One Type of Polar, Information-Seeking Question and Its Stance of Probability: Implications for the Preference for Agreement

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Research on Language and Social Interaction

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There is little doubt that Sacks’s notion of the “preference for agreement” is generally valid. However, that it is valid does not tell us how it is valid. This article further unpacks the preference for agreement by conversation-analytically grounding one of its many underlying mechanisms. Specifically, this article examines the practice of formatting an action—in this case, a type of information seeking—as a positively formatted polar interrogative without polarity items (e.g., Did you go fishing?). This article demonstrates that doing so enacts a speaker stance that the question’s proposed state of affairs (e.g., that the recipient went fishing) is probable and thus that a response is more likely to constitute affirmation than disaffirmation. Additionally, this article describes the preference-organizational effects of such formatting on some aspects of response construction. Data are gathered from videotapes of unstructured, face-to-face conversations, included 289 interrogatives, and are in American English.


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