A Corpus Study Of Requests In Naturally Occurring Spoken American English: A Context Analysis Approach
Brown, Lynnelle Rhinier
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Given the variety of ways that speakers of American English can make requests, relatively little has been discovered on why speakers choose the forms they do. Using data from the Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English, this study investigates what requestive forms American speakers use as well as the contextual conditions that occur with these forms. The study identifies categories of requestive forms, including let statements, if statements, modal statements, need/want statements, imperatives and modal interrogatives and the contextual parameters that occur with them, including social distance, social power, contingency, entitlement, sequential positioning, among others. These forms demonstrate patterns of sensitivity to the contextual factors noted within this study. That is, no one group of linguistic forms has an identical pattern of use with another group of linguistic forms. Besides social power, social distance, contingency and entitlement, requestive forms demonstrate sensitivity to contextual elements such as the degree to which speaker and hearer cooperate on activities, initiating new pedagogical moves, responding to offers, maximizing cooperation when it is not expected, interrupting an activity, and distinguishing between primed and non-primed requests. Implications for the results of this analysis include applications for learners of English as well as for a theoretical paradigm that best accounts for the data. The study demonstrates that a static view of context is insufficient to explain the variation of forms speakers use in requesting and that for learners of English, gaining pragmatic competence is not as simple as learning a few forms such as past tense modals or please that can be tacked onto requestive utterances to make them ‘polite’. With high-imposition requests, learners of English need to gain linguistic flexibility, particularly in lexico-syntactic modification within the request sequence.