Review of La parole en action
From: Giampaolo Poletto
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2002 10:19:21 +0200
Subject: Filliettaz, Laurent (2002) La parole en action
Filliettaz, Laurent (2002) La parole en action: Éléments de pragmatique
psycho-sociale. Éditions Nota bene, paperback, ISBN
2-89518-092-X (-091-1), vi+395pp, Can$25.95, Collection Langue et
Giampaolo Poletto, University of Pécs (HU), Applied Linguistics PhD
After attention has lately increased - see Bachtin (1977), Bres (1993),
Clark (1996), Laforest (1996), Martel (1998, 2000), Sacks, Schegloff and
Jefferson (1978), Schütz (1987), Traverso (1996), the issue of everyday
interactions is organically debated in a text in French, addressing
students and researchers in linguistics and human sciences, cognate with
psychology and sociology in particular, which completes the author's
conspicuous research and represents the published version of his
The book aims to portray a consistent path of research on theoretical
models and instruments appliable to the analysis of activity and
discourse interaction in everyday contexts, where they combine to enact a
dynamic process, in the perspective of psycho-social pragmatics, whose
main object is the systematic description of the complex interrelations
between human activities and the use of language.
Mechanisms activated in everyday situations and contexts actually deserve
a specific and scientifically legitimated attention, therefore a
systematic description, properly supported methodologically,
theoretically and epistemologically.
The purpose and content of the research unfolds along three axes:
- the development of an activity theory open to contributions from human
sciences and compatible with the nature of the praxeological investments
emerging in verbal interactions (chapters 1,2,3);
- the theoretical and empirical study of how they combine and articulate
discourse praxeological aspects and communicational mechanisms connected
to the textualisation of semiotic forms (chapters 4,5);
- the embedding of discourse analysis purposes and methods, with
reference to the actual different theoretical and epistemological options
for a pragmatic approach, psycho-social and cognitive above all (chapter
The author's approach owns not only to Roulet's modular theory (1999) or
theoretical works in pragmatics, as the illocutive theories of Austin
(1970) and Searle (1972), where action becomes a founding notion.
Works from disciplines mostly belonging to human sciences - Bange
(1992), von Cranach and Harré (1982), Goffman (1991), Ladriere, Pharo and
Quéré (1993), Ricœur (1977), Sperber and Wilson (1989), Vernant
(1997), among the others - have remarkedly influenced the perspective of
discourse analysis and are here taken into account in an unabridged
approach to manifold issues.
The general discourse analysis model adopted is just outlined, as the
starting point of a 'pragmatic chain' to be more systematically
evaluated, along with:
- a study on the general features and typifying processes of social
activity, hopefully sheding light on the specific psychological resources
activated by the agents and the pattern in which the informative content
is received through praxeological representations;
- the mechanisms of activity textualisation, with reference to the
hierarchical structures of negotiation, in a wider systematic perspective
comprehensive of other speakers' tools for textual planning, such as
compositional heterogeneity, topical continuity, and so on;
- the semantic analysis of linguistic units.
FIRST PART - Introduction: Face a la complexité des processus actionnels
'Les aspects praxéologiques du discours' confronts with actional
processes considered in their complexity, in their physical,
psychological, social and linguistic aspects.
That explains why the notion of action has been crucial to many
disciplines in the realm of human sciences in the late decades, and why
the author's research, for a better understanding of the conceptual
significance of activity, openly intends to display and take advantage of
studies in the fields of the psychology of action; the microsociology of
everyday life; ethnomethodology; the psychology of language; analytic
The theoretical model for the organisation of joint actions should:
- determine the psycho-social resources connected to the accomplishment
and identification of actions in the world;
- describe the nature and configuration of actional investments, in the
situations of effective interaction, in the way they contribute to guide
the conducts of involved agents;
- represent actional processes when effectively occurring in their
sequential and hierarchical character.
- La dimension psycho-sociale de l'agir
In everyday interactions many psycho-social resources are mobilized; some
can be described through the notion of praxeological representation,
originating from the notion of intention, central to explain actional
After a distinction between behaviour and action, action is considered
under different perspectives, namely: 'planned', in cognitive psychology
of action; 'situated', from an ethnomethodological approach; 'typified',
in an interactionist vision, up to a praxeological representation of
- La dimension configurationelle de l'agir
Everyday interactions have relevant configurational aspects, which the
notion of actional framework can more thoroughly illustrate.
The basic elements of the 'participative' and 'interpretative' actional
framework are: the four parametres of the actional mode; the type of
finality; the praxeological roles; the motivational complex.
Actions are individual or, with more agents or joint, and accordingly
changing parametres, collective; interaction takes place with
socio-objective and socio-subjective intentions, and the individuals
involved can be determined as agents, subsequently as operators or
actors, contributing to heterogeneous praxeological investments, along
with cognitive, normative, relational work.
Detectable praxeological roles and involvement, converging or diverging,
configure the motivational complex, so that linguistic productions and
finalized conducts are inferred to be 'praxeologically polyphonic', to
use Bachtin's concept (1984), as recalled by Roulet (1997a).
Actional framework polyfocalisation origins from the notions of
configurational and individual polyfocalisation, once more confirming the
traits of complexity and instability of actional configurations, with
reference to actional and 'interactional' frameworks.
The former's dimension is referential, whereas the latter operates in an
interactional dimension and on two parametres (the interactive position
of agents, with their number and role, and communicational elements,
medium, mode, ties).
- La dimension processuelle de l'agir:
The notion of praxeological structure makes it possible to approach
actional processes when effectively occurring.
The starting point is the sequential and hierarchical nature of
interactional processes, which the works of Geneva school see through the
dialogical and monological constituents, exchanges and acts respectively,
and by means of units of an upper level, eg transactions.
The analysis shifts from praxeological units, then, to their
praxeological relations, to include and display them in a praxeological
macro- and micro- structure.
SECOND PART - Introduction: Face a l'hétérogénéité sémiotique des
'Le discours comme textualisation de l'activité', confronts with the
issues of semiotic heterogeneity, relieved when joint actions take place,
towards a full account of the psycho-social resources agents activate
during their transactions.
The interrelations and semiotic heterogeneity of the three distinct
theoretical domains interacting, action, communication and language, can
only be properly approached through a comprehensive theory, eventually
contributing to both select the major areas of the pragmatics of
communication, and find a place for such interrelations between the
activity theories and the description of discourse mechanisms, between
facts and acts of communication.
Studies in ergonomics - Lacoste (1995) - have pointed out the existence
of a complex net of relations between discourse and activity.
Pragmatic models need to be reoriented, in this perspective, because
speech facts are not only social activities, but have a place in the most
complex praxeological configurations, with relations both internal, with
linguistic activities, and external, with the way interactions operate.
The purpose of psycho-social pragmatics is therefore to describe the
dialectical relationships of activity and discourse, passing from
exclusively written to oral empirical data.
Working with parametres - Bronckart (1997), Kerbrat-Orecchioni (1990),
Trognon and Kostulski (1996) - does not seem so effective and appropriate
as working with discourse units, the way a modular approach prospects,
despite theoretical difficulties the author does not deny.
The second part specifically analyses the topic of interweaving in terms
of units, not parametres.
- Action et communication
The author's attention focuses on interactional semiotic heterogeneity,
in order to propose a distinction in different types of finalized
conducts, which should shed light on both non verbal rooted
misunderstandings and, above all, though partially, the notional
complexity conveyed through the concept of communicational activity.
Units are analysed on their own, from actional to communicational ones,
both non-verbal and verbal.
When participative, actional units can be: in the world, communicational,
linguistic, verbal, respectively in opposition, according to the degree
and type of the principal intention, to physical motion, non
communicational, non linguistic, non verbal actions.
Intention opposes to explicitness, both occupying specific and delimited
Context and co-text directly ties to the analysis of gestures and a
typology of participative activities: gestures accompany verbal
expressions, are conventionally or non conventionally explicit,
praxeologically non communicational, instrumental.
That contributes to define the constitutive complexity of communicational
actions, through Habermas's (1987) theory of communicational activity,
where the speaker issues a triple assumption of validity, lying on truth,
This theory proposes a way the domains of action and communication
articulate through the constituents of the actional intention and
comprehension, which helps identify the areas for a pragmatic analysis of
- L'organisation opérationelle du discours.
The reflection continues on how a modular perspective can separately deal
with referential aspects and textual implications of communicational
units, and outlines the descriptive model needed to unfold the complex
relations established by the joint actions process dimension and
intercomprehension communicational mechanisms, to tie together the
domains of activity and textuality, framed into a description of the
negotiated character of inter-individual meetings.
The linguistic, textual and situational levels proposed by Roulet (1997b)
imply a change of the discourse analysis 'standard' model, on a
theoretical and epistemological level.
The modular approach is thereafter presented more in detail.
The conclusion briefs on the previous paragraphs, on the theoretical
status of the the notion of textualisation mode.
- De l'organisation opérationelle du discours a la pragmatique
The author intends to widen the perspective of the investigation and
remark the peculiarity of psycho-social pragmatics research programme, to
assert a scientific legitimacy.
The communicational modular approach can canvass: discourse operational
organisation; the elements of speakers' logic; the social relations they
establish; language acquisition as a comprehensive framework; joint
actions originating from participative activities, all of them bridging
to the perspectives of psycho-social pragmatics, to the 'actional
turnaround' to the 'pragmatic chain', to considerations on concepts
excerpted from other authors’ studies, to the confrontation with
inferential pragmatics, around the crucial topics of the relation between
the paradigms of the two and cognition, truth, social activity.
The hypotheses the author works on are claimed to be not unknown in the
field of interactivity theory, nevertheless neither instruments for the
analysis nor detailed empirical data seem to have been really elaborated
or displayed so far.
The present research, therefore, offers theoretical responses to both the
issue of communicational activities, and the possibility of describing
the organisation of situated interactions, and the indication of
different epistemological perspectives for language sciences.
On a theoretical level, the study of the praxeological dimension of
linguistic productions contributes to focus on discourse situational
aspects as well as on an explicit description of the complex
relationships between communicational mechanisms and situated actions.
Furthermore, the meaning of theoretical observations on the notional
complexity of mediatized forms of activity is displayed through tables
and 'tested' through empirical data, through two corpuses of authentic
documents: the dialogues recorded in Geneve's bookshops in 1979, in the
appendix, reduced due to more recent reflections; Montreal families'
dialogues, partly self-recorded during everyday activities, and excerpts
from Vincent's corpus (1995).
They are functional to restrict an otherwise too wide field of research,
and have in common the mainly joint nature of activities involved and the
central but not exclusive role of linguistic mechanisms; they are
considered as subset of actional processes.
On an epistemological level, then, despite - or due to - late strong
criticism on its scientifical status - see Reboul et Moeschler (1998),
researches on discourse analysis needs to further specify its object,
thus allowing on integrations, in the direction of a projected but yet
unaccomplished 'actional turnaround', which would benefit the
confrontation with cognitive pragmatics, and help shift the research
purpose from the notion of illocution to that of action, instead of being
limited to the principle of coherence or the role of linguistic marks; or
viewing pragmatics in terms of opposition between discourse and
conversational analysis; or else having the complexity of discourse
organisation reduced to either mental or linguistic categories, as stated
in chapter 6.
The author knows he risks: when considering as sources theories of
disciplines belonging to human sciences; when asserting discourse
analysis is rightly entitled to have a scientific status; when stating
that pragmatics should stop considering facts and acts of communication
separately; when maintaining that the 'actional turnaround' unfolds
purposes and identity of psycho-social pragmatics, marking the distance
from radical cognitive pragmatics; when claiming that the perspective he
adopts adds to previous surveys and studies.
He is confident that the complexity of interactions has to be described
with a theoretical model of situational analysis and confronted with
empirical data; therefore he partially applies a basically modular
approach to a selection of empirically collected excerpts from two
corpuses of dialogues and actions in everyday situational contexts, to
acquire elements for further theoretical reflections.
He concludes that the horizon of (psycho-social) pragmatic studies is
wide, and other steps can be legitimately made on the outlined path of
research, to prolong the 'pragmatic chain'.
As he acknowledges, the debated issues are very delicate, the passage is
crucial for pragmatics, the adopted approach is just sketched and
promising, but he is positive that it is vital to make and accept
research programmes, not being self indulgent or polemic.
That is mostly valuable and shelters from criticism by exposing to it.
Nevertheless, the effort and need to tie together very heterogeneous
sources, to elaborate a theoretical framework, to conduct an analysis on
empirical data, the whole of it focusing on interactions, to be displayed
in their complexity, cannot avoid weakening the overall thoroughness and
resulting in a certain vagueness on the real identity of the text, which
is survey, theory and study at the same time, and is actually described
as an 'inventory' in the back cover brief, whereas such a compiling
attitude does not turn out to be even relevant.
A second volume, with a new corpus and a new analysis of empirical data
would definitely make it clear the consistency of the research programme
and the effectiveness of the theoretical model adopted, at the present
just outlined and not yet autonomous.
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| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Giampaolo Poletto is a Bachelor in Foreign Languages and Literature, English and Russian, and Humanities in Italy, with some knowledge of French, Hungarian and Spanish; secondary school teaching qualifications in English and in Italian, a ten years' teaching experience in Italy and abroad, including a two-year tenure track of Italian Linguistics in the Italian Department at Janus Pannonius University in Pécs; actually second year student of a PhD course in Applied Linguistics at the University of Pécs, in Hungary, with interests in the fields of linguistics and FL/SL teaching; the research project combines them through the analysis of a corpus of Italian comic texts, finalized to didactic applications - possibly multimedial - for FL students of Italian; that should sort of collect past studies and professional experiences, feed a linguistic and thematically oriented research programme, open work and study perspectives.