Service encounters at the counter are a social arena in which unacquainted people come to interact together, without a priori knowing the language of the other. In multilingual institutional settings, such as places where immigrants, mobile workers, cosmopolitan clients, and tourists gather to ask for services, this is a common configuration. These settings are exemplary for investigating how relevant linguistic resources are emergently discovered, negotiated, and established in the course of the interaction. Instead of supposing that shared linguistic resources are a necessary condition for social interaction to happen, the detailed analysis of these settings invites the researcher to study how participants orient to other available linguistic resources, identify and recognize them, and finally negotiate and select the appropriate and adjusted ones to progress within the encounter. Based on conversation analysis, the paper describes the opening of encounters as a locus where linguistic choices are guessed, checked, requested, and negotiated among participants. The main focus is on greetings, as a practice used to establish and possibly negotiate the language of the encounter. The data come from video recordings at two federal institutions in Switzerland – counters offering services at the border and at railway stations – considered exemplary sites for observing multilingual exchanges among customers and clerks.
Journal of Pragmatics – Elsevier
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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