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This part of the grammar examines the communicative actions performed by utterances. We have divided the actions into general types, which you can see in the menu on the left. Under each of the general types you will find entries on the specific communicative actions.

Most action types either initiate something, or respond to something, and we call these initiating or responding actions. For example, a greeting calls for a greeting in return; a question calls for an answer; a request calls for an acceptance (or rejection) etc. These types of utterances are connected in pairs or across longer sequences. The initiating actions call for specific types of responding actions. The responding actions furthermore demonstrate an understanding of the previous action, as one which called for a certain response.

Utterances typically have a distinct grammar depending on whether they constitute an initiating or a responding action.

It is useful to know how actions are shaped and how they condition each other in Danish. It can be very insightful for students of Danish as a second language, given that they can learn how an action is performed and how it is understood correctly.

Below is a conversation-example which illustrates our division of action types:

AULING | HLL | Broed | 11 ((telephone))

01          ((phone rings))
02   Len:   det  e:r    lene↗
            it.N be.PRS NAME
            ‘it i:s lene’
03   Joh:   de:t johanne→
            it.N  NAME
            ‘it’s johanne’
04          (0.4)
05   Len:   he:j↗=
06   Joh:   he(h)j hva  ☺laver    d[u↗☺
            hi     what make.PRS you.SG
            ‘hi(h) what ☺are you doing☺’
07   Len:                           [ehehh=
08   Len:   =·hh ☺je:g lige i bad↗ hh [hh☺
                  I    just in bath
            ‘=·hh ☺I’m just taking a bath hh hh’
09   Joh:                            [*nå:→ okay↘*=
            ‘*oh: okay*=’ 10   Joh:   =·hh jamen det var bare fordi jeg ville
                 yes-but it.N be.PST just because I want.PST
            ‘=·hh well it was just because I wanted to’
11   Joh:   høre    om du    ☺gad       å   køre     forbi føtex
            hear.INF if you.SG bother.PST IFM drive.INF past  NAME.OF.SHOP
            ‘hear if you would ☺bother to drive by føtex’
12   Joh:   å☺ ta' noget brød me'↘
            and take.INF some.N bread(N) with
            ‘and take some bread with you’
13          (0.3)
14   Len:   jamen   det  gider     jeg godt↗
            yes-but it.N bother.PRS I   good.N
            ‘Sure I do bother to do that’

The ringing of the telephone (line 1) is a summons, i.e. a request for attention which calls for an expression of attention; Lene’s line 2 functions as such. Simultaneously Line 2 is a self-identification, which acts as a request for the other person to identify herself; line 3 does this. Then follows a greeting-sequence with an initiating greeting in line 5 and a responding one in line 6. Thereafter a request for information, the question on line 6, and line 8 functions as an answer to that question.

Up until this point we have only looked at initiating and responding actions which are connected to each other like beads on a string. In line 9 Johanne performs a sequence-closing actions where she acknowledges the answer on line 8. This leads to the request for a later action (Lene can’t buy bread right now). We could have probably guessed that this was underway already in line 6, when Johanne asked Lene what she was doing. Such a request calls for an acceptance, which comes in line 14.

This short conversation-example consists of five sequences:

  1. A summons-answer sequence (line 1-2)
  2. An identification sequence (line 2-3)
  3. A greeting sequence (line 5-6)
  4. A question sequence (line 6-9) and
  5. A request sequence (line 10-14)

The actions performed in the first three sequences belong to the general action type of Opening and Closing of Actions. The question-sequence belongs to the general action type of Questions and Answers, and the final request and response belong to Invitation to Action and Response.

Actions which do not belong to any of the four general types, we have described under Other Actions.

Further reading

Schegloff (2007). The overview that our categorization is primarily inspired by. It is very comprehensive.

Sidnell (2010, kapitel 6). A shorter overview of the principles of Schegloff (2007).

Steensig (2010). Briefly outlines the competences needed to participate in conversations, including “action competence” and “sequential competence”.