AUTHOR: Caffi, Claudia
SERIES: Studies in Pragmatics 4
Luisa Granato, Departamento de Lenguas Modernas. Universidad Nacional de La
Caffi's purpose in writing this book is to show her analysis of interactional
strategies within an integrated pragmatic framework and her description of the
use of mitigation strategies within this framework. Starting from the belief
that theoretical development and empirical research should be constantly related
one to the other, the author examines a corpus of doctor and psychotherapy
patient interviews in Italian, which she finds greatly relevant for the study of
this topic. The analysis is carried out from several different theoretical and
methodological perspectives and moves in the direction of a psycholinguistics of
interaction. The volume constitutes an excellent piece of bibliography for those
academics and post graduate students interested in the handling of social
relations in interaction.
The book is structured into an introduction, six chapters, a conclusion, and two
appendixes. The latter contain the transcript of the text under analysis and the
examples presented in chapter six.
The introduction sets up basic ideas on which Caffi' theory is built: style is
inherent in the use of language and neutral expressions only exist in the
linguist's mind. Real people in real life modulate their language to fit the
needs of the moment. It also states that modulation foregrounds stylistic
choices in relation to the active, intentional and personal dimensions of
interaction, and through this resource, speakers vary the intensity of their
The first chapter offers a preliminary definition of mitigation as attenuation
or as a weakening operation of a parameter and as representing one of the two
directions of modulation, the complementary one being reinforcement. It is an
unintentional process performed by an agent aiming at attaining specific goals.
The centrality of mitigation in the notion of adaptation is highlighted. The
author presents her general conception of an integrated pragmatic approach, her
intention being to bridge the gap between pragmatics and individual psychology
around the idea of subject. She holds that pragmatics must consider the emotive
dimension, crucial in the building of identity which can be attained through
linguistic micro choices, since subjects are endowed with emotive competences
which allow them to take on an identity and continuously negotiate it with their
partners in a dialogical construction. It is a co-identity that has to be
ratified and constructed together with the interlocutor.
This focus on the ego vs. the world and vice versa is presented as the
intrapersonal turn in linguistics which does away with the established
reductionist attitude towards the subject, regarded as static and monolithic.
The author stresses the intrasubjective, as opposed to the intersubjective
dimension of communication, through the inclusion of the psychological dimension
in pragmatic studies. She claims the need to investigate into the links between
psychological, sociological and linguistic interdependent variables within the
system. She draws attention to the convenience of adopting an interdisciplinary
perspective to approach the subject.
Caffi problematizes the notion of subject and presents an account of the
different perspectives form which the subjectivity of language has been studied:
l'instance d'énnonciation (Benveniste, 1966), Bühler's (1934) deictic origin and
Piaget's (1989 ) egocentric child.
The author justifies the study of stylistic markers, both from a cognitive and
an emotive point of view, for these expressions develop the functions of
cognitive organization as well as identity maintenance. These are modulation and
semiotic markers. The works of Bally (1970 ) and Spitzer (1928) are
mentioned in relation to their importance in incorporating an emotive
perspective to the analysis of linguistic phenomena.
Modulation is regarded as one of the parameters of mitigation. Mitigators
involve readjustments at the level of the act of speech in terms of intensity
and urgency. They cover the need by the participants in a conversation to be
understood and to express their emotivity through identity building. In this
way, they contribute to the emotive monitoring of the interaction, increasing or
reducing distance between interlocutors.
Caffi holds that linguistic pragmatics and self psychology should converge in an
adequate analysis of interaction, and not used as autonomous disciplines.
Mitigation seems to be an adequate means to produce the link between the two areas.
The second chapter presents a framework of analysis that considers categories
and resources originated in diverse perspectives of mitigation studies, which,
integrated together, can account for contextual, sequential and stylistic
features of interaction. In the author's mind, stylistic cognitive and emotive
modulating and mitigating devices constitute the interface between pragmatic and
psychological aspects of interaction.
A complete review of the most relevant studies on mitigation is presented, and
the main notions in these seminal works are discussed. She gives a detailed
examination of the conceptualization of mitigation in relation to hedges,
indirectness, deictic origin and the idea of weakening. Interwoven with these
considerations of previous authors' findings, Caffi presents her own theoretical
positions offering clear explanations about the coincidences and differences
with these other approaches. She argues that there are three types of mitigation
devices: bushes, hedges and shields, and that they operate at the level of
propositions, seen as vagueness; the illocutionary force of a speech act,
regarded as indirectness; and the deictic origin, considered a reduction of
responsibility for the utterance. To this, she adds a fourth level, the
perlocutionary effect of speech acts.
The advantages of the empirical turn which meant change from introspection to a
consideration of examples from authentic speech in pragmatic analysis are
highlighted. The association of illocution with intention, sustained by
different authors, is rightly questioned by Caffi who claims that there is
interpersonal adjustment at the core of mitigation.
The mitigation of doing – illocutionary - is seen against the mitigation of
making – perlocutionary - which Caffi calls natural and non-natural mitigations
The terms lenitive and tempering mitigation are adopted for the analysis on
mitigation and are associated with deontic and epistemic-doxastic modality
respectively, the first affecting interpersonal relationships and the second,
the relation between the speaker and the object of his/her utterance.
The author finally points to the need to move from a narrow, restricted notion
of mitigation, represented by the notion of face threatening acts to an extended
notion which is not limited to politeness studies, but has to do with a more
complex general system of frames of knowledge about actions and activity types
as well as the style of their accomplishment.
Chapter 3 introduces the reader into the ambivalence of mitigation which is used
to protect the other and the self and offers a clear explanation of the ways in
which these effects are attained. The idea behind these considerations is that
mitigation operates in a multidimensional and multilevel way, bridging the gap
between linguistic and socio-interactional rules.
Caffi takes the speech act as the unit of analysis and looks at the components
of the act that mitigation affects. She holds that mitigation centers in the
domains of the proposition, the illocutionary force indicating device and the
deictic origin, and she adopts the terms bushes, hedges and shields to refer to
the three types of mitigations. Her main interest lies in discovering the way in
which mitigation works.
First bushes, as elements that have an effect at referential and relational
levels, are described in detail and presented as the elements which reduce the
precision of the propositional content. Examples of different mitigating devices
help a thorough understanding of related problems.
Hedges are then dealt with, as devices which center on the illocution of an
utterance affecting the relational and emotive dimensions. Empirical analysis
has demonstrated that epistemic certainty, social power and psychological
distance are interconnected parameters in a multilayered process. Bushes and
hedges can also combine in the same proposition causing simultaneous effects on
the propositional and the relational levels.
Finally shields, as devices that affect the deictic origin of the proposition,
are presented. In this case, backgrounding and defocalizing strategies are used.
Caffi claims that shields work on the yes-no dichotomy rather than in a scalar way.
Theorizations of other researchers enrich the descriptions offered and in the
three cases, numerous fragments extracted from the interactions analyzed are
used for the sake of exemplification.
Quotational and topical shields are also listed as mitigation strategies. These
refer to the suspension of literal interpretation and the strategic
backgrounding of a topic.
Caffi confirms the hypothesis that mitigation affects various linguistic levels
and has an impact on different interactional levels, having both cognitive and
emotive consequences. The chapter closes with a table which shows the links
between rhetorical, psychological and pragmatic categories having so far been
The fourth chapter focuses on a psychostylistic approach. The author tries to
identify the linguistic expressions which realize empathy, taking a
non-reductionist perspective and applying a multidisciplinary treatment. She
discusses the role of emotion, assuming a close connection between linguistic
and communicative choices and expressions of feelings and hypothesis about
speakers' feelings. Style is considered to be a psycholinguistic issue.
Stylistic choices are described and categorized and reference is made to
methodological issues relevant to the study. Communication mechanisms of
mitigation effect are said to modulate emotive distance and regulate the
temperature of interaction.
Caffi adopts the notion of affective attunement and is interested in setting
tools which will contribute to the treatment of linguistic downgrading phenomena
related to this aspect of communication. She considers the ego vs. the inner
world, which has so far not been taken into account and assumes that mitigation
strategies operate on emotive and emotional needs, related with intentionality
and the use of strategies and with spontaneity respectively. These represent a
connection both with the inner and the outer worlds; the importance of affect
should not be ignored since it has an influence on the choice of linguistic
exponents in interaction.
Caffi recognizes a clear link between interactional and pramatic perspectives
and sees modulation of linguistic forms as projecting adjustments of emotive
distances either to produce attenuating or reinforcing effects.
Mitigation is presented as ambivalent and paradoxical, for it can be used as an
anti-emphatic strategy as well, which might entail the risk of doing and undoing
in the same act, so that non commitment and disqualification can be two
contradictory interpretations of the same act.
Involvement, regarded as a folk psychological category, is considered. Different
uses of the term are listed which show a change from an individual psychological
to an interpersonal social orientation. Also notions presented as opposites and
linguistic units associated with involvement contribute to perceive the
heterogeneity and even incompatibility of these assumptions and demonstrate the
need for further clarification. Caffi suggests that involvement is a category
related to emotive intensity shared by psychology and linguistics and that can
be traced in the discourse.
Caffi considers the distinction between emotive and emotional communication as
fundamental, since it allows focusing on the intentional characteristic of
emotive communication and the conscious control exercised by the speaker. In the
authors' opinion, the emotive, interpersonal dimension should be integrated with
the emotional, intrapersonal dimension.
The notion of syntagmatic and paradigmatic markedness (that which diverts from
the expected) is developed.
Caffi argues that emotive communication should be considered in its indexical
and contextual nature. Finally, six classes of emotive devices and their
variants are identified (evaluation, proximity, specificity evidentiality,
volitionality and quantity). A hierarchical ordering of these devises is discussed.
Proximity can also be analyzed within an emotive framework and can signal either
into or away form the speaker's inner world. The inner world is presented as
something more than a collection of subjective states: it can act as the deictic
frame used by the speaker to make his/her acts of reference. Thus proximity
devices are considered means of emotive communication.
Caffi introduces the category of immediacy to help understand the importance of
emotive distances. The idea behind this notion is that linguistic choices are
related to affective states and that they can be regarded as manifestations of
the subject's inner state. These indicators are: socio-temporal, denotative
specificity, selective emphasis, agent-action-object, modification, objective
orientation vs. egocentric orientation and automatic phrasing.
The notion of equivocation is examined as a means to refer to the two or more
appropriate meanings found in communication, The proposal is that the true
answer can be found in the situation in which a message is produced.
Transactional disqualification and its different types are then listed as
instances of double interpretation. The following distinctions are made:
evasion- change of subject, sleight-of-hand, status, redundant question and
To close this section, Caffi shows a connection between disqualification and the
Freudian concept of undoing.
The next chapter presents a case study of doctor-patient dialogue at a Primary
Care Physician's, in which the effectiveness of the tools described are tested
and a reconstruction of an interface among linguistic, sociological and
psychological micro dimensions is intended. The focus is on the way in which
mitigation devices are monitored by the speakers to give shape to their
cognitive subscription and emotive involvement. The analysis shows the
importance of mitigation as a resource available to the interactants to both
reach their aims and regulate social distance between them.
Caffi explains the methodological procedures to be applied to the micro and the
macro analysis of her text. She then offers a summary of what happens in the
interaction: its goals, sub goals and the gist of the encounter.
Following a thematic and clinical criteria, six phases are recognized in the
dialogue: opening, case history, diagnosis, lateral sequence, treatment and
A detailed analysis of the salient moments of the encounter shows the recurrent
trend of each phase, the resources used and their effects, the participants'
reactions, shifts of register, the intended illocutionary force of utterances,
conflict avoidance strategies, the negotiation processes, interpretations,
inferences, emotive distance, mitigation devices, use of linguistic elements,
A multidimensional detailed microanalysis of the plot is offered according to a
co-textual and contextual description, rhetorical-stylistic description and
mitigation indicators, psychological description and emotive indicators and
inferable emotive distances. Correlations are established among these levels.
Caffi analyses the argumentative layer of the dialogue and examines the main
sequential patterns of all the phases and the main illocutions of the doctor's
and the patient's acts. She notices that the realization of institutional
politeness is revealed in the use of a deferential style, but it can also be
considered as the result of the application of meta-pragmatic competence which
is in agreement with the conversational pact with the interlocutor.
Caffi observes that mitigation is distributed unevenly in the conversation and
is mostly used to achieve interactional goals at interpersonal and instrumental
levels. It works both on the illocution and the perlocution and it also
influences self presentation of the self- image.
Co-variance among heterogeneous parameters is also observed, especially those of
epistemic certainty, knowledge power and emotive closeness. Caffi closes this
section claiming that the analysis of the text confirmed the hypothesis about
the multidimensionality of the communicative exchange and the correlation
between heterogeneous parameters caused by the linguistic choices of the
The sixth chapter draws attention to the forms of linguistic mitigation
manifested in the interaction analyzed. These forms are of various types and
they may also combine to attain the desired result.
Emphasis is laid on the illocutionary acts which appear frequently in the corpus
and the micro analysis aims at finding a connection between grammar and
pragmatics. Given that power and knowledge are associated with reduction of
responsibility, exercitives and verdictives, frequent in the interaction, are
regulated by politeness and cautiousness respectively.
As a first step, Caffi distinguishes between actual, natural mitigation, not
linguistic on the one hand and metalinguistic object mitigation, non natural and
linguistic on the other. Adopting Peregrini's terminology, she refers to them as
lenitive and tempering mitigation. The first operates on utterances which are
manipulative and affect the relationship between participants, and the latter on
those which operate on illocutions of an epistemic type and may affect the
relations between the speaker and the object of the utterance.
Transitional cases of illocutionary mitigation are then presented. They refer to
acts which are intrinsically negative for the hearer. Attenuation circumstances
are introduced and the severity of the act is reduced. This part of the study
seems to demonstrate the compatibility of the Speech Act Theory with
Occurrences of lenitive or deontic mitigation which affect directives,
exercitives, and to a lesser extent, requests are then approached. This type of
mitigation reduces the obligation of the hearer and diminishes the possibility
of face threats to both participants. Conditions to fulfill these acts are set up.
Tempering mitigation diminishes the force of assertions and verdictives, thus
mitigating the speaker's commitment to what he says. This topic is linked to
several author's theoretical proposal on the subject.
Finally, the book offers an exhaustive list of the linguistic expressions and
means through which lenitive and tempering mitigation are realized in the
medical encounter analyzed, in all cases accompanied by abundant exemplification
and orderly scientific explanations. The analysis has made it possible for the
author to establish structural and functional analogies between these two types
of mitigation. This chapter closes with an analysis of the connections between
mitigation and the speech acts felicity conditions or constitutive rules, which
allow the author to work towards a pragmatic typology of mitigation.
The last chapter, a conclusion, reviews the main findings of the research and
goes over the partial conclusions included at the end of each chapter. Finally a
typology of mitigating devices in therapeutic encounters is presented, in which
a rigorous listing of resources appears under different types of mitigation:
Propositional mitigation devices (bushes), Illocutionary mitigating devices
(shields), Ennunciative mitigation devices and, other means of mitigation,
paralinguistic and prosodic devices among them.
This is an outstanding contribution to the description of pragmatic phenomena of
spoken Italian, offered through a very impressive study of mitigation devices.
The book has strengths in various aspects.
The subject and related topics chosen for analysis have been approached by
different authors and from different perspectives. Their work has been
extensively acknowledged and wisely commented upon by the author, who critiques
and shows adherence to principles exposed in these other theoretical
descriptions as well as departure from them. This helps the presentation of her
own research and also the understanding of her account as part of a process of
development of the different notions and ideas pertaining to the field of
knowledge of the book. The constant reference to the work of others undoubtedly
enriches the theoretical claims in this volume. At the same time, it gives the
reader the opportunity to become acquainted with different conceptual frameworks
and to evaluate their advantages and drawbacks. On the other, the reader is
confronted with a vast and most useful bibliography coming not only from the
references within the text, but also form the extensive bibliography included at
the end. However, I missed mention of the work on genre of the School of Sydney
(Eggins and Slade, 1997, Martin and Rose, 2003) and their development of the
Appraisal Theory, whose treatment of mitigation devices in connection with the
speakers' stance seems to me to be closely related to Caffi's theoretical posture.
Considering that most linguistic theories have so far almost ignored the emotive
dimension of interaction, Caffi's emphasis on the fact that emotive and
emotional aspects of interaction should not be left out of a study of mitigation
constitutes one of the main contributions of this work. I evaluate Caffi's
integrative approach as one which has great value.
The detailed and thorough examination of occurrences of mitigation in the corpus
gives evidence of a rigorous consideration of the topics addressed. This careful
empirical analysis is outstanding and guarantees the validity of the conclusions
drawn from the study.
One minor critical remark, which does not diminish the value of this volume at
all, relates to the large amount of subtitles in each chapter, which is
sometimes distracting and may distance the reader from the general background in
which topics are inserted. However, the general organization of each chapter,
opening with an introduction which clearly states the aims of the author and
includes questions whose answers will be given in the development of the
chapter, and closing with partial conclusions, is a most convenient way of
presenting the information which constitutes excellent guidelines for a
comprehensive reading of the text.
This important contribution to the analysis of spoken Italian from a pragmatic
point of view is definitely compelling reading for academics and post graduate
students interested in the social aspect of interaction and especially, in the
meaning and use of mitigation linguistic devices.
Bally, C. (1970 ) Traité de stylistique francaise .Genève: Librairie de
l'Université Georg & Cie S.A.
Benveniste, E. (1966) Problèmes de linguistique générale. Paris: Gallimard.
English translation by M. E. Meek. Problems in General Linguistics. Coral
Gables, Florida: University of Miami Press.
Bühler, K. (1934) Sprachteorie. Jena: Fisher.
Eggins, S. and S. Slade (1977) Analyzing Casual Conversation. London: Casell.
Martin, J. and D. Rose, (2003) Working with Discours: meaning beyond the
clause-. London: Continuum-
Piaget, J. (1989 ) The Language and Thought of the Child. London: Routledge.
Spitzer, L. (1928) Italienische Umgangassprache. Bonn, Leipzig: Kurt Schröeder
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Luisa Granato is a Doctor in Linguistics and works at the Universidad Nacional
de La Plata, in Argentina. Her main academic interests have always been related
to spoken language. From a socio-pragmatic theoretical perspective, she has
looked at different aspects of conversation and is currently engaged in the
study of genres in informal verbal encounters.