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Intonation and deontic rights in action formation: 'We x' proposals in Italian

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http://pubman.mpdl.mpg.de/cone/persons/resource/persons4564

Rossi,  Giovanni
Human Sociality and Systems of Language Use, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
International Max Planck Research School for Language Sciences, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Multimodal Interaction, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Interactional Foundations of Language, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language and Cognition Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Rossi, G. (2011). Intonation and deontic rights in action formation: 'We x' proposals in Italian. Talk presented at the Centre for Situated Action and Communication. Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth, UK. 2011-12-16.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-000F-A407-3
Abstract
Turns at talk are constructed so as to perform recognizable actions. The concept of action formation and recognition has been central to a great body of research on social interaction, but remains a current and challenging area of investigation. This paper pursues this topic by focussing on proposals (plans for future joint action). In Italian, one common way of making a proposal is by using a first person plural construction like Prepariamo il pranzo, literally “We prepare lunch”. In a corpus of naturally-occurring interaction, this form of proposing comes in two variants which, in the majority of cases, can be formally distinguished only by the intonation contour with which they are uttered. After having described the grammatical and intonational features of the two variants, I account for their distribution in different interactional environments. Conversation analytic work has shown that knowledge asymmetries (epistemics) influence how speakers design questions and assessments. In my analysis, I argue that similar kinds of asymmetries shape the domain of rights and obligations to action (which I refer to as ‘deontics’) and that this influences the way in which speakers enlist others to act together with them. I show that the two types of we x proposal embody different deontic stances towards the engagement of participants in a joint course of action. The first type of we x proposal is delivered with an interrogative intonation contour (rise-fall). This format is used to propose a course of action about which the speaker displays uncertainty, and the selection of which is presented as contingent on the recipient’s acceptance (e.g., Prepariamo il pranzo? “(Shall) we prepare lunch?”). The second type, on the other hand, is delivered with an intonation contour associated with imperative syntax (scooped rise). This format is used to promote a course of action in a way that asserts the speaker’s right to push for its accomplishment, in which the recipient is urged to partake (e.g., Prepariamo il pranzo! “(Let’s) prepare lunch!”). This study calls attention to the importance of speakers’ deontic stances in proposing joint courses of action, and to the crucial role that intonation plays in their formulation and recognition.