that they allow us to manage different social relations. But what kind of relations? While prior research has mostly emphasised the role of long-term asymmetries like people’s social distance and relative power, this thesis puts at centre stage social relations and dimensions emerging in the moment-by-moment flow of everyday interaction. These include how easy or hard the action requested is to anticipate for the requestee, whether the action requested contributes to a joint project or serves an individual one, whether the requestee may be unwilling to do it, and how obvious or equivocal it is that a certain person or another should be involved in the action. The study focuses on requests made in everyday informal interactions among speakers of Italian. It involves over 500 instances of requests sampled from a diverse corpus of video recordings, and draws on methods from conversation analysis, linguistics and multimodal analysis. A qualitative analysis of the data is supported by quantitative measures of the distribution of linguistic and interactional features, and by the use of inferential statistics to test the generalizability of some of the patterns observed. The thesis aims to contribute to our understanding of both language and social interaction by showing that forms of requesting constitute a system, organised by a set of recurrent social-interactional concerns.
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