Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Pragmatics



First Page


Last Page




This paper is a single case analysis of an emergency service call in which the caller failed to convince the call taker that the request for service was urgent in what turned out to be a tragic event. The analysis of this call using the techniques and findings of conversation analysis reveals that the actions of both the call taker and the caller created an interactional context in which the “big picture” (the potential for danger), became repeatedly submerged in “small picture” details (such as the identity and location of the caller and her role in the situation). This paper builds on previous research on how callers can fail to construct convincing descriptions of the problem and extends this line of work by exploring how participants make or fail to make inferences in order to construct a gestalt or big picture of the event being reported, how participants manage events that unfold during the call, and how callers convey their identity and role in the situation.