Arguments against/pro Directives: taxonomy

Inga B. Dolinina

McMaster University, Canada


This paper is devoted to cases of argumentation triggered by the refusal of an Addressee to comply immediately (or at all) with a Directive/Imperative issued by a Speaker. The types of arguments, and argumentation patterns, that follow such an opening of the discussion have been to a large extent under-represented (if not ignored) in research on argumentation. It’s a definite gap, because in everyday discourse arguments to support or counter Imperatives are common. Individuals use reasons to persuade others to do what they want them to do, and likewise give reasons for declining to comply with a Directive.

            In this paper I argue that arguments for refusing to comply with a Directive are not an unpredictable chaos of arbitrary objections. These refusals rather belong to a system of possibilities, which I claim can be ordered semantically so as to constitute a taxonomy of arguments against Directives.

            The taxonomy I put forward is based partly on the semantic model of the meaning of an Imperative construction which I proposed in my earlier work (Dolinina 2002), and partly on some extra-semantic, pragmatic, factors of actualization of an imperative construction in an imperative utterance (Dolinina 2003). Besides these two areas of meanings relevant to taxonomization of refusals, analysis of data collected for this research allowed me to identify an additional area of possible counter-arguments. Here the basis for refusals embraces not a Directive per se as a speech act (its legitimacy, clarity, realism, etc.), but the “state of mind” (or general cognitive state) of an Addressee, who perceives the content of the Directive as contrary to his own beliefs and moral or psychological values.



1. Perlocutionary effects of a Directive


Issuers of speech acts (Speakers) always expect an adequate reaction from the Listener. They expect not only that the Addressee/Listener understands the content of this speech act and its illocutionary force, but they want also a particular response to this speech act. This means that the Speaker always expects a certain perlocutionary effect, reflecting the Listener’s response. This response, and the active role of the Listener, are important (Van Eemeren and Grootendorst 1984, pp.18 ff.). The “normal” expected perlocutionary effect of a Directive is supposedly performance by the Addressee of the “action” requested. But in real-life speech interaction a Directive often can trigger not only an action, but also some kind of verbal response. Edmondson (1981, pp. 36 ff) discusses cases where responses to a Directive include a verbal component. I demonstrate though that the domain of verbal responses is wider than he claims, that there is one more type of response, just a verbal one. So there are three types of responses to a Directive:

1) a non-verbal one, where the Listener just carries out a requested action:


(1)        “Mike, close the window!” Mike comes up to the window and closes it.


2) a combination of a verbal and non-verbal response, where the Listener gives verbal confirmation of his understanding and agreement to act:

(2)        -Bring the files, Sergeant!

            -Yes, Sir!


3) a purely verbal response, without any action to follow, either immediately or at all, where the Listener either asks for more information about the presumed direction to act, as in:


(3)        -Speak to your lawyer!

            -And why should I want to do that?


or straightforwardly rejects compliance with the Directive, as in:


(4)        -File this document!

            -I am not your personal assistant.


Edmondson (1981, p. 36) discussed the first two types but not the third one.



2. Directive-initial discourse


My data includes passages of argumentation around Directives taken from a wide variety of fiction texts of contemporary authors. It’s a typical case that the Addressee is not willing to act without an explanation from the Speaker, who is asked to justify the issuing of the Directive. Or the Addressee can just refuse to act as required. In the second case the Addressee provides reasons for his refusal. If he does not do so, there will be no further development of the discourse. Discourse arguments to support the “right” of the Speaker to issue a Directive, or the “right” of the Addressee to counter them, are quite common.

            We use reasons and a lot of maneuvering to “persuade” others to do what we want them to do, if they do not immediately comply with our Directive:


(5)        A: Come with me!

            B. I cannot, the birds will return here!

            A. But it’s too dangerous to stay here!

            B. If I am not here the birds will be lost, or killed

            A. Is it better, if they kill you?

            B. OK, just for the night and then you’ll bring me back.

            A. Fine, in the morning the police will be here, so I can bring you back.


Likewise we give reasons for declining to comply with a Directive, and try to force/coax the issuer of the Directive to retract his/her request:


(6)        A. Look into the paper, it’s directly on your topic!

            B. Waste of time. That idiot!

            A. But he discusses your issues directly.

            B. I have known his position since time immemorial, and fully disagree with him.

            A. But still, he is worth mentioning.

            B. No, he is not - too much honor for him.

            A. Well it’s up to you.


Argumentative discourse starting with Directives is not much discussed in the literature on Imperatives and on Argumentation. The topic was somewhat touched upon in connection with debates on the semantic properties of the Imperatives (Hamblin 1987, Moutafakis 1975) and in the pragma-dialectical approach in connection with the role of primary speech acts within the argumentation complex (Van Eemeren and Grootendorst 1984). But these studies discussed primarily cases including “support” arguments, that is, arguments justifying the issuing of Directives, whereas “refusal” arguments justifying a challenge to the Directive, and thus refusal to act, have received practically no attention. But it’s the refusal arguments that make the nature of Directive-initial argumentation more explicit as a debate.



3. Theoretical framework for taxonomy


As I have discussed above, the standard perlocutionary effect of Directives (a required action of the Addressee) nevertheless often does not occur, when the Addressee either does not comply with the order to act at all or does not comply without some deliberation.

            I claim that the types of refutations of Directives put forward by the Addressee are not chance events, but are quite predictable in their content. I offer a taxonomy of possible responses based on a semantic model of the meaning of the Imperatives that I have previously proposed (Dolinina 2002, 2003). In these papers, I argued that the meaning of a Directive (an imperative utterance) consists of two levels. One is represented by the semantics of the “basic imperative construction”, which constitutes the grammatical foundation of the Imperative utterance. The second level of meaning is represented by additional components of meaning reflecting the pragmatic context in which the basic imperative construction is actualized.

            The semantic components of the Imperative in my model were based on cross-linguistic evidence: each of the distinct components had to have an explicit grammatical marking in some language. They were as follows:

1) An appellative component covers the general situation of speech interaction - the Speaker issues a speech act directed to the Listener/Addressee. This component is not specific to Directives, but is part of any Listener-oriented discourse.

2) A causative and volitional component refers to the fact that the Speaker causes, and actually wants, and expects, the Addressee to perform an action, which is the content of the proposition included in the Directive,

3) The Issuer of the Directive presumes an obligation of the Addressee to act as requested.

4) The propositional content (predication, in other terms), naming the whole event it introduces, is represented by a content verb, with its arguments and adverbs.

5) A “framing-framed/inclusion” relation between the first two components and the third one indicates that the imperativised proposition is not actual, but is only expected to be carried out by the Listener as directed by the Issuer of the speech act.

            The pragmatic components of the Imperative utterance were singled out on the basis of regularities of use of the basic Imperative construction with the five components just mentioned. Some of the pragmatic components, like politeness, can also have a grammatical marking regulating the usage of the Imperative in discourse. The pragmatic additions, which regulate actualisation of the basic imperative construction in an imperative utterance (a Directive speech act), include at least the following:

1) the (sub)type of the Directive actualized in the imperative utterance - command, request, advice, etc.,

2) a presumptive component, which reflects the state of affairs in the real world at the moment of issuing the Directive, such as whether the Listener is occupied with something else and has to interrupt his current activity, whether the Listener has already started to do what is required of him in the Directive, etc.,

3) a politeness factor, which must reflect the appropriateness (from the point of view of the Listener) of the face work in the way he is addressed, and

4) the factor of the Speaker’s sincerity, that is, that the Speaker personally really wants/needs/ expects an action from the Listener.



4. Phenomena under discussion


A single act of arguing for an Imperative (the Speaker’s task) or against it (the Listener’s right) involves explicit verbal actualization (as a point of defense or a point of protest/ refusal, respectively) of one or (rarely) more of the abovementioned semantic and pragmatic components.

            Arguments for an imperative can include, under certain circumstances, diverse “pro-arguments”, which state the reason why the Directive is legitimate, eg. that it is in the Addressee’s best interests or it is the Addressee’s duty/responsibility, etc. to act:


(7)        Read the novel! It’s really something.

            Fix my lamp at last! You promised to do it a month ago.

            Don’t smoke here! How many more times am I to ask!?

            Take the parcel to them! The boss ordered personally.


But usually such pro-arguments are not expressed overtly on the first stage of issuing a Directive:


(8)        Please, check the mail in the evening!

            Never even touch my backpack!


This happens because generally the roles and the hierarchy of interlocutors and the surroundings in which the Directive is issued are more or less defined. So it is assumed that the Speaker has the right to produce a Directive. In contrast, arguments against imperatives, “refusal” arguments, are always explicit.

            I do not discuss here cases of “explicative dialogue”, as opposed to “problemizing dialogues” (Van Eemeren and Grootendorst 1984, p. 24), when “non-action” is actually not the refusal to act, but is due to the fact that the Addressee does not understand either the contents of the Directive (the content of the proposition) or the very nature of the speech act. In such cases the Addresses only asks for clarification:


(9)        -Pass me the newspaper, please!

            - “Globe and Mail” or “Toronto Star”?


            -Why don’t you give her a call!

            - Are you just complaining, or is it a request?


In what follows I will discuss cases of problemizing dialogues when the Addressee refuses to act, challenging diverse aspects of the Directive (its legitimacy, its particular demand, etc. ), expressing his doubts and issuing refutations.



5. Refutations based on the meaning of a Directive


Here the Addressee can challenge the issuer of the imperative with respect to all the above-mentioned components: the very type of speech act, the inner semantics of the proposition as a whole or one of its constituents, different pragmatic aspects of the utterance. Such refutations are an integral part of justifying the refusal to comply with the Directive, since it is a more accepted social norm to refuse explicitly to act than just to ignore the Directive.



5.1. Refutations based on the semantic structure of the imperative construction



5.1.1. “Framing” domain of a Directive as a speech act


-The Addressee challenges the very issuing of the speech act, since the circumstances are not proper even to address anyone:


(10)      -Wake-e-e up, Johnny-boy!

            -Are you f***ing crazy?! It’s just 3:00 am.


-The Addressee challenges the Speaker’s authority, moral right, hierarchical right, etc. to put forward any demands, and thus the Addressee has no obligation to carry out the action:


(11)      -Finish this report by Monday!

            - Since when are you my boss?


            -Restrain your language, young lady!

            - Are you mentioning the language? You curse all the time.


-The Addressee challenges the fact of being caused to do something:


(12)      -Go to bed! It’s late.

            - Why are you always pushing me! I do not want to sleep.


            -Follow up with the bills!

            - I know myself what to do.      


-The Addressee rejects the Speaker’s presumption that it is he/she who is obliged to act:


(13)      -You follow the rules, and behave as ordered!

            -Guess what, I am retired, as of yesterday.


            -Help him! He is actually not a bad guy.

            -He is not my friend, I do not even know him.



5.1.2. “Framed” domain of a Directive: a proposition within a speech act


The Addressee can challenge any constituent of the situation/event represented by the proposition, starting with the predicate itself (name of the “action”) and any of its arguments (Agent, Patient, etc.) and circumstances (Locatives, Temporals, etc.), and ending with grammatical categories assigned to any of these parts of the proposition (Tense, Aspect, Number, etc.). I will discuss some of the possibilities.

–The Addressee can challenge the kind of action within the proposition, objecting to the type or nature of action as such, sometimes suggesting a more acceptable alternative:


(14)      -Join the army!

            -Me?! Never! Not my stuff.


            - Talk to your brother, ask him to help!

            -You know I do not fancy speaking to him. But I can write him.


            -Make yourself some fresh coffee!

            -No, I’ll take some from the pot. It’s still warm.


-The Addressee refuses to carry on the role of an Actor, that is of an Agent of the imperativized proposition. S/he can be claiming, for example, that it is not his/her responsibility, or turn, or even desire, to act as directed:


(15)      -Jack, draft the proposal, make it attractive!

            -Not me. Not in my working agreement.


            -Cook the dinner today, please!

            - Wow, me again!? It’s your turn, as far as I remember.


            -Pop in for a drink sometime!

            -Thanks, but no. Your old lady scares me.


or that the Addressee is not in a position to act, or lacks some required ability, skills, etc.:




(16)      - Fix the washer! It’s leaking.

            - You know I am helpless with plumbing.


            -Make them stop (shooting)! Make them stop! (Julius shrieked).

            -No-one can. We do not have rifles.



-The Addressee declines to act in respect to any of the suggested non-Agent arguments, but can suggest an alternative:


(17)      -Explain the situation to Tilly!

            -Not this bitch. I hate her guts. Maybe to Bill?


            -Invite Irving for lunch. Check the grounds.

            -I’d rather start with his secretary over coffee...


–The Addressee does not argue against acting in general, but rejects the time (14a), location (14b), manner (14c), or some other circumstance of the imperativized action:


(18)      a. - Meet your students tomorrow, and explain them your reasons!

            - No, not tomorrow! Too bizarre a day for apologies.


            b. -Let’s go to the pub, and think it over.

            -Too noisy, too crammed.


            c. -Faster! Time is running out!

            -I am looking (through the documents). I need concentration. It takes time.


Since the proposition in a Directive names not an actual situation, but only a desired one, the Addressee can express doubts about the degree of probability of the action, rejecting the action as improbable:


(19)      - Buy the car, you like it so much!

            - I certainly would, if I had your salary.



5.2. Refutations based on the pragmatic components of the Directive


Often the challenge is referred not to the basic content of the Directive (speech act frame and the framed proposition), but to one of the pragmatic factors which “package” the Directive.

- It can refer to the selection of a type of Directive (eg. command, instead of a request,etc.):


(20)      -Don’t look at me like an idiot! Help me with this mess!

            - Is it an order? You better ask me for help.


-or to the level of politeness:


(21)      -Get out of here! Now!

            - Aren’t you ever polite? 


-or to the sincerity of the Speaker:


(22)      -Bring this new friend of yours for dinner!

            -I certainly will not. Sure, you do not want really to see her.


Most frequently, though, objections to a Directive are based on the presumptive component: the state of affairs in the real world at the moment of issuing the Directive can be such that the listener cannot or does not want to act. The Addressee can be occupied with something else at the moment of issuing the Directive and does not want to, or cannot, redirect his activity, or considers it pointless under the circumstances, etc:


(23)      -Let’s go!

            -I am still looking (for the documents).


            -Try his colleagues!

            -No, I want to speak to his parents first.


            -Call Richard!

            -I’ve called him, but he did not return my call.



6. Refutations based on the Addressee’s state of mind


Refusals to act in a requested way can be determined by wider discourse factors, other than either the content of the Directive or its intrinsic pragmatic qualities. In this case it is less predictable what exactly will be challenged by the Addressee. But still, the major points of objection can be singled out. Usually they are connected with the state of mind of the Addressee.

            It can be “moral/ethical”unacceptance of the Directive:


(24)      -Shoot!

            - No way, there can be civilians there.


It can be the psychological/physical inability of the Addressee to act as ordered:


(25)      -Tell Morgan he will be safe!

            -You know we can’t promise that.


            - Stop howling!

            -Oh, it hurts so much!


It can be connected with perception by the Addressee of the Directive as humiliating from some point of view:


(26)      -Stop complaining! Better take off your blouse!

            - Why are you always interested in sex only!


            -Watch your grammar: “I is”. Terrible!

            -So send me to school!


It can be realization by the Addressee of the grim consequences (usually for him-/herself) of acting as directed:


(27)      -Do not go yet!

-It’s late. They will be looking for me.


It can be “negotiation” for better ingratiation/payoff from acting:


(28)      - Go on (with the story)!

            - I can’t. I have to be inspired.


It can be rejection of the manipulative nature of the Directive:


(29)      -Do not play that grubby old orphan card with me! My heart does not bleed.

-It does. I count on it! Apart from your legs and very fine ass, that’s what I admire most about you - the bloodiness of your heart.


So Directives, though their perlocutionary consequences are considered to be just a desired action, can trigger a lot of debating and verbal interaction, in cases where the Addressee is not prepared to act. The circumstances of the refusal are diverse, as I have shown in the discussion above. Also I showed that the diversity can to a large extent be systemized. In no way can it be considered unpredictably varied.

            Such debates, whose initial two stages were illustrated by the examples above, have three possible outcomes: (1) the parties clash, without any positive outcome; (2) the Speaker persuades or forces the Addressee to comply; or (3) the Addressee persuades, coaxes or forces the Speaker to retract or modify the Directive. In the last two cases it looks as if we have a special case of argumentation, because the dialogues which can develop represent a disagreement-regulating mechanism which can lead to some resolution of the conflict.



7. Argumentation structure of Directive-initial complexes


So the question for me is: Can such cases of Directive-initial dialogues be interpreted inside

the normative model of a critical discussion as consisting of the following stages (Van Eemeren and Grootendorst 1984, p. 88):


(30)      -confrontation stage (externalization of a dispute),

-opening stage (decision to conduct an argumentative discussion),

            -argumentation stage (advancing of argumentation and reaction to it),

            concluding stage (determining how the discussion ends),


where the Directive and the challenging reply represent the confrontation stage, the opening stage is implicit in giving a reason for refusing the Directive, the subsequent interchange between the interlocutors with a lot of strategic maneuvering (Van Eemeren and Houtlosser 2002) is an argumentation stage, and the concluding stage is the resulting agreement of the Addressee to act or of the Speaker to retract his Directive.

            The cases I discuss were only marginally recognized as ones with a special angle of interpretation. Thus Van Eemeren and Grootendorst (1984, pp.97 ff) consider cases starting with a Directive like “Let’s take an umbrella, or do you want to get wet?” to be a center of a dispute, and consequently potentially to represent a confrontation stage. But still, traditionally discussed issues about the functions of Directives in argumentative contexts dealt with different cases of Imperatives. First, they consider as data only one “lexico-semantic” type of Directives (based on “verbs of speech”) - those which express demands for justification of an assertion and ask for more information in support of a standpoint (Van Eemeren and Grootendorst 1984, p.105; Van Eemeren, Grootendorst, Jackson and Jacobs 1993, p. 30). Second, such Directives naturally are usually assigned places other than at the first stage.

            The cases I am speaking about are completely different. They start with a Directive as the centre of the dispute, and as introducing a standpoint. So I suppose that they can be interpreted as belonging to the confrontation stage. I think that such an interpretation is acceptable, on at least three grounds. First, in any speech act (an assertion, or otherwise) the very fact of addressing someone without an invitation is an invasion of the Listener’s private space and also demands a certain response: to understand the propositional content of the speech act and to recognize its illocutionary force. Second, the Directive is a “strong” interference, because it is aimed to force the Addressee to act, which can be highly undesirable. Third, rewording of the Directive in accordance with its semantics will give us an assertion “I (the Speaker) presume/cause/want, etc. that you (an Addressee) should act in a certain way”. So, on the meta-level a Directive is always a kind of confrontation. Under some circumstances the Listener will comply, without further discussion, but he can also challenge the Speaker and thus complete the confrontation stage, as well as open the discussion. The subsequent verbal exchange can result in working out an acceptable solution.

            In such debates the role of strategic maneuvering is extremely high, because the need for persuasion is higher here than in an unfruitful and unresolved confrontation. But this is a special topic for further research.



8. Conclusion


I have discussed a previously neglected type of argumentation - argumentation triggered by

a refusal to comply with a Directive. I proposed a taxonomy of such arguments. Some of them are based on refutations of the semantic components of the Directive itself and its pragmatic specifications, while others are based on the state of mind of the Addressee rather than the semantics of the Directive. I also claimed that such Directive-initial complexes can be projected on the standard four-stage scheme of development of the argumentation, with the Directive belonging to the confrontation stage.





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