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Review of  Handbook of Pragmatics

Reviewer: Chaoqun Xie
Book Title: Handbook of Pragmatics
Book Author: Jan Blommaert Jan-Ola Östman Chris Bulcaen Jef Verschueren
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 13.2066

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Date: Sun, 4 Aug 2002 17:35:39 +0800 (CST)
From: Chaoqun Xie
Subject: Verschueren et al., Handbook of Pragmatics, with Manual & Supplements

Verschueren, Jef; Jan-Ola Östman, Jan Blommaert, and Chris Bulcaen, eds. (1995-2001) 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.)

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. Schäffner).

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. Dörnyei), "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 doubt.

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, François 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 Press.

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

Cooren, François (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.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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 translation.