This paper examines the use of the so-called “signal imperatives” of the spoken Russian language in the conversations between salespeople and their customers at the counter of a bookshop. These imperatives are an imperfective aspect and their basic meaning is to initiate an activity that is customary for the situation at hand. In the bookshop, a salesperson uses them in routine-like activities, namely when the customer is paying for his purchase with a credit card and when the purchase is handed back to the customer. As a consequence of the repetitive activity at the counter, both the salesperson and customer are strongly oriented to the customary nature of the action. They expect that the encounter will progress smoothly from one phase to next with smooth progress. By this, I am referring to both temporal progress and the progress related to the content of the phases of action. This smooth progress is only possible when the participants’ courses of action are aligned. My research question is, “What triggers the use and timing of the use of signal imperatives in their verbal and embodied context?” I will show that the salesperson produces signal imperatives in situations where the smooth progress of the encounter is under a threat. That happens typically when the embodied and cognitive availability of participants are asymmetric, or there is a spatial disalignment between them. The signal imperative is a device the salesperson deploys for maintaining the smooth progress of the encounter. In a larger scope, salespeople produce imperatives in order to perform their institutional duties. According to the mutual understanding of the participants, it is the salesperson that is responsible for the smooth progress of a typical interaction. A method of the study was a conversation analysis and its data consisted of 58 Russian language encounters in which there were 23 signal imperatives.
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