Expression and grammatical metaphor

Here is a good example of how misinterpreting grammatical metaphor leads to (almost) pragmatic failure, from the TV show Big Bang Theory (Season 04, Episode 07). This is a technique often used in comedy (especially, for example, the old TV show ‘Cheers’ with the characters of Coach and Woody). It is a short interaction between the two main characters, Leonard and Sheldon, where Sheldon interprets literally what are, in fact, semantically requests for service. Sorry I only have a transcript but watch it here:

  1. [knock on door]
  2. L: Wanna get that?
  3. S: Not particularly.
  4. L: Could you get that?
  5. S: I suppose I could if I were asked.
  6. Would you please get that.
  7. Of course. Why do you have to make things so complicated.

Notice also how in Line 6 Leonard explicitly signals the demand for service not only with the lexical “please” but also on an Expression stratum with a downward tone. In fact, it is mainly through Expression that Leonard signals the semantic change. He moves gradually from a request (Tone 2 – rising) in Line 2, through an intermediate stage (Tone 3 – level with slight rise), to finally a demand (Tone 1 – falling).

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