Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


Sorry About That

By Edwin L. Battistella

Sorry About That "explores why we apologize or don't and how our apologies succeed or fail."

New from Cambridge University Press!


Sociolinguistics from the Periphery

By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland

Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"

Review of  Pragmatics

Reviewer: Stacia Ann Levy
Book Title: Pragmatics
Book Author: Yan Huang
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 18.2121

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting
The goal of this book is to provide an introduction to pragmatics, the study of
language in use, including its central topics, history, and latest research. It
opens with the history of pragmatics from Aristotle to the present and relates
the subject to other linguistic topics, such as semantics, syntax, and
sociolinguistics. After the introduction, the book is divided into two parts:
Part One addresses the history of traditional theories of conversation, while
Part Two explores current research on this topic and relates it to other fields
of inquiry. All chapters in the book end with essay questions, key concepts, and
suggested further readings. The intended audience is advanced undergraduate or
graduate students.

Chapter 1 Introduction
The introduction gives a definition and history of pragmatics and introduces its
two basic schools of thought, Anglo-American and Continental. Huang approaches
the book from the Anglo-American perspective, seeing this view as more focused
and productive compared to the broader Continental perspective. The chapter also
gives a rationale for the field of pragmatics and some of its basic concepts,
such as , utterance, proposition, context, truth value, and truth condition. It
also sets up the organization of the rest of the book.

Part 1 Central Topics in Pragmatics
Chapter 2 Implicature
In this chapter, the author traces the development of the concept of
implicature. Originating with Grice, implicature is a central topic in
pragmatics. The author, in this chapter, discusses a ''Gricean pragmatic theory''
(cf. Grice 1989), which is based largely on implicature and Grice's theory of
meaning, setting up a difference between ''meaning'' in the external world and
''meaning'' in the linguistic world, which is related to the underlying intentions
of utterances and the understanding of those intentions. Conversation is based
on an underlying principle, according to Grice, which he called ''the cooperative
principle'' and was divided into nine maxims of conversation related to quality,
quantity, relation, and manner. Also addressed in this chapter are ''neo-Gricean''
theories,'' which attempt to minimize and simplify these principles. The author
ends this chapter with a discussion of conventional implicature, also
originating with Grice, which addresses meaning conventionally assigned to
utterances: e.g. in ''He is poor but honest,'' ''but'' is assigned a role
conventionally implicating contrast, as opposed to conversational implicature,
which is based not on such conventions but on principles of cooperation.
Current attempts to relate Gricean pragmatic theory to other linguistic
theories, such as accommodation theory (Thomason, 1990) and speech act theory
(Vanderveken, 2002; Martinich, 1984) are also addressed.

Chapter 3 Presupposition
Huang defines presupposition as ''an inference or proposition whose truth is
taken for granted in the utterance of a sentence'' (p. 65), giving as an example,
''The king of France is/isn't bald'' presupposes there is a king of France (p.
65). Some of the properties of presupposition the chapter addresses are
constancy under negation and defeasibility or cancelability. Huang notes there
have been no cross-linguistic studies of presupposition, and while it is
reasonable to assume that many of its properties are universal, there also may
be language-specific ones.

Chapter 4 Speech Act Theory
Huang begins this chapter with a history of speech act theory and a definition:
''the central tenet of speech act theory is that the uttering of a sentence is,
or is part of, an action within the framework of social institutions and
conventions'' (p 93). Speech acts are used to do things or get things done:
e.g., ''I christen/name this ship the Princess Elizabeth''; ''I pronounce you
man/husband and wife,'' and ''I sentence you to ten years in prison'' (p. 95).
Other examples are ''good morning,'' and ''Put the car in the garage, please'' (p.
94). They are language routines we use to do things or get others to do things,
and they are largely routine and conventionalized. Different kinds of speech
acts as well as a discussion of politeness are also addressed.

Chapter 5 Descriptive Analysis of Deixis
This chapter defines deixis ''as the phenomenon whereby features of context of
utterance or speech event are encoded by lexical and/or grammatical means in a
language'' (p. 132). The rest of the chapter is devoted to analyzing deixis and
its features ''demonstratives... pronouns... tense markers... adverbs of time and
space and... motion verbs'' (p. 133). Deixis is a language universal necessary to
meet communication demands. Addressed in the chapter are basic categories of
deixis, such as person, time, and space, across languages.

Part 2 Pragmatics and Its Interfaces
Chapter 6 Pragmatics and Cognition
Huang's discussion of the interface between pragmatics and cognition centers on
relevance theory; ''the central thesis of the theory is that the human cognitive
system works in such a way as to tend to maximize relevance with respect to
communication'' (p. 182). The communicative principles of relevance are
addressed: the code model, which involves the coding and decoding of messages,
and the inferential model, which involves more the underlying meaning of
messages. Huang finds the code model inadequate, based as it is on the
assumption that human language is a code of thoughts to sounds. He argues there
is more to a message than its semantic representation, such as inference and the
audience's recognition of the speaker's intended meaning: ''According to the
inferential model, communication is achieved by expressing and recognizing
intentions'' (p. 186). He revisits the topic of implicature here and the divide
between what is said and what is implicated and how we resolve ambiguity in
language by such methods as use of real world knowledge (e.g. in the sentence
''Fried eggs should be cooked properly and if there are frail or elderly people
in the house, they should be hard-boiled'' (p. 185), real-world knowledge informs
us that ''they'' refers to ''eggs'' not ''frail or elderly people,'' even though the
latter is actually the grammatical antecedent). This chapter also addresses the
role of pragmatics in explicature, or what is actually said. Finally, in this
chapter recent views on pragmatics as a submodel of the ''theory of the mind'' are

Chapter 7 Pragmatics and Semantics
Huang notes there is a recognition that the link between semantics and
pragmatics is strong, both fields being concerned with language and meaning. In
fact, it is so strong that some linguists refuse to distinguish between the two:
they hold the view of semantic reductionism, that ''pragmatics should be entirely
reduced to semantics,'' and the opposing view, that of pragmatic reductionism,
that ''semantics is wholly included in pragmatics'' (p. 210). A complementarist
view, however, is more widely accepted and sees the two fields as
though distinct subdisciplines'' (p. 211). Huang addresses the ways in which the
two fields may be distinguished from each other as well as discussing the views
of different theorists on the topic.

Chapter 8 Pragmatics and Syntax
In the final chapter, Huang considers the interface between pragmatics and
syntax, in particular considering anaphora, or the relation between two language
elements, such as a pronoun and its antecedent. Chomsky's view of language,
i.e., that it is innate to humans and we are born equipped to acquire it, is
discussed as well as his binding theory, the theory that certain linguistic
features, such as pronominals and noun phrases, are either ''bound'' or ''free'' to
other linguistic features. Problems with this theory are discussed, such as how
it may be applied cross-linguistically, and a revision of the theory is presented.

Although supposedly an introductory text for an undergraduate audience, this
book would be difficult for anyone without some, or perhaps extensive, prior
training in linguistics. I found it at times obscure, due to the highly
technical language, symbols, and abstract concepts, and much of the book
required a second or even third reading to really comprehend the material. As an
example, while the term ''presupposition'' is clearly defined at the outset of
Chapter Three, ''implicature,'' as far as I can tell, is never defined in Chapter
Two, the chapter devoted to it. It is later revisited in Chapter Six, where it
is defined in the context of that chapter's topic, pragmatics and relevance
theory, as a ''communicated assumption derivable solely via pragmatic inference''
(p. 194). Also, the book is heavy with the jargon, acronyms, and symbols
particular to the field.

However, the book is very thorough in its coverage of topics within the field.
Mindful of its student audience, it also has extensive study questions,
examples, and glossaries. My overall impression is that it is a valuable
textbook to anyone in the field of pragmatics, but may be too difficult for its
intended audience of students to follow without heavy guidance from a more
experienced scholar.

Grice, H.P. (1989). Studies in the way of words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.

Martinich, A. P. (1984). Communication and reference. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Thomason, Richmond H. (1990). Accommodation, meaning, and implicature:
interdisciplinary foundations for pragmatics. In Cohen, P.R., Morgan, J., and
Pollack, M.E. (eds.) Intention in communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 325-

Vanderveken, Daniel. (2002). Universal grammar and speech act theory. In
Vanderveken, D. and Kubo, S. (eds.) Essays in speech act theory. Amsterdam:
Benjamins. 25-62.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Stacia Levy is an English and education professor at the University of California, Davis, and University of the Pacific. She completed her doctorate at the University of the Pacific. Her dissertation examines the vocabulary patterns found in college student and professional writing. Her areas of research interest include academic writing instruction, adolescent literacy, and vocabulary acquisition.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0199298378
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 368
Prices: U.K. £ 50.00

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0199243689
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 368
Prices: U.K. £ 18.99