Macaulay, Marcia
English Department
Glendon College
York University, Toronto

Marcia Macaulay,
English Department
Glendon College
York University, Toronto
2275 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Canada M4N 3M6

Strand: discourse English

Title: Indirectness and Gender in Requests for Information

Indirect requests for information have been little studied in the literature. They can be formed through the invocation of felicity conditions surrounding directives, that is, preparatory, sincerity, propositional and essential conditions (Searle 1991): "Can you explain the difference" (ability), "Will you tell me more about your tactics" (propositional), "But the question was why don't you like being interviewed" (essential). And they can be formed by assertion of what Labov and Fanshell refer to as A-, B.- and D-Events: "But I thought in some way that a person has to be a bastard to survive" (D-Event with B- Event implicature). In my data, which is composed of 23 interviews, female interviewers employ indirect requests with almost equal frequency as direct requests (direct requests 35%; indirect requests 34%), while male interviewers employ indirect requests with half the frequency as direct requests (direct requests 40%; indirect requests 20%). This should not pose a problem for standard analysis which promotes the view that indirectness is equivalent to politeness (Brown and Levinson 1987) and that female speakers are more polite than male (Lakoff 1975). However, indirect forms are not necessarily polite and can in fact be provocative (Macaulay 1997). This paper will explore the strategic functions of indirect requests for information for female speakers/interviewers and further explore why there is a greater differential within the data for male speakers/interviewers than there is for female speakers/interviewers.

Short Bibliography

Blum-Kulka, Shoshana. 1983. The dynamics of political interviews. Text 3 (2): 131-153.

Brown, Penelope and Steven C. Levinson. 1987. Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Labov, William and David Fanshell. 1977. Therapeutic Discourse. New York: Academic Press.

Macaulay, Marcia. 1997. Asking to Ask: The Strategic Function of Indirect Requests for Information in Interviews. Pragmatics.

Searle, John R. 1991. Indirect Speech Acts. In Pragmatics A Reader. Ed. Steven Davis. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tanz, Christine. 1981. Asking children to ask; an experimental investigation of the pragmatics of relayed questions. Journal of Child Language 10: 187-194.