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Offering alternatives as a way of issuing directives to children: putting the worse option last

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journal contribution
posted on 2015-01-08, 15:53 authored by Charles Antaki, Alexandra Kent
In a corpus of c. 250 hours of recorded interactions between young children and adults in USA and UK households, we found that children could be directed to change their course of action by three syntactic formats that offered alternatives: an imperative, or a modal declarative, plus a consequential alternative to non-compliance (e.g. come down at once or I shall send you straight to bed; you've got to stand here with it or it goes back in the cupboard), or an interrogative requiring a preference (e.g. do you want to put them neatly in the corner for mummy please or do you wanna go to bed). Formatted syntactically as or-alternatives, these can perform the actions both of warning and threatening. But they make a 'bad' course of action contiguous to the child's turn. We argue that adults choose this format because the interactional preference for contiguity makes the negative alternative the more salient one. This implies that adults attribute to children the ability to appreciate the flouting of preference organisation for deontic effect.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies

Published in

Journal of Pragmatics






xx - xx (xx)


ANTAKI, C. and KENT, A., 2015. Offering alternatives as a way of issuing directives to children: putting the worse option last. Journal of Pragmatics, 78, pp. 25-38


© Elsevier


  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Journal of Pragmatics. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version will subsequently be published in http://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-pragmatics/




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