The Comprehension of Indirect Requests: Previous Work and Future Directions

  • Nicolas RuytenbeekEmail author
Part of the Logic, Argumentation & Reasoning book series (LARI, volume 11)


This chapter offers a critical survey of experimental work on the comprehension of indirect requests (IRs). A first issue concerns the processing times of IRs. A crucial finding is that processing times are not systematically longer for IRs relative to the same sentences used to perform direct speech acts, which suggests that the direct meaning of an IR is not always derived. However, the same studies fail to demonstrate that an IR is understood as quickly as a direct speech act when the context of utterance does not bias towards the directive meaning. A second important issue bears on the interpretative mechanisms required for deriving the meaning of IRs. Recent neuroimaging studies provide us with a clearer understanding of what is going on during utterance processing. Yet we still know very little about the precise interpretative steps that individuals actually go through when processing IRs, and about the processing costs involved in utterance interpretation. I conclude that available data does not allow a satisfactory answer to the question whether non-imperative requests are costlier than imperative requests, and outline further directions for experimental research on these two issues.


Directives Indirect requests Literal meaning Processing cost 



My doctoral research is supported by a fellow grant from the F.R.S.–FNRS (Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique de la Communauté Française de Belgique). This research has also benefited from a graduate student visitor’s grant (University of Cambridge, UK, 2013–4) of the Philippe Wiener – Maurice Anspach Foundation. I am also very grateful to Mikhail Kissine for supervising my writing of this chapter.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre de recherche en Linguistique (LaDisco)Université libre de BruxellesBruxellesBelgium

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