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Review of  Spanish Pragmatics

Reviewer: J. Cesar Felix-Brasdefer
Book Title: Spanish Pragmatics
Book Author: Rosina Márquez Reiter María Elena Placencia
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Book Announcement: 17.118

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Date: Sat, 7 Jan 2006 13:09:14 -0500
From: César Félix-Brasdefer <cfelixbr@indiana.edu>
Subject: Spanish Pragmatics

AUTHOR: Márquez Reiter, Rosina; Placencia, María Elena
TITLE: Spanish Pragmatics
PUBLISHER: Palgrave, Macmillan
YEAR: 2005

César Félix-Brasdefer, Department of Spanish and Portuguese,
Indiana University, Bloomington.


Spanish Pragmatics consists of an introduction and five chapters,
followed by 119 endnotes, an extensive bibliography, an authors
index, and a subject index. The book includes examples from English
and Spanish, but the examples in Spanish do not have an English
translation. In addition to the 624 references, there are five additional
internet resources which provide useful information on speech acts,
publications in pragmatics and conversation analysis (CA), and
tutorials for those interested in CA.

Chapter 1. Introduction
The book adopts a sociocultural pragmatics perspective. Sociocultural
pragmatics is 'concerned with ''external'' factors, that is, with those
aspects of the selection and interpretation of linguistic form that
happen to be determined by social and cultural factors' (Escandell
Vidal, 2004, p. 348, [cited on p. 2]). The book concentrates on three
key areas within the Anglo-American School of Pragmatics: ''speech
acts, conversation, and politeness as sociocultural manifestations of
communication'' (p. 3).

The sequential organization of the five main chapters is clearly
presented, beginning with a theoretical description and a critical
discussion of speech act theory (language at the utterance level)
followed by an incisive examination of CA (stretches of talk). After
laying the foundation of speech act theory and CA, a description and
a critical appraisal of politeness theory is presented as well as the
main contributions by Hispanists in pragmatics and discourse analysis.
The chapter on linguistic politeness is followed by a theoretical and an
empirical examination of sociopragmatic variation in different varieties
of Spanish. The last chapter offers a general description of the most
frequently used methods of data collection in sociopragmatics
research in Spanish.

Chapter 2. Speech act theory: Examining language at the utterance
This chapter is divided into three main sections: First, it provides a
theoretical description and a critical appraisal of speech act theory, as
outlined in the work of Austin and Searle. Further, this section
examines the relevance of Austin's and Searle's ideas in
sociopragmatics and describes the influence that speech act theory
has on cross-cultural pragmatics. This section ends with some of the
limitations of speech act theory when applied to the analysis of
discourse. Second, the theoretical developments in speech act theory
are examined along with the main contributions of Hispanists. Finally,
this chapter provides a state-of-the-art description of empirical
sociopragmatic studies of speech acts, including directives,
expressives, commissives, and assertives, in different varieties of

Chapter 3. Conversation analysis: Examining stretches of talk
This chapter offers a detailed description and a critical appraisal of CA
and highlights its relevance to sociopragmatics. The opening provides
a description of the inception of CA as grounded in sociological work
developed by Harvey Sacks, Emanuel Schegloff, Gail Jefferson, and
Anita Pomerantz, among others. Then, various issues regarding data
collection methodology, data analysis, and issues related to
transcription conventions are described. Further, six main
contributions of CA are examined and illustrated with various
examples in Spanish: the sequential organization of talk, the
organization of turn-taking, the overall organization of talk, preference
organization, the organization of laughter, and topic organization.
Some limitations of CA are briefly discussed. The chapter ends with an
examination of the work by Hispanists that have incorporated CA in
Spanish including notions such as repair, delay, back-channeling, turn-
taking, the organization of laughter, preference organization, and
topic organization.

Chapter 4. Examining linguistic politeness phenomena
This chapter is divided into four sections beginning with a summary of
Grice's (1975) Cooperative Principle and its maxims, and offers some
criticisms that have been voiced against Grice's theory with respect to
the idea of universality and rationality. Then, a general account of the
main theories of politeness is presented, followed by some criticisms.
Following Fraser's (1990) initial classification of politeness models, the
authors examine five views on politeness and discuss limitations of
each view. The third section of this chapter comprises a critical
examination on politeness by various Hispanists with special attention
given to Peninsular Spanish and offers alternative models of
politeness proposed by seasoned Hispanists. The chapter ends with a
comprehensive description of empirical studies which have examined
speech act realization and (im)politeness phenomena in different
varieties of Spanish derived from the face-saving and sociocultural

Chapter 5. Examining sociopragmatic variation
This chapter addresses the issue of sociopragmatic variation at both
the theoretical and empirical levels. According to the authors, one of
the aims of sociopragmatics is ''to uncover the cultural norms which
underlie the interactional features of a given social group in a given
social context'' (p. 192). In particular, sociopragmatic variation in
Spanish is largely analyzed by means of intra-cultural (e.g.,
Montevideans in a requesting vs. apologizing situation) and cross-
cultural (e.g., request realization in Quito and Madrid) patterns of
interaction. Moreover, in order to elucidate differences in the norms of
interaction of given social groups and in given social contexts, a
distinction between pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic failure
(Thomas 1983) is made and illustrated with relevant communicative
exchanges. Finally, empirical studies on (socio)pragmatic variation in
different varieties of Spanish are described: variation in speech act
realization, conversational organization, and politeness. For the most
part, Peninsular Spanish is often compared to a Latin American variety
of Spanish; very few cross-dialectal studies examine politeness
variation in two varieties of the same country such as the Spanish
spoken in Cuzco and Lima. As rightly pointed out by the authors,
future research is needed to address other aspects of sociopragmatic
variation across Spanish(es).

Chapter 6. Research methods in sociopragmatics
This 18-page chapter is the shortest in the book and discusses issues
in methods used to collect (socio)pragmatic data in Spanish. After a
brief discussion of the 'observer's paradox', this chapter examines the
benefits and disadvantages for gathering two types of naturally-
occurring data: natural spoken discourse and the collection of field
notes from observation. Next, a description of the various ways to
record and transcribe natural data is presented, followed by a general
discussion of transcription of natural data using both tape- and video-
recordings. Given that most empirical studies in Spanish
sociopragmatics (and also in interlanguage pragmatics) have favored
elicited over natural data, three instruments employed to gather
elicited data are described: role plays, discourse completion tests, and
multiple-choice questionnaires, followed by a description of rating
scales and retrospective verbal reports. Finally, general issues on
data triangulation and ethics for the collection of research data are


A significant contribution of each chapter is the inclusion of theoretical
aspects of (socio) pragmatics and CA, followed by a comprehensive
description of empirical studies in Spanish (socio) pragmatics
research. In particular, in the chapters on 'conversation analysis'
and 'sociopragmatic variation' the reader can identify various areas for
future research in Spanish. The Spanish examples used to illustrate
various notions of pragmatics are clear and are suitable for upper-
level undergraduate students and graduate students in pragmatics.
The extended bibliography and the internet resources provided are an
excellent bank of information for graduate students, teachers, and
researchers interested in speech act theory, conversation analysis,
politeness theory, and sociopragmatic variation in Spanish.

Due to the sociocultural perspective, the book does not include
theoretical topics that are often covered in graduate courses in
(Spanish)pragmatics, such as presupposition, deixis, and theoretical
developments on conversational implicature. As a result, this book
would be most appropriately used as a complementary text in
graduate courses in Spanish pragmatics or conversation analysis and
in seminars on discourse analysis or linguistic politeness. Given the
depth of theoretical analysis in speech act theory, politeness theory,
and conversation analysis, and the detailed descriptions of empirical
studies in sociopragmatics in Spanish, undergraduate students may
need additional introductory readings in pragmatics to better
understand the information presented in the book.

The last chapter examines various methods for collecting
ethnographic and elicited data in (socio)pragmatics research in
Spanish; little attention is generally given to the issue of reliability and
validity, as briefly discussed in the section of data triangulation (p.
228). Reliability provides information as to whether an instrument, for
example role plays, administered to the same respondents on a
different occasion would yield similar results. On the other hand,
validity refers to ''the degree to which a test measures what it claims,
or purports, to be measuring'' (Brown, 1996, p. 231). Moreover, the
discussion on verbal reports seems too general (pp. 224-25) and
lacks detail with regard to the various types of verbal reports utilized in
the literature. The following references (not cited in the book) address
in detail and precision the issue of verbal reports, validity and
reliability, and data triangulation: Brown 2001, Cohen 1998 (chapter
3) & 2004, Davis & Henze 1998, DuFon 2001.

Also, while the focus of the book is on Spanish pragmatics, little
attention is given to the field of interlanguage pragmatics related to
Spanish. A current view of research methods in interlanguage
pragmatics and institutional discourse and an extended description of
ethical aspects for data collection of (interlanguage) pragmatic data
can be found in Bardovi-Harlig and Hartford (2005) (chapters 1, 8).

Overall, this book is a much needed resource for courses in Spanish
pragmatics and a welcome contribution on research on the pragmatics
of Spanish and discourse analysis. The book is well-written and is
targeted to both advanced (upper-level) undergraduate students with
a background in (Spanish) linguistics and to graduate students whose
main interest lies in the (socio)pragmatics of Spanish. It provides
critical appraisals of speech act theory, conversation analysis, and
politeness theory, and brings together the main ideas of (socio)
pragmatics research by leading Hispanists around the world. Due to
its scope and impressive collection of references on the topic, the
book is an excellent and comprehensive resource for teachers,
graduate students, and researchers in (Spanish) pragmatics.


Bardovi-Harlig, K. & Hartford, B. (2005). Intercultural Pragmatics:
Institutional Talk. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Brown, J. D. (1996). Testing in Language Programs. Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.

Brown, J. D. (2001). Pragmatic tests: Different purposes, different
tests. In K. R. Rose & G. Kasper (Eds.), Pragmatics in Language
Teaching (pp. 301-325). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some Universals in
Language Use. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Cohen, A. D. (1998). Strategies in Learning and Using a Second
Language. London,
UK: Longman.

Cohen, A. D. (2004). Assessing speech acts in a second language. In
D. Boxer & A. D. Cohen (Eds.), Studying Speaking to Inform Second
Language Learning (pp. 302-327). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual

Davis, K., & Henze, R. C. (1998). Applying ethnographic perspectives
to issues in cross-cultural pragmatics. Journal of Pragmatics 30, 399-

DuFon, M. A. (2001). Triangulation in qualitative SLA research on
interlanguage pragmatics. In Xenia Bonch-Bruevich et al. (Eds.), The
Past, Present, and Future of Second Language Research (pp. 251-
270). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Escandell Vidal, V. (2004). Norms and principles: Putting social and
cognitive pragmatics together. In R. Márquez Reiter & M.E. Placencia
(Eds.), Current Trends in the Pragmatics of Spanish (pp. 347-71).
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Fraser, Bruce. (1990). Perspectives on politeness. Journal of
Pragmatics 14, 219-36.

Grice, P. (1975 [1967]). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J.
Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and Semantics: Speech Acts 3 (pp. 41-58).
New York: Academic Press.

Thomas, J. (1983). Cross-cultural pragmatic failure. Applied
Linguistics 4, 91-112.

César Félix-Brasdefer is an Assistant Professor of Spanish and
Linguistics at Indiana University, Bloomington. His research interests
include the semantics/pragmatics interface, sociocultural pragmatics,
conversation analysis, interlanguage pragmatics, research methods in
linguistic variation, speech act theory, politeness theory, and
instruction in second language pragmatics.

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