Managing contingencies in requests: The role of negation in Norwegian interrogative directives
Journal article by Pawel Urbanik and Jan Svennevig in Journal of Pragmatics, Volume 139, January 2019.
In Norwegian, unlike English, negative interrogatives are commonly used as requests for action. In addition, the negation adverb ikke can be placed either before or after a pronominal subject. The study explores pragmatic differences between these two request formats, using everyday conversations from the TV series Big Brother as corpus data. We argue that the difference concerns the contingencies faced by the speaker in gaining compliance. The format with preposed negation (Kan ikke jeg/du X? - ‘Can't I/you X?’) requests confirmation of the assumption that the interlocutor can and will do the requested action and that any obstacles to gaining compliance are merely hypothetical. The format with postposed negation (Kan jeg/du ikke X? - ‘Can I/you not X?’), on the other hand, is used when there are contextually manifest obstacles and the speaker seeks to gain compliance in spite of them. Interrogatives with preposed negation take advantage of premises conducive to having action performed and are used to prevent refusal, while those with postposed negation are employed to combat the obstacles and win compliance.