Requesting Responsibility: The Morality of Grammar in Polish and English Family Interaction

ISBN : 9780190210724

Jorg Zinken
272 ページ
140 x 210 mm

This book examines requests for action in everyday contexts by analyzing natural video-recorded data of everyday interaction in British English and Polish families. Requests for carrying out little jobs-passing some object or fetching items from the next room -are pervasively relevant in contexts such as preparing and consuming food, caring for and playing with children. Requests therefore provide a useful window onto general qualities of human sociality as well as on aspects of cultural diversity. Jorg Zinken describes features of interactional context that people across cultures might be sensitive to in designing a request. In particular, the other person's locally observable commitment to a shared task emerges as a quality of context that systematically enters into the way a speaker builds a request. He then analyses the relationship between diversity across the grammatical resources of languages, and diversity in the action affordances provided by these structures. Focusing on grammatical structures that exist in Polish but not in English (impersonal deontic statements, a certain type of double imperative, and a grammaticalized distinction between perfective and imperfective verbal aspect), the analyses show that language-specific turn formats can index and project social orientations within the on-going interaction in culture-specific ways. By examining social actions at a fine level of grain, the book points a way toward an understanding of cultural diversity that avoids the pitfalls of cultural relativism.


I. Language and the morality of requesting
1. Studying language and mind in action
2. Requests, responsiveness, and responsibility
II. Context, grammar and action formation
3. Nudging and appealing: Two imperative actions for requesting
4. The comparability of actions across languages
5. Two forms of responsibility: Engagement and assistance
III. Language-specific grammar for culture-specific actions
6. Building occasions for another's initiative: The impersonal deontic declarative trzeba x ( it is necessary to x )
7. Calling another to social reason: The double imperative we?-V2 ( take-V2 )
8. Directing animation of pre-authored actions: Imperatives in imperfective aspect
IV Requesting, action formation, and the reality of culture


Jorg Zinken is Research Fellow at Institut fur Deutsche Sprache, Mannheim. After completing a PhD in Linguistics at the University of Bielefeld (Germany), he worked as a Senior Lecturer, then Reader in Language and Communication, in the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth (UK) before joining the Institute for the German Language in Mannheim in 2014.