I Need a Coffee: Pragmalinguistic Variation of Requests in Starbucks Service Encounters

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Jenna Taylor


The present study explores the pragmalinguistic variation of request forms found in Starbucks café service encounters. Pragmatic variation in service encounters has been examined from a variety of perspectives in the literature (Félix-Brasdefer, 2015; Placencia, 1998; Shively, 2011; Ventola, 1987). Using a revised variational pragmatics framework (Schneider & Barron 2008; Barron & Schneider 2009; Schneider 2010), the current study analyzes 820 instances of request forms (conventional indirect, assertion, imperative, want, need, elliptical/verbless requests) produced in a Starbucks café service encounters in the northwestern United States. Each request token was analyzed according to the gender of the participants involved (customer/barista) and according to the modality of the discourse (face-to-face versus drive-through microphone). This study provides a first attempt to consider the affect of the genders of service encounter participants in conjunction with the modality of the interaction. Quantitative analysis shows that both participant gender and the interaction’s modality affect the request forms produced in Starbucks service encounters. Customer gender greatly influences request forms in face-to-face encounters and yet this difference disappears in drive-through encounters where both male and female customers most frequently employ the unmarked request forms, conventional indirect requests. It is proposed that the visual impact of the participant genders in a face-to-face encounter renders gender-based variation that is rendered null in drive-through encounters due to the loss of the physical presence of the barista.


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