When routine calls for information become interpersonally sensitive

Orthaber, Sara and Márquez Reiter, Rosina (2016). When routine calls for information become interpersonally sensitive. Pragmatics and Society, 7(4) pp. 638–663.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/ps.7.4.06ort


This paper examines interpersonally sensitive exchanges in two calls for information to the call centre of a public transport company. In order to provide relevant information and facilitate sequence progressivity, the agents need to go through specific steps. Although this is typical of institutional settings, customers may not necessarily be aware of them. The excerpts examined in this paper show how the customers’ lack of knowledge of the institutional steps the agents have to go through to attend to their requests and customers’ claims to product knowledge, coupled with the agents’ labour intensive work at the call centre, provide fertile ground for the agents’ verbal outbursts which are oriented to as interpersonally sensitive by the customers in so far as they are interpreted as inappropriate and potentially impolite. The analysis draws on the notion of face and incorporates a variety of concepts from pragmatics and Conversation Analysis.

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