A closer look at refusers’ counters: Benefactive changes, design constraints, and interpersonal implications

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This paper examines an understudied way of refusing: counters, i.e. utterances which do not only block one course of action but put forward an alternative. An interactional approach to pragmatic meaning was taken to examine the content, design, and interpersonal implications of counters in (semi-)informal future-action negotiations. Regarding their content, it was found that counters can retain the distribution of cost/benefit of initial proffers (neutral), change them to the refuser's benefit (egoistic), or change them to the profferer's benefit (altruistic). Regarding their design, it was found that counters can be formatted as either interpersonally delicate or non-delicate actions – irrespective of their content. This suggests that specific benefactive chances are not intrinsically associated with specific interpersonal effects, e.g. egoistic and altruistic counters do not necessarily indicate interpersonal trouble or guarantee harmony, respectively. Rather, it is the design which has particular interpersonal implications, with counters formatted as non-delicate actions being hearable as problematising and/or treated as problematic. It is furthermore argued that counters are more constrained in terms of design than initial proffers – which may be formatted as non-delicate without negative interpersonal implications – and that this constraint results from their sequential position and the prior speaker's right to make a proffer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-32
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date8 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • Benefactives
  • Conflict
  • Interpersonal
  • Obligations
  • Refusals
  • Rights

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