How to propose an action as objectively necessary: the case of polish trzeba x (“one needs to x”)

E. Ogiermann, Joerg Zinken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study demonstrates that language-specific grammatical resources can afford speakers language-specific ways of organizing cooperative practical action. On the basis of video recordings of Polish families in their homes, we describe action affordances of the Polish impersonal modal declarative construction trzeba x (“one needs to x”) in the accomplishment of everyday domestic activities, such as cutting bread, bringing recalcitrant children back to the dinner table, or making phone calls. Trzeba-x turns in first position are regularly chosen by speakers to point to a possible action as an evident necessity for the furthering of some broader ongoing activity. Such turns in first position provide an environment in which recipients can enact shared responsibility by actively involving themselves in the relevant action. Treating the necessity as not restricted to any particular subject, aligning responsive actions are oriented to when the relevant action will be done, not whether it will be done. We show that such sequences are absent from English interactions by analyzing (a) grammatically similar turn formats in English interaction (“we need to x,” “the x needs to y”), and (b) similar interactive environments in English interactions. We discuss the potential of this research to point to a new avenue for researchers interested in the relationship between language diversity and diversity in human action and cognition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-287
Number of pages25
JournalResearch on Language & Social Interaction
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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