LINGUIST List 12.2700

Mon Oct 29 2001

Review: Mey, Pragmatics: An Introduction, 2nd ed

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  1. Lourdes Aguilar, Review of Mey, Pragmatics: An Introduction, 2nd ed.

Message 1: Review of Mey, Pragmatics: An Introduction, 2nd ed.

Date: Mon, 29 Oct 2001 09:49:44 -0800
From: Lourdes Aguilar <>
Subject: Review of Mey, Pragmatics: An Introduction, 2nd ed.

Mey, Jacob L. (2001) Pragmatics: An Introduction, 2nd
ed. Blackwell Publishers, xiv+392pp, paperback ISBN
0-631-21132-2, $29.95; hardcover ISBN 0-631-21131-4.

Lourdes Aguilar, Autonomous University of Barcelona.

The book under review here is a second, updated and entirely
revised version of and earlier edition (1993). In the
Preface, the author explains the substantial ways in which
this second edition differs from the first:
(a) the three chapters on speech acts have been shortened
into one chapter (5), as well as the former chapters on
conversation analysis have been replaced by a new chapter (6);
(b) new material has been brought in, mainly in chapters 7
through 11; (c) the earlier "Exercises and Review Questions"
have been replaced by a section at the end of each chapter
called "Review and Discussion", where detailed commentaries
or model solutions are offered to the individual exercises.

The book is organized in three parts which can be read more
or less independently: Part I. Basic Notions (chapters 1-2),
Part II. Micropragmatics (chapters 3-6), Part III.
Macropragmatics (chapters 7-11).

This book is intended as an introduction to pragmatics, so
topics are examined in depth with lots of well-explained and
appropriate examples. However, it is also opened to broad
readers since detailed analysis in the areas of literary
pragmatics, universality and social aspects of language use
are presented in Part III.

Each chapter finishes with a section of exercises, most of
them with commentaries, which provide valuable data for the
matters presented in the respective chapters.

Chapter 1 is addressed to define and delimit pragmatics;
that is, to better understand what pragmatics is and what
pragmatics does. Emerged as a shift from the paradigm of
theoretical grammar to the paradigm of language user in the
late sixties and early seventies, pragmatics is interested
in the process of producing language and in its producers,
not just in the end-product, language. All the contents in
the book are guided by the following definition: Pragmatics
studies the use of language in human communication as
determined by the conditions of society.

Chapter 2 introduces some current issues in pragmatics,
which comes up again in Part II and III. In a field with so
many subtopics, the author has chosen to include: the
delimitation between pragmatics and other disciplines, such
as linguistics, and philosophy; the importance of social
aspects in the use of language; the nature (semantic or
pragmatic) of presuppositions.

After these two introductory chapters, the chapters in Part
II, Micropragmatics, take account of the main approaches to
the study of language in use and users language.

Chapter 3 deals with the notions of context, implicature and
reference. The notion of context is extremely important
along the book. It is seen as a dynamic concept: it is the
universe of everyday language use, the sum of what people do
with each other in conversations. With respect to implicature,
Mey distinguishes conventional implicature, which do not
depend on a particular context of language use, from
conversational implicatures. The chapter concludes with the
problems of reference and anaphora in language use, which
are not just a matter of grammar.

After examining the nature of rules and principles in
Chapter 4, Mey restricts the use of rules primarily to
syntax: in pragmatics, it is preferred to work with
principles. Here we find a discussion of the principles
proposed by Grice, Horn and Sperber and Wilson.

Chapter 5 explores which criteria are needed for dealing
with those human utterances that are "words with which to do
things" (p. 93). Using a model of speech act, the promise,
the author presents the proposals of Austin and Searle, and
ends the chapter with a critical review of these systems.
The main issue is that "in real-word interaction successful
performance is not exclusively due to the power inherent
either in the user or in his or her words or speech acts.
Ultimately, this power resides in the society" (p. 116). As
a consequence, it is needed to pay attention to contextual
conditions when describing speech acts, and, in general,
people's use of language (p. 126).

The very important idea that all speech is situated speech,
which will be thoroughly treated in Part III is introduced
in this chapter.

In Chapter 6, the author situates the speech acts in the
environment in which most of them normally an naturally
occur, namely, in conversation. He criticizes the framework
in which Conversation analysts operate, strictly that of a
co-text: instead, it is necessary to take the context, that
includes societal aspects, into account. From this
viewpoint, conversation is "a way of using language
socially, of doing things with words together with other
persons" (p. 136). Content-oriented mechanisms of
conversation (cohesion and coherence) and formal aspects of
conversation (turns and turn-taking) are presented in this
chapter 6.

After reviewing the main objects of study in pragmatics in
Part II, Part III (Macropragmatics) is devoted to the
analysis of some metapragmatic phenomena. The author follows
Caffi (1994) in the three ways of dealing with
metapragmatics: 1) Metapragmatics needs to show how the
methodological and conceptual apparatus of pragmatics
differs from that of linguistics and semantics; 2)
Metapragmatics should worry about the circumstances and
conditions that allow us to use our language or prevent us
from using it; 3) Metapragmatics has to do with the way
language is able to make statement about itself.

These aspects are treated in Chapter 7: the metapragmatic
function and character of rules and principles, the general
conditions under which the users work with language;
indexing as an aspect of metapragmatic awareness.

Probably the central chapter in this book is Chapter 8,
where the concept of pragmatic act (which has been used in
the preceding chapters in contrast with other notions from
other language schools) is developed. Taking as a point of
departure the notion of speech act, pragmatic acts
incorporate the notion of "common scene". The main criticism
against speech act theory is that speech acts to be
effective have to be situated: "they both rely on, and
actively create, the situation in which they are realized
(p. 218). In short, "there are no speech acts, but only
situated speech acts, or instantiated pragmatic acts". As a
consequence, the emphasis is not on conditions and rules for
an individual speech act, but on characterizing a general
situational prototype, capable of being executed in the
situation (what Mey calls a pragmeme). Thus, the
instantiated, individual pragmatic acts refer to a
particular pragmeme as its realizations. In other words, a
pragmatic act is an instance of adapting oneself to a
context, as well as adapting the context to oneself.

Pragmatic acts are situation-derived and situation-
constrained. At this stage, the notions of principles and
rules are replaced with that of constraint: A constraint,
given the actual speech situation, will identify the
possible ways of obtaining our interactional goals (p. 228).

On page 222, an schema of variables taking part in a
pragmatic act is proposed. It is specially interesting the
inclusion of body moves as not only a supplement to verbal
exchange but a pragmatic act on its own.

The next chapters examines particular instances of pragmatic

Chapter 9 is concerned with reading and writing as pragmatic
acts. The features that characterize the dialectic aspect of
literary production are discussed: textual mechanisms
(reference, tense, discourse), voice and point of view, ways
of reading. The text is conceived as an author-originated
and -guided, but at the same time reader-oriented and
-activated process of wording (p.237).

Chapter 10 focuses on the problem of the pragmatic
appropriateness of a particular expression in a particular
context of use (which tend to be rather different from
culture to culture). Some cases in point are studied:
politeness and conversation, cooperation and conversation,
forms of address, the role of the silence.

In chapter 11, on the basis of data proceeding from the
language in education, the language of the media, the
medical language, and questions related to social variables,
the author shows how the clashes of interest between social
groups are expressed in the language. Rather, language is
used as social empowerment.

To conclude with the general scope of the book, in Mey's own
words, if "pragmatics is the study of human communicatively
using language in the context of society" (p. 175), "what is
important in pragmatics is to critically examine, and try to
understand, the social functioning of language and its
various manifestations of use" (p. 320).

Pragmatics is treated in the book both as a part of human
language behavior and as a discipline: a good overview for
people interested in one or another approach is given.

Probably the most introductory tone is found in Part I,
where we can found a critical review of the main schools
(coming from linguistics, philosophy or other areas of
knowledge) concerned with human language behavior.

One feature of this text that I found particularly
interesting is the background Mey gives to explain how each
approach in the discipline has come to ask questions and
examine data. His discussions always starts with a brief
history: namely, the most influent author, the most
significant work, and what is more revealing, the reasons
that motivate changes in perspectives of study.

Thus this book, or chapters from it, is an useful textbook
for introductory courses in pragmatics.

It also has potential uses for researchers since the
analysis of some instances of language human behavior (the
world of conversation and writing, the problem of
universality across cultures, the use of language in
education, in the media or in institutionalized discourses
such as the medical language, language as an index of social
empowerment) opens questions and suggests new ways of
addressing these issues.

However, since the author constantly helps the reader with
lots of well-explained and appropriate examples (jokes,
stories, personal experiences), the argumentation is still
suitable for beginners in the field.

A drawback I have found is the absence of bibliographical
references coming from sociolinguistics, specially, those
works of S. Romaine about language and gender (1999, 2000)
in chapter 11. Even it is impossible cover all the areas
implied with language behavior (e.g. disordered languages,
human-computer interaction in speech tecnology systems), I
think these studies will provide useful data to better
understand language in society.

I end by pointing out two typographical errors involving Spanish
examples in the book: on page 40, "CUELGE" should be written
"CUELGUE" and on page 59, since "modelo" is feminine, it
should be preceded by the form of the article "una".

Caffi, C. (1994) "Metapragmatics" in: Encyclopedia of
Language and Linguistics. Oxford: Pergamon, pp 4: 2461-5

Romaine, S. (1999) Communicating Gender. Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates: Mahwah, NJ

Romaine, S. (2000) Language in Society: An Introduction to
Sociolinguistics, Oxford University Press, Oxford. 2nd

Lourdes Aguilar is a lecturer In Spanish Language at the
Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain. Her areas of
interest include: phonetic and phonological analysis of
spontaneous speech samples, discourse analysis of the
language of the media, speech and language technology
systems. She is currently working on a project financed by
the Spanish government "System of Automatic Preparation of
Documents (PrADo)"
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