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Negotiating entitlement to language: Calling 911 without English

  • Chase Wesley Raymond (a1)

When individuals in the United States dial the emergency service telephone number, they immediately encounter some version of the English-language institutional opening “Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?”. What happens, though, when the one placing the call is not a speaker of English? How do callers and call-takers adapt to overcome this added communicative barrier so that they are able to effectively assess the emergency situation at hand? The present study describes the structure of a language negotiation sequence, which serves to evaluate callers' entitlement to receive service in a language other than the institutional default—in our case, requests for Spanish in lieu of English. We illustrate both how callers initially design requests for language, as well as how call-takers subsequently respond to those differing request formulations. Interactions are examined qualitatively and quantitatively to underscore the context-based contingencies surrounding call-takers' preference for English over the use of translation services. The results prove informative not only in terms of how bilingual talk is organized within social institutions, but also more generally with regard to how humans make active use of a variety of resources in their attempts to engage in interaction with one another. (Entitlement, discourse/social interaction, conversation analysis, requests, language contact, institutional talk, Spanish (in the US))*

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