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Review of  Pragmatics

Reviewer: Ilse Depraetere
Book Title: Pragmatics
Book Author: Dawn Archer Karin Aijmer Anne Wichmann
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 24.2463

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This textbook has the tripartite structure typical of the Routledge Applied Linguistics series. In part A, ‘Introduction’, key concepts are defined and issues in pragmatic analysis are presented. Part B, ‘Extension’, offers a selection of excerpts that illustrate the notions introduced in part A and that delve deeper into the questions raised. The readings are preceded by an introduction motivating the choice of texts and making explicit the links with the topics covered in part A. Each text is accompanied by questions aimed at text comprehension or critical assessment of the text and/or by a set of follow-up activities. Every unit in part B ends with suggestions for further reading and a brief description of the activity detailed in part C. In this last part, called ‘Exploration’, small hands-on research projects are presented for most of the topics dealt with in parts A and B (excluding unit 1, unit 3 and unit 11); however, sometimes they involve an expansion of the material covered in sections A and B.

The authors definitely take the so-called ‘European perspective’ on pragmatics, as the overview of topics addressed in part A shows:
Unit 1. The origins of pragmatics. (8p)
Unit 2. Research methods in pragmatics. (13p)
Unit 3. The semantic-pragmatic interface. (11p)
Unit 4. Speech acts: doing things with words. (12p)
Unit 5. Implicature. (15p)
Unit 6. Pragmatics and discourse. (12p)
Unit 7. Pragmatic markers. (10p)
Unit 8. Pragmatics, facework and im/politeness. (12p)
Unit 9. Pragmatics, prosody and gesture. (14p)
Unit 10. Cross-cultural pragmatics. (9p)
Unit 11. Historical pragmatics. (11p)
Unit 12. Pragmatics and power. (15p)

The following are a few examples that illustrate the general concept of the book.

In unit A2, ‘Research methods in pragmatics’, after explaining the observer’s paradox, an overview of data types (i.e. authentic written, authentic spoken, hybrid data, elicited data) used in ‘corpus pragmatics’ is given, which is followed by a brief illustration of how they are exploited for research purposes. It is shown that, apart from language itself, the wider context of speech and information about discourse participants needs to be taken into account in empirical analyses of this kind. Furthermore, this unit also contains a section on the narrow and broad transcription of spoken language. It is explained that qualitative analyses are often complemented with quantitative analyses, and potential problems of pragmatic annotation and retrieval of pragmatic phenomena are pointed out. Unit B2 contains a text that addresses the more theoretical question of the value of (oral and written) production questionnaires for pragmatics research (Kasper 2000), and a text which describes the set up of a speech production task aimed at testing the Principle of Relevance (Van der Henst and Sperber 2004). The final excerpt (Kohnen 2009) highlights the challenges of data collection faced by researchers in (historical) pragmatics. Unit C1contains four hands-on projects: the first is an awareness-raising exercise with an overview of parameters to be considered when using a search engine like Google for corpus compilation; the second is concerned with the design of a discourse completion task; the third is focussed on the process of transcribing conversation and involves the transcription and annotation of spontaneous conversation and/or part of an interview; and the final exercise involves the pragmatic annotation of a small data sample from the British National Corpus (BNC).

In unit A5, ‘Implicature’, the following concepts are introduced: what is said, conventional and conversational implicature, meaning(N) and meaning(NN) (both of these are lowercase subscript in Grice’s text), Grice’s cooperative principle and conversational maxims, the various ways of exploiting a maxim, neo-Gricean pragmatics (Leech 1983, Horn 1984, Levinson 2000), and post-Gricean pragmatics (i.e. Relevance Theory). B5 contains the following: an excerpt from ‘Logic and Conversation’ in which Grice describes the Cooperative Principle; an excerpt from Leech (1981) in which he argues for the inclusion of the Politeness Principle in addition to the Cooperative Principle; and a text by Wilson (2010) which introduces the Communicative Principle of Relevance, the Cognitive Principle of Relevance, the presumption of optimal relevance and the relevance-guided comprehension heuristic. Both texts are followed by questions that are meant to critically assess the observations made by the authors. In section C, the focus is on experimental pragmatics and what lab-based experiments can teach us about different types of conversational implicatures. The reader is also referred back to the speech production task in Van der Henst and Sperber (2004) (unit B2.3) and is invited to test the results by doing similar experiments.

In unit A7, ‘Pragmatic markers’, the definition of ‘pragmatic marker’ is followed by a brief overview of its (phonological, syntactic, semantic, functional, sociolinguistic and stylistic) features. Its textual vs. interpersonal functions are then explained in more detail, as are the links between pragmatic markers and both text-type and sociolinguistic variation. Unit B7 contains: a text by Diani (2004) on the discourse functions of ‘I know’ (followed by questions for comprehension); a text by Gilquin (2008) on the use of hesitation markers by English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners (followed by some awareness raising questions about the role and status of hesitation markers in learners’ English and native speaker English); and a text by Rühlemann (2007) on the discourse functions of ‘like’, with the assignment this time being the characterization of the formal characteristics of ‘like’. The corresponding unit in part C contains a corpus exercise aimed at checking the frequency of use and function of a range of pragmatic markers in the BNC and in the Contemporary Corpus of American English. The final exercise relates to the impact of genre on the function of pragmatic markers.


The book format -- offering, side-by-side, an introduction to key concepts, readings (from seminal papers and applied research) illustrating the approaches to those concepts, and the opportunity to put the concepts to the test in a small practical project -- is a genuinely stimulating approach.

The scope of the book is definitely a plus: it allows the advanced student to learn about the more strictly linguistic and philosophical aspects of language in context, and, perhaps in an even more commendable fashion, allows readers to broaden their scope and discover how pragmatics is couched in a multimodal approach to communication, with due attention given to cross-fertilization from sociology and intercultural studies. While this perspective is highly enriching, from the point of view of assimilating the material that is presented, there is definitely a challenge for the reader. A breadth of topics like this, covered in a relatively small space, necessarily implies that a number of delicate choices are to be made, not only with respect to the number of concepts to be covered, but also in terms of whether priority should be given to definition rather than to illustration and in terms of the detail of the explanations provided. Irrespective of the decisions made, a certain degree of density is likely to be inherent in a project like this, especially when it comes to part A in the book. The target audience is the advanced graduate or post-graduate student; for some units more than others, additional input from a course instructor will be necessary, either in terms of offering examples or in terms of spelling out in more detail the issues involved. As I see it, the major challenge relates to unit 3, ‘The semantic-pragmatic interface’ which precedes the unit on implicature. It covers reference, deixis, presupposition, and alternative approaches to the explicit/implicit distinction (with a discussion of the notions of impliciture, explicature, saturation and free enrichment). In particular, this final topic, covered in the section on ‘Grice’s enduring influence’, will be particularly hard to take in, as it is not until unit 5 that Grice’s theory of conversation and implicature are addressed in more detail.

Obviously, the selection of illustrative reading is a very rich source to turn to (and there is extensive cross-referencing to different units and different parts), but at times, a few more fairly basic examples to illustrate a point would have been welcome (as in units A5, A8).

A list of textbooks in pragmatics is mentioned at the end of unit B1 (pp.152-3), including a brief characterization of each of them; this overview clearly brings out the fact that Archer, Aijmer and Wichmann’s book fills a gap, which is the combined result of the format, coverage and target audience.

The hybrid format, typical of the series, sets this textbook apart from most introductions to pragmatics, with O’Keeffe et al. (2011) being closest to the approach at hand, albeit with more restricted coverage. It shares the inclusion of (excerpts from) primary research that illustrates theoretical concepts and issues with readers such as Davis (1991) (Anglo-American approach to pragmatics) and Archer and Grundy (2011) (European perspective on pragmatics). The descriptions in Yule (2006) are also supplemented with illustrative excerpts, but the target group of this textbook is beginning students.

The range of topics covered in Archer, Aijmer and Wichmann is wider than that of most textbooks, which are most often primarily focussed on deixis, presupposition, implicature and Speech Act Theory (sometimes with attention on politeness (e.g. Leech 1983, Thomas 1995) or conversation analysis (e.g. Levinson 1983, Mey 2001) or both of them (e.g. Grundy 2008), or sometimes with further elaboration of the semantics-pragmatics interface (e.g. Huang 2007)), with the obvious consequence being that the treatment of these topics in other textbooks is less dense than in the current one. Cummings (2005) likewise discusses interfaces with other disciplines, but they relate to cognition and language pathology, sociology and artificial intelligence. Finally, Chapman’s (2011) excellent introduction to ‘Anglo-American pragmatics’, which also includes two chapters with an overview of wider domains of the application of pragmatics, is missing from the list of textbooks mentioned in chapter 2, as are Peccei’s (1999) introduction to pragmatics for beginners and Allott’s (2010) more glossary style overview of key concepts and key thinkers for graduate students.

Archer, Aijmer and Wichmann’s book is a showcase for the exploitation of corpus data, which is a feature it shares with O’Keeffe et al. (2011); the application of concepts on the basis of an excellent selection of texts in part B and the well-guided, realistic and stimulating follow-up projects in part C definitely constitute a major plus of the book. While predecessors like Huang (2007), Grundy (2008), Mey (2001) and O’Keeffe et al (2011) also include exercises of various types, the applied sections are more varied and much broader in scope in the present textbook.

In short, this is a very laudable and timely initiative to present pragmatics in all its richness and to bring out its multi-disciplinary potential. Showing how pragmatics research works through the addition of illustrative excerpts and realistic hands-on projects is another strength of this textbook. While occasionally a bit dense, it is a very rich and inspiring source for the student and the course instructor alike. It will be an eye-opener to those who read it: looking at contextual meaning from such a wide range of perspectives makes one more aware of the complex undertaking that communication really is. Seen this way, there is an applied side to the book from more than one perspective, and I take this to be another positive, very instructive feature of the book.


Allott, Nicholas. 2010. Keyterms in pragmatics. London and New York, NY: Continuum.

Archer, Dawn and Peter Grundy. (eds) 2011. The pragmatics reader. London and New York, NY: Routledge.

Chapman, Siobhan. 2011. Pragmatics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cummings, Louise. 2005. Pragmatics. A multidisciplinary perspective. Edinburgh: Edinburgh university press.

Diani, Giuliana. 2004. The discourse of I don’t know in English conversation, In Aijmer, Karen and Anna-Brita Stenström (eds) Discourse patterns in spoken and written corpora. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 157-71.

Gilquin, Gaëtanelle. 2008. Hesitation markers among EFL learners: pragmatic deficiency or difference? In Romero-Trillo, Jesús (ed) Pragmatics and corpus linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 119-43.

Grundy, Peter. 2008. (3rd edition) Doing Pragmatics. Hodder Education.

Van der Henst, Jean-Baptiste and Dan Sperber. 2004. Testing the cognitive and communicative principles of relevance, In Noveck, Ira A. and Dan Sperber (eds) Experimental pragmatics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 141-71.
Horn, Larry R. 1984. Towards a new taxonomy of pragmatic inference: Q- and R-based implicature, In Schiffrin, Deborah (ed) Meaning, form and use in context: linguistic applications. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. 11-42.

Huang, Yan. 2007. Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kasper, Gabriele. 2000. Data collection in pragmatics research, In Spencer-Oatey, Helen (ed) Culturally speaking -- managing rapport through talk across cultures. London and New York, NY: Continuum. 316-41.

Kohnen, Thomas. 2009. Historical corpus pragmatics, In Jucker, Andreas H., Daniel Schreier and Marianne Hundt (eds) Corpora: pragmatics and discourse. Papers from the 29th International Conference on English Language Research on Computerized Corpora (ICAME 29). Amsterdam: Rodopi. 13-36.

Leech, Geoffrey N. 1981. (2nd edition) Semantics: the study of meaning. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Leech, Geoffrey N. 1983. Principles of pragmatics. London and New York, NY: Longman.

Levinson, Stephen. 1983. Pragmatics. Cambridge University Press.

Levinson, Stephen. 2000. Presumptive meaning: the theory of generalized conversational implicature. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mey, Jacob. 2001 (2nd edition). Pragmatics: an introduction. Blackwell Publishing.

O’Keeffe, Anne, Brian Clancy, Svenja Adolphs. 2011. Introducing pragmatics in use. London & New York: Routledge.

Peccei Stilwel, Jean. 1999. Pragmatics. London: Routledge.

Rühlemann, Christoph. 2007. Conversation in context. A corpus-driven approach. London: Continuum.

Thomas, Jennifer. 1995. Meaning in interaction: an introduction to pragmatics. London and New York, NY: Longman.

Yule, George. 2006. Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, Deirdre. 2010. Relevance theory, In Cummings, Louise. (ed) The pragmatics encyclopedia. London and New York, NY. 393-7.
Ilse Depraetere is Professor of English Linguistics at the University of Lille 3 (UMR 8163 STL). Most of her publications relate to tense, aspect and modality in English ; her broad research interests include semantics, pragmatics and corpus linguistics.

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