Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
AUTHOR: Siobhan Chapman TITLE: Pragmatics SERIES TITLE: Palgrave Modern Linguistics PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan YEAR: 2011
Meghan Kerry Moran, Doctoral Student in the Department of English, Applied Linguistics Program, Northern Arizona University
Chapman’s ‘Pragmatics’ is one in a series of Modern Language-related textbooks published by Palgrave Macmillan that covers a variety of subjects, from ‘English Syntax and Argumentation’ to ‘Contact Languages: Pidgins and Creoles.’ Pragmatics as a field is concerned with the meaning behind verbal utterances, and this particular text examines the history and theories of pragmatics, as well as the degree to which it interrelates with other subfields of linguistics. Although its title is to-the-point and rather self-explanatory for those already familiar with linguistics, the focus of this book is not on pragmatics in general, but rather theoretical pragmatics, one of two distinct subfields (the other being social pragmatics). Chapman clearly articulates the book’s relevance for “…students taking undergraduate degree level courses in pragmatics or in linguistics more generally, but it should also be of use to postgraduate students in these areas and to researchers in linguistics and related disciplines who want to find out about what is currently going on in pragmatics” (p. vii).
Chapman’s chapters include an introduction that outlines what pragmatics is, the types of pragmatics that exist, how pragmatics is situated within the larger discipline of linguistics, and a structure of the book. She begins by emphasizing the interdisciplinarity of the field and discusses the difficulty in obtaining a concrete definition of pragmatics upon which all researchers can agree. Chapman illustrates the idea of pragmatics with an authentic example of a statement made by Roger Federer in the summer of 2008. With this example, the reader is able to understand the importance of context to production and comprehension. Chapman also mentions the unfavorable light in which pragmatics was once seen; for a time, it was considered by some linguists as the 'wastebasket of linguistics' (p. 11). She concludes the chapter with a detailed outline of the rest of the book.
Chapter Two, titled “Semantics and Pragmatics,” attempts to uncover the borderline between these two terms. Chapman claims that 'pragmatics is at least in part defined by how it relates to and what makes it distinct from semantics' (p. 19). Although the borderline is nebulous and oft debated, one of the distinguishing features is the difference between sentences and utterances, the former indicating semantic study and the latter indicating pragmatics. Similarly, linguists look at the distinction between grammaticality and acceptability. Also in this chapter, Chapman shows how logicians in the past attempted to explain language in terms of logic and truth conditionality. She notes that pragmatics challenges our typically learned notions of mood (e.g. interrogative, declarative, and imperative), and introduces the ideas of implicit and explicit messages and the gap between literal and intended meaning. Furthermore, she explains how the concepts of presupposition and entailment are involved in this particular analysis of language, and concludes with the idea of deixis (person, time, and place) as a factor that complicates the borderline of semantics and pragmatics.
Chapter Three, “History of Pragmatics,” follows the precursors of pragmatics, from Structuralism to Logical Positivism, Ordinary Language Philosophy, and the beginnings of pragmatics itself. At the root is Saussure's work in general language, making the separation between 'langue' and 'parole.' Charles Morris continued in the structuralist vein and introduced the word 'pragmatics,' although the term has developed a great deal since that time. Philosophers of language then analyzed production through a mathematical, scientific, and logical framework, seeking out the truth or falsity of sentences. This train of thought did not last long, however; in reaction to Logical Positivism, scholars posed the 'ordinary language philosophy,' led by J.L. Austin and Paul Grice, which began to recognize the importance of language in a naturalistic setting and believed language did more than simply make factual statements. Austin and Grice, although then seen as philosophers, are now known as the founders of modern pragmatics, and with their significant theories, the field became much closer to what it is today: context became an integral part of understanding meaning, the Journal of Pragmatics was established in 1977, computers altered language and its study, and pragmatics continued (and continues) to develop into a thriving academic discipline.
Chapter Four, “‘Classical’ Pragmatics,” focuses on the two separate but related theories that have had the greatest impact on pragmatics: Speech Act Theory and Implicature. As learned in the previous chapter, Austin and Grice made a significant impact on the field of pragmatics. Austin's Speech Act Theory claims that speech is 'performative,' in other words, that you can do things with speech. His locutionary act (i.e. what was actually said), illocutionary act (i.e. what the speaker hoped to achieve), and perlocutionary act (i.e. the consequences of the utterance) are staples in pragmatics. A student of Austin's, John Searle adopted much of Speech Act Theory in the 1970s, developing and expanding upon it. Others have done similarly, but Austin's and Searle's work remain fundamental.
The second theory focused upon in Chapter Four is that of Implicature. Implicature attempts to fill in the gaps in Speech Act Theory. Attributed to Paul Grice, Implicature works to describe the systematicity of the differences between literal speech and what speakers intend to convey in context. One of Grice's main tenets is that people involved in conversation work together toward successful communication. Within the newly coined 'cooperative principle,' Grice lays out a number of maxims with subcategories. The main maxims include the Category of Quantity, Category of Quality, Category of Relation, and Category of Manner. Grice's theories are far from universally believed; Chapman discusses much of the controversy in her subsection, ''Responses to Gricean Implicature.''
“Modern Pragmatics” follows, broadly categorizing three main lineages of thought: Neo-Gricean Pragmatics, Relevance Theory, and Semantic Autonomy and Pragmatic Intrusion. Neo-Gricean Pragmatics strives to reduce and simplify the number of maxims. Two prominent scholars to have done this were Horn, with his Q and R principles, and Levinson, with his Q, I, and M principles. On a different track, Relevance Theory, developed in the 1980s by Deirdre Wilson and Dan Sperber, seeks to describe what occurs cognitively through the production and interpretation of speech. Francois Recanati disagrees with both Neo-Griceans and Relevance Theorists; his work stems from some of John Searle's theories and forms another distinct strand of modern pragmatics.
Chapter Six illustrates the “Applications of Pragmatics,” such as in politeness, literature, language acquisition, clinical linguistics, and experimental pragmatics. Chapman stresses the real world applications of the field; it works cyclically in that we can both analyze real-life data and use our findings to instruct others in how to communicate most successfully in a social context. Politeness theory in particular has spilled over into sociolinguistics and second language teaching, and is crucial for positive encounters between people and cultures. Pragmatics can be studied both in a person's first and second (or additional) languages, and often it is pragmatics that is the most difficult and last aspect to be learned in a target language.
To conclude, Chapter Seven, “Pragmatics and Language in Context,” explicates the relationship between pragmatics and related subfields of [applied] linguistics. Applied linguists rarely attempt to parse out individual components of language even if they are able to. Those studying conversation analysis (CA), discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, or corpus linguistics, for instance, have all dealt with pragmatics at some point or another, and each of these subfields provides a frame from which to study pragmatics. Chapman describes this interconnectivity, wrapping up her text with a sense of the integral and stable role pragmatics plays in the study of [applied] linguistics.
‘Pragmatics’ not only gives an introduction to the field of pragmatics, but goes many steps further to delve into its origins, history, prominent scholars, theories, and collaborations with, relatedness to, and distinctness from other subfields of linguistics. With her overview of pragmatics and her real-life examples, Chapman creates an energy and enthusiasm in the reader upon reading Chapter One (Introduction). However, the remainder of the book, though informative, organized, and well-developed, tends to get bogged down in the typical register of a textbook, losing the exciting momentum created in the first few pages.
From the outset, Chapman lays out a clear structure to ‘Pragmatics.’ Not only does she visibly define how each of the chapters will function, she also seeks to clarify topics and definitions, such as the differences between social pragmatics and theoretical pragmatics. Likewise, she often refers to the ‘semantic/pragmatic borderline,’ the nebulous point at which semantics leaves off and pragmatics begins. In fact, Chapman’s ability to clarify concepts by comparing and contrasting them to others persists into later chapters as she discusses the major theories of pragmatics and their offshoots. This organized, often categorical-feeling approach with metalinguistic blurbs (e.g. “For these reasons we will have more to say about deixis, along with the other phenomena introduced in this chapter, throughout the rest of the book” [p.42]) serve to create an understanding of connectedness for the reader, not only insofar as how pieces and chapters of the book fit together, but also of the interrelatedness of pragmatic models and theories.
‘Pragmatics’ was written in a particular genre, with a specific audience in mind. It was not meant to hit the New York Times Best Seller list. Necessarily, the book’s evaluation is dependent on its appropriateness for this target audience. As for the first intended demographic, namely undergraduate students taking courses in pragmatics and/or linguistics, the text seems to more-or-less do its job—‘more-or-less’ because the content seems, at times, too difficult for undergraduates. However, Chapman does well to stretch the content across levels of difficulty, beginning with basics and building on them to greater abstractions. If used in a course, a professor could cater his or her use of the book to the students’ levels. Also, some of the difficult concepts, such as Relevance Theory, would presumably be further explained, discussed, and supplemented in class.
Considering the latter part of the stated demographic, researchers who intend to keep abreast of current issues in pragmatics, Chapman’s text only loosely satisfies this set of readers. Indeed, if ‘postgraduate students in these areas’ want to refresh their knowledge of pragmatics, skimming this book would surely be of use. However, to get more current information on work in pragmatics, researchers could easily find more appropriate material that gets into the specifics of up-to-date research without delving into the history behind pragmatic theories.
The level of comprehensibility that Chapman attains is, unfortunately, inconsistent. Some concepts are well-explained and exemplified, such as the construct of ‘mood’ (Section 2.4), but others are less so. Chapman’s explanation of Horn’s idea of scalar implicature with the Q-principle and its related testing by using cancellability and reinforcebility leave the reader with only somewhat of an understanding (such as the bath water temperature example on pages 92 and 93). Likewise, depending on their background knowledge in pragmatics, readers may still be fuzzy about the entire idea of Relevance Theory even after rereading the relevant sections multiple times.
Pragmatic theory must be grounded in examples in order to make sense to those less familiar with it. Chapman’s use of examples and their interpretations often, but not always, helps to clarify her explanations. Also, to supplement her accounts, Chapman concludes each chapter with a section on ‘further reading.’ Unlike many textbooks, the references are not merely listed. Instead, Chapman notes selected additional materials on specific subjects in paragraph form: “Contributions to the debate over the nature of conventional implicature include Bach (1994), Francescotti (1995), Rieber (1997), Barker (2003) and Vallee (2008). A broadly Gricean approach to figures of speech such as metaphor is adopted by Martinich (1984), but is challenged by Harnish (1976) and Davis (1998)” (p. 88). This succinct but explanatory approach to references leads the reader directly towards what he or she may wish to further investigate.
Further, Chapman enhances her text with a comprehensive glossary. One of the unstated yet valid aims of this text seems to be the acculturation of its readers into the terminology of pragmatics. When new terms are introduced, such as ‘implicature’ and ‘deixis,’ they are written in capital letters and then mapped onto the glossary. Notably missing from this glossary, however, is the actual term ‘pragmatics.’
Chapman includes exercises for students to complete in order to further reinforce explained ideas and theories. On page 127, she takes authentic excerpts (one from ‘Gaudy Night’ by Dorothy Sayers (1935) and one from George W. Bush’s final press conference) and asks readers how Horn’s Q- and R-Principles and Relevance Theory, respectively, would explain them. These examples serve to ground the seemingly abstract theories and make them relatable to real-life experiences, and consequently, to students. If used in class, a professor could choose to highlight specific examples, illustrate them in class, assign them as homework, or choose not to utilize them at all. Unfortunately, of the seven chapters in ‘Pragmatics,’ only Chapters Four and Five have prescribed exercises.
Perhaps Chapman’s most engaging chapter, next to the “Introduction,” is her last, “Pragmatics and Language in Context.” In this, she examines the fields related to pragmatics and how they compare and differ. By giving overviews of conversation analysis (CA), discourse analysis (DA), sociolinguistics, and corpus linguistics, she gave readers a map of the elements that deal with language in context and how they interweave to promote a more wholesome depiction of language at work. This chapter serves well as an ending, as Chapman began her text with the broad question of “What is pragmatics?,” zoomed in on the intricacies of the discipline, and finally, zooms back out to reestablish a perspective of interconnectedness.
The greatest strength of ‘Pragmatics’ is, simultaneously, its most disappointing weakness. While it has a number of appealing qualities as a textbook as well as some disadvantages (mentioned above), it is, at most, a typical textbook. It fits into the genre perfectly, giving both broad and specific information, introducing terminology and definitions, indicating areas for further reading, and providing examples for students to enhance their understanding. Its content duly covers an introduction to pragmatics, history and development of the field, past and current theories, researchers and their respective camps, and examples to better illustrate points. However, all this is done in a rather obligatory way, lacking the flair and enthusiasm that could certainly be played up in a text on this topic. Pragmatics is a vibrant, dynamic area of study, and by adhering to the rather dull, sterile textbook voice, Chapman does a disservice to those who are enthusiastic about pragmatics. Thus, if you are in need of a practical, comprehensive text to supplement a class or a broad reference from which to draw on areas of pragmatics, Chapman’s ‘Pragmatics’ should serve you well. However, if you are looking for a text that will inspire, pique, and sustain the interest of students in a required class or further stimulate students who already have a particular attraction to pragmatics, you should continue searching for something with much the same information but in a more engaging register.
Bach, K. (1994). Conversational implicature. Mind and Language, 9, 124-162.
Barker, S. (2003). Truth and conventional implicature. Mind, 112, 1-33.
Davis, W. (1998). Implicature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Francescotti, R. (1995). Even: The conventional implicature approach reconsidered. Linguistics and Philosophy, 18, 153-173.
Harnish, R. (1976). Logical form and implicature. In T.G. Bever, J.J. Katz, and D.T. Langendoen (Eds.) (1977) An Integrated Theory of Linguistic Ability (pp. 313-391). Hassocks: The Harvester Press.
Martinich, A.P. (1984). A theory of metaphor. Journal of Literary Semantics, 13(1), 35-56.
Rieber, S. (1997). Conventional implicatures as tacit performatives. Linguistics and Philosophy, 20, 51-72.
Vallee, R. (2008). Conventional implicature revisited. Journal of Pragmatics, 40, 407-430.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Meghan Moran is a doctoral student in Applied Linguistics at Northern
Arizona University. She received a Masters Degree from The Pennsylvania
State University in Teaching English as a Second Language in 2008, after
which she taught ESOL in a public school in western New York for two years.
She plans to focus her studies on Language Planning and Policy, and after
graduation, hopes to teach in a university setting.