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Is Sybil there? the structure of some American English directives

  • Susan Ervin-Tripp (a1)

Abstract

Directives to hearers can be expressed in a variety of syntactic forms. The social distribution of such forms shows them to occur systematically, according to familiarity, rank, territorial location, difficulty of task, whether or not a duty is normally expected, whether or not non-compliance is likely. Except for some hints and questions not mentioning what is desired, directives do not require inference from a prior literal interpretation to be understood. Indeed, misunderstandings and puns imply that the interpretation of many directives is not likely to include a literal phase. On the contrary, where knowledge of obligations and prohibitions is shared, simple interpretation rules suffice, allowing prompt understanding. To interpret the affective significance of directives, one must compare the expected and realized forms, and recognize the social features that the difference implies. Deference, solidarity, coldness, sarcasm, rudeness, and qualitatively specified compliments or insults can be communicated systematically by such departures. (Pragmatics, directives, requests, politeness, conversational analysis, performatives, US English.)

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Is Sybil there? the structure of some American English directives

  • Susan Ervin-Tripp (a1)

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