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Distributed Agency$
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N. J. Enfield and Paul Kockelman

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190457204

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190457204.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 12 May 2021

Social Agency and Grammar

Social Agency and Grammar

(p.79) Chapter 9 Social Agency and Grammar
Distributed Agency

Giovanni Rossi

Jörg Zinken

Oxford University Press

One of the most conspicuous ways in which people distribute agency among each other is by asking another for help. Natural languages give people a range of forms to do this, the distinctions among which have consequences for how agency is distributed. Forms such as imperatives (e.g. “pass the salt”) and recurrent types of interrogatives (e.g. “can you pass the salt?”) designate another person as the doer of the action. In contrast to this, impersonal deontic statements (e.g. “it is necessary to get the salt”) express the need for an action without tying it to any particular individual. This can generate interactions in which the identity of the doer must be sorted out among participants, allowing us to observe the distribution of agency in vivo. The case of impersonal deontic statements demonstrates the importance of grammar as a resource for managing human action and sociality.

Keywords:   social agency, interaction, grammar, impersonal deontic statements, multimodality, cooperation, agency

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