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Direct off-record requests? – ‘Hinting’ in family interactions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-35
Number of pages5
Early online date7 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2015


King's Authors


This paper engages with the concept of off-record requests (Brown and Levinson, 1987), often referred to as hints and viewed as a form of implicature in politeness research. It analyses three fragments of data featuring the transfer of objects in video-recorded interactions taking place in Polish families. In all these sequences the object transfer is initiated through hint-like utterances asking about the availability or location of the required object.
The paper argues that off-record requests are exceedingly difficult to identify in ongoing interaction: the present data show that even though the analysed ‘hints’ are highly transparent in the contexts in which they are produced, there is no conclusive evidence that they are intended as requests or even interpreted as such by the person providing the object. The analysed examples also show, on the one hand, that ‘hints’ can function as a form of communicative abbreviation (Ervin-Tripp, 1976) and, on the other, that they can represent an idea evolving over several turns as the interlocutors jointly accomplish a task.
While most research to date has focused on the different forms requests take and the amount of politeness they express, viewing them in their sequential environments illustrates that politeness is not so much about how we formulate our needs and involve others in satisfying them, but how we attend to others’ needs.

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