In the management of cooperation, the fit of a requested action with what the addressee is presently doing is a pervasively relevant consideration. We present evidence that imperative turns are adapted to, and reflexively create, contexts in which the other person is committed to the course of action advanced by the imperative. This evidence comes from systematic variation in the design of imperative turns, relative to the fittedness of the imperatively mandated action to the addressee’s ongoing trajectory of actions, what we call the “cline of commitment”. We present four points on this cline: Responsive imperatives perform an operation on the deontic dimension of what the addressee has announced or already begun to do (in particular its permissibility); local-project-imperatives formulate a new action advancing a course of action in which the addressee is already actively engaged; global-project-imperatives target a next task for which the addressee is available on the grounds of their participation in the overall event, and in the absence of any competing work; and competitive imperatives draw on a presently otherwise engaged addressee on the grounds of their social commitment to the relevant course of actions. These four turn shapes are increasingly complex, reflecting the interactional work required to bridge the increasing distance between what the addressee is currently doing, and what the imperative mandates. We present data from German and Polish informal and institutional settings.
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