LINGUIST List 13.2066

Sun Aug 11 2002

Review: Handbook of Pragmatics: Verschueren et al

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  1. Chaoqun Xie, Verschueren et al., Handbook of Pragmatics, with Manual & Supplements

Message 1: Verschueren et al., Handbook of Pragmatics, with Manual & Supplements

Date: Tue, 06 Aug 2002 21:55:19 +0000
From: Chaoqun Xie <>
Subject: Verschueren et al., Handbook of Pragmatics, with Manual & Supplements

Verschueren, Jef; Jan-Ola Ostman, Jan Blommaert, and Chris Bulcaen, eds.
Handbook of Pragmatics, with Manual and Supplements through 1999.
John Benjamins Publishing Company, hardback ISBN 1 55619 764 0 and others.
(The Manual and Supplements are provided with a looseleaf ring binder.)

Book Announcement on Linguist: 

Announced at:

Chaoqun Xie, Fujian Teachers University


The present volume under review contains the Manual covering 658 pages
(excluding 14 pages of Preface by Verschueren) published in 1995, the
Handbook proper including installments from 1995 through 1999, the
last of which actually only came out in 2001 and the User's Guide. The
manual is divided into four sections. The first section is an
introductory chapter, where Verschueren provides a "brief sketch of
the history, delimitational problems, and definition of the pragmatic
perspective on language" (16). One point worth pointing out is that
Verschueren here argues "for interpreting pragmatics as a general
functional perspective on (any aspect of) language" (13), which is
fully elaborated in the first chapter of Verschueren (1999) and which
underlies "a number of choices for the organization and content of
this Handbook of Pragmatics" (16).

The second section is titled "Traditions", where altogether 88
"traditions or approaches in, relevant to, or underlying pragmatics"
(xii) are presented. And in the 1995-1999 installments, 6 more
traditions are added: "Correlational sociolinguistics" (N. Dittmar),
"Frame semantics" (M. Petruck), "Integrational linguistics"
(R. Harris), "Interlanguage pragmatics" (G. Kasper), "Lexical
semantics" (R. Maclaury) and "Translation studies"
(C. Sch�ffner).

Section 3 introduces 16 major research methods used or usable in
pragmatics or pragmatics-related traditions as follows, "Contrastive
analysis" (K. Jaszczolt), "Corpus analysis" (J. Aarts),
"Deconstruction" (T. Schirato), "Dialogical analysis" (P. Linell),
"Elicitation" (G. Senft), "Error analysis" (H. Ringbom), "Ethnography"
(M. Agar), "Experimentation" (D. Sandra), "Fieldwork" (G. Senft),
"Interview" (C. Briggs), "Intuition and introspection"
(H. J. Schneider), "Linguistic explanation" (W. Frawley and
R. M. Golinkoff), "Logical analysis" (R. Vergauwen), "Reconstruction"
(D. Nurse), "Statistics" (R. van Hout) and, "Taxonomy"
(R. E. MacLaury). And P. Van deCraen contributes "Hermeneutics" in the
1995 installment. Opinions may vary as for what the best method of
research in pragmatics is; however, one thing that is certain is that
more and more researchers (e.g. Bergman and Kasper 1993) have come to
realize that it is better to employ more than one method to guarantee
the validity and effectiveness of the research they undertake and
to produce better and more satisfactory results. Another thing we
should bear in mind is that whatever method we adopt, it is of much
importance to take into account the metapragmatic evaluation of the
contextual factors involved.

Section 4 is about notational systems, where there are two
contributions: "Notation in formal semantics" (W. De Mulder),
"Transcription systems for spoken discourse" (D. O'Connell and
S. Kowal). And in the 1999 installment, one more is added: "Notation
systems in spoken language corpora" (Uta Lenk).

The Handbook proper covers almost every conceivable topic in the field
up to the time of writing, "consisting of in-depth articles of various
sizes (the average size being ca. 12 pages) well as short notes
(expandable into full-fledged articles when needed) of 1 to 2 pages,
organized around entry-like key-words, alphabetically presented"
(xii-xiii). As can be found from the cumulative table of contents of
1995- 1999 installments, there are all in all 70 entries listed, 13 of
which are added to the 1999 installment: "Communication" (P. Harder),
"Communicative dynamism" (J. Firbas), "Communicative success
vs. failure" (D. Good), "Communicative style" (M. Selting),
"Conversation types" (A. Hakulinen), "Definiteness" (R. Laury),
"Figures of speech" (M. Kienpointner), "Language ecology"
(T. Skuttnab-Kangas & R. Philipson), "Mathesius" (M. Nekula),
"Motivation" (Z. D�rnyei), "Negation" (M. Miestamo), "'Other
representation'" (N. Coupland) and "Singed language pragmatics" (T. !
Janzen, B. Shaffer & S. Wilcox).

The User's Guide, annually updated, "provides a complete index, with
all necessary cross-references to ensure easy access to the available
information" (xiii).


One of the striking and inevitable trends in present-day scientific
research is that more and more branches are springing up like
mushrooms within a certain field. Pragmatics is such a suitable, if
not a good, example. Pragmatics, as observed by Horn (1988: 113;
cf. x), used to be 'a large, loose, and disorganized collection of
research efforts' as conceded in a circular announcing the
establishment of the International Pragmatics Association and the
'quandary of pragmatics as a subdiscipline within (or overlapping
with) linguistics' has not been satisfactorily resolved. However, the
last two decades or so in the 20th century witnessed an enormous and
continuous enthusiasm shown in establishing the status of pragmatics
as a field evidenced by the fact that many a subdiscipline has derived
from this very line of inquiry such as cognitive pragmatics,
contrastive pragmatics, cross-cultural pragmatics, sociopragmatics,
literary pragmatics, neuropragmatics, historical pragmatics, and,
morphopragmatics. In this sense, it is not so important to see what
pragmatics is or what it is not as to see how pragmatics can assisting
us human beings in our scientific pursuit. And Verschueren seems to
come close to this point when he points out in the preface that the
major task of this Handbook of Pragmatics "is not intended to
consolidate a new, artificial, field of research, but to enhance
understanding by promoting communication across the various
disciplines which are, in part or in their totality, relevant to
pragmatics" (x). And it is little wonder that pragmatics in this
volume, "For the purpose of this publication", is "defined briefly
[and broadly in fact] as the cognitive, social, and cultural study of
language and communication" (iv).

My overall impression with the Handbook of Pragmatics is that this
should be the number one resource for all people trying to come to
grips with what is sought after in the field and to embark upon the
field. This will become self-evident from the fact that almost every
conceivable topic up to the time of writing in connection with the
rubric of pragmatic is covered in the Handbook and that, more
important, all the topics are written by leading scholars, many of
whom are among the foremost authorities in their field. In other
words, the breadth and the authoritativeness of the Handbook is beyond

Since most of the articles are state-of-the-art overviews, we cannot
expect them to have reflected the latest developments of the specific
field concerned. Take "politeness" for instance. Gabriele Kasper in
this article presents, among others, seven approaches to
politeness. In my view, at least two can be added. One is the
cognitive approach couched within the relevance-theoretic framework
argued by Escandell- Vidal (1996), and the other is proposed by Chen
(2001), who tries to present a model of self-oriented politeness
(cf. Xie in preparation a).

Another comment I would like to make is that since this ambitious and
holy project of producing "a reasonably comprehensive overview is
planned to be available after five or six annual installments" (in the
User's Guide, page 3), it is next to impossible to find every topic of
your interest from the Handbook. For instance, the Handbook touches
upon "representation", but does not mention "metarepresentation" at
all. In point of fact, recent years have witnessed an efflorescence of
interest in this line of inquiry (see Xie in preparation b). By the
way, this Handbook appears to devote less ink to those influential
practitioners. It is right to include John L. Austin in this Handbook,
but is it wrong to include John R. Searle? As Cooren (2000: 18)
clearly states, "If Austin is considered the founding father of speech
act theory, it is to John Searle that we owe the most thorough and
recognized systematization of this theory of language".

My next comment is that the arrangement of references at the end of
each contribution, which, "because of space limitations" (xiii), are
listed one after another instead of following the common practice, is
not reader-friendly or very pleasant to the eye. Besides, these
references "are also kept to a minimum" (xiii). The editors'
explanation is that "bibliographies are available for further
consultation (e.g. Nuys & Verschueren 1987, A comprehensive
bibliography of pragmatics, 4 vols., Benjamins, and its anticipated
updates)" (xiii). Reading this, one cannot help thinking that this is
an advertisement for those four volumes which would be costly. One may
further wonder why he or she could not get all that he or she wants in
one Handbook. Maybe that is too much for a Handbook. Further, although
"a loose-leaf publication format has been chosen for maximum
flexibility and expandability" (xiii), the cover of the ringbinder
does not seem so strong enough after many times of use.

To sum up, as a landmark publication in the history of pragmatic
studies, the acclaimed Handbook of Pragmatics, spanning the multiple
and diverse approaches to pragmatics and exploring in depth important
and central issues in pragmatics, is a comprehensive and authoritative
guide to the "almost exponentially expanding field" (Mey 2002: 909) of
pragmatics and is an ideal reference work for anyone with an academic,
professional or even personal interest in pragmatics. The editors must
be credited with this very ambitious and holy project. And I believe
many readers like me, are looking forward to see more installments
reflecting the latest products coming out of this very paradoxical
"waste-basket of linguistics" (see Mey 2001, Chapter 2).


I would like to take this chance to express my deep and heartfelt
gratitude to many people, whose generous help or encouragement has
greatly stimulated my interest in the study of language and
linguistics. Some of them are: Werner Abraham, Guy Achard-Bayle, Varol
Akman, Salvatore Attardo, Justin Barrett, Robyn Carston, Chung Y
Cheng, Fran�ois Cooren, W. Stephen Croddy, Joan Cutting, Stan
Dubinsky, Sheila Embleton, Susan M. Fitzmaurice, Dariusz Galasinski,
Rachel Giora, C.M. de Glopper, Andrew Goatly, Jean Goodwin,
Ernst-August Gutt, Takuo Hayashi, Ziran He, Evelyn Holmberg, Kenneth
Hyltenstam, Mark Jary, Simin Karimi, Tom Koole, Terry Langendoen,
Bingyun Li, Miriam A. Locher, Gunter Lorenz, Jennifer Mand, Inger Mey,
Ira Noveck, Jan Nuyts, Yuling Pan, Paul Pupier, Gisela Redeker,
Margaret Reynolds (LSA), Maria Sifianou, Neil Smith, Dan Sperber,
Michael J. Toolan, Ken Turner, Ann Verhaert (IPrA), Deirdre Wilson,
Wei Yang, Lorrita N. T. Yeung, Yuan Yi, and Francisco Yus.!
Thank you very much, the named and the unnamed.


Bergman, M.; and Kasper, G. (1993) Perception and performance in
native and non- native apology. In Blum-Kulka, S.; and Kasper,
G. (eds.) Interlanguage Pragmatics 82-107. New York: Oxford University

Chen, Rong (2001) Self-politeness: A proposal. Journal of Pragmatics
33: 87-106.

Cooren, Fran�ois (2000) The Organizing Property of
Communication. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Escandell-Vidal, Victoria (1996) Towards a cognitive approach to
politeness. Language Science 18: 629-650.

Horn, Laurence R. (1988) Pragmatic theory. In Newmeyer, Frederick
J. (ed.) Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey (Vol. 1)
113-145. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mey, Jacob L. (2001) Pragmatics: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Mey, Jacob L. (2002) Editorial. Journal of Pragmatics 34: 909-910.

Verschueren, Jef (1999) Understanding Pragmatics. London: Arnold.

Xie, Chaoqun (in preparation a) Review of A Critique of Politeness
Theories, by Gino Eelen, Journal of Pragmatics.

Xie, Chaoqun (in preparation b) Review of Metarepresentation: A
Relevance-Theory Approach, by Eun-Ju Noh. Studies in Language.


Chaoqun Xie is a Lecturer with Foreign Languages Institute, Fujian
Teachers University, China. His current major areas of research
interests are in pragmatics, sociolinguistics, communication and
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