LINGUIST List 12.2917

Wed Nov 21 2001

Review: Kasher, Pragmatics: Critical Concepts, Vol. V

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  • Maite Taboada, Review: Kasher, Pragmatics: Critical Concepts, vol. V

    Message 1: Review: Kasher, Pragmatics: Critical Concepts, vol. V

    Date: Wed, 21 Nov 2001 09:56:49 -0800
    From: Maite Taboada <>
    Subject: Review: Kasher, Pragmatics: Critical Concepts, vol. V

    Kasher, Asa, ed. (1998) Pragmatics: Critical Concepts, Volume V: Communication, Talk in Interaction, Discourse. Routledge, vi+490pp, hardback ISBN 0-415-16938-0, Routledge Critical Concepts series.

    Reviewed by Maite Taboada, Department of Linguistics, Simon Fraser University.

    This is the fourth of a projected set of six reviews of this anthology, one for each volume. Previous reviews can be found at: (Volume I) (Volume IV) (Volume VI)

    For the original announcement of the six volume set, see

    INTRODUCTION Pragmatics: Critical Concepts is a set of six volumes that cover most of the areas in pragmatics. Volume six contains three parts, each one including a number of articles, on Communication (eight articles), Talk in Interaction (four articles) and Discourse (six articles). The articles have all appeared before in print. (No publication information is provided in this volume; see the review of Volume I for the location of this information.) Some of them have been updated with postscripts. The first part of this review provides brief summaries of each of the articles in the book. The second part is an evaluation of the volume and, to a certain extent, of the collection.

    OVERVIEW Part Nine: Communication 75. Meaning, Communication and Representation. John R. Searle. In this paper, Searle furthers previous explorations, by himself and by Grice, on what it is for a speaker to mean something by an utterance. Searle believes that intentionality is crucial in the analysis of meaning. The speaker, in uttering something, intends to produce some effect on the hearer, i.e., the speaker intends to communicate. Communication is, then, a consequence of meaning.

    Unlike Grice, who thinks that speakers have the intention that hearers believe their utterances, Searle asserts that the only intention is that the hearer understand the utterance, i.e., an illocutionary act. The problem arises when a speaker produces an utterance, means it, and yet does not intend to produce understanding in the hearer. One such case is talking to somebody that we know is not paying attention, or talking to oneself, or even writing a diary. Searle solves the problem by postulating that those are defective instances of speech acts, with no illocutionary effect. (Or maybe the effect in writing a diary is to produce understanding in one's future self.)

    76. Reflections on Language. Noam Chomsky. In a response to Searle's (1972) criticism of his own views, Chomsky defends the validity of studying language structure without making reference to function, a position that Searle winnows as "pointless and perverse." Chomsky objects to Searle's identification of language and communication, pointing out too that there are situations where speaker meaning does not offer an insight into the literal meaning of what that speaker says. (No consideration is given to indirect speech acts.)

    Chomsky challenges Searle, and the group of "communication theorists," to show that communication is an essential function of language. If we classify talking to oneself as communication (as Searle does), then we must conclude that language is also a vehicle for expressing thought. This again raises the question of which function is primary, communication or the expression of thought. Chomsky's view is that communication is one function, by no means the essential one.

    Finally, and to address an objection by Strawson (1970), Chomsky disregards any importance attached to the public nature of language rules. We share rules of language, he says, as we share other cognitive abilities, for instance, the organization of a visual space, which also plays a role in successful communication. Chomsky seems to overlook here that we cannot choose not to see the world in terms of objects, but we can choose to bend, or even break, some of the language rules we share with others.

    77. Language Without Communication: A Case Study. Marion Blank, Myron Gessner and Anita Esposito. The authors reflect on the relationship of meaning and communication through the case study of a boy who can formulate correct, age-appropriate, utterances, but who fails to engage in communicative behaviour with anyone except his parents. Language development includes both a syntax-semantic and a pragmatic aspect, the authors argue. Those two seem to go alongside each other in normal children, but may not evolve in parallel in children with language disorders, which leads the authors to speculate that the two aspects might function independently of each other.

    78. Overcoming Inadequacies in the 'Message-model' of Linguistic Communication. Adrian Akmajian, Richard A. Demers and Robert M. Harnish. The 'Message Model' in the title refers to Shannon's (1948) and Shannon and Weaver's (1949) theory of communication. The theory is based on the concept of encoding and decoding of a message. The speaker is the transmitter, who has some message in mind. The speaker encodes that message and sends it across a channel. The message is then decoded by the receiver. Akmajian and colleagues expose a number of problems in this model. First of all, it identifies the message with the literal meaning of the words sent or received, thus preventing the explanation of non-literal uses of the language, such as irony or metaphor. Secondly, it assumes that both encoding and decoding of words take place in a linear and sequential manner. Although they do not propose an alternative, they provide evidence against a simplistic view of communication, one that many researchers do not hold any more.

    79. Precis of _Relevance: Communication and Cognition_. Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson. This is a summary of the 1986 book in which the authors explain their view of communication, a view based on Grice's (1975) maxims, reduced to one principle of relevance: that communicated intention comes with a guarantee of relevance. Every communicative act carries a presumption of optimal relevance, which involves a guarantee that (i) the communicative act is relevant enough to make it worthwhile for the hearer to process it, and (ii) the stimulus is the most relevant one available to the speaker. When processing utterances that are assumed to be relevant, the hearer interprets each utterance relative to the context, built for each utterance out of the logical form, implicatures and presuppositions.

    Communication can be achieved, it has been argued, by encoding and decoding messages (Shannon and Weaver's 1949 view, discussed earlier), or by providing evidence for the inferences to be drawn about the speaker's communicative intention. The two types of processes have traditionally been seen as exclusive of each other; one could conceive of communication as one or the other. Sperber and Wilson propose that both can be combined, especially in verbal communication.

    The final part of the paper is devoted to explaining how relevance accounts for poetic effects. Given a principle of relevance that is mindful of least effort, an utterance that has more implicatures (in the form of repetition, metaphor, irony, etc.), and therefore requires extra effort, will be justified because of the extra effect.

    80. Language and Communication. Michael Dummett. Dummett starts out this article by questioning what is the function of language. It is natural to think, he argues, that language has two primary functions: instrument of communication and vehicle of thought. But the question arises as to whether language is necessary for thoughts, or merely an epiphenomenon. He then abandons this distinction because the crucial question is what it is that we do with language. He then proposes a philosophy of language based on language use, a la Wittgenstein, that is, a description of the activity of using language.

    81. A Pragmatic Model for the Dynamics of Communication. Jef Verschueren. The author proposes a general framework of the discussion of pragmatics, here understood as a theory of linguistic adaptation or adaptability. Communicative dynamics comes in to explain that process of adaptation. Communicating, according to Verschueren, consists in making communicative choices. Those are to be understood as choices of variability (range of possible choices), negotiability (choices are not mechanical, or based on fixed rules), and adaptability (speakers and hearers make choices which satisfy their communicative needs). These three notions apply at the micro-level of small-scale interaction contexts, but also at the macro-level of synchronic and diachronic processes in society. The paper concentrates especially on the temporal dimension inherent in communication---a process that takes place over time. The paper ends with an example, which tries to illustrate that any encounter can be analyzed from a dynamic point of view. The illustration is, however, limited, as the author himself acknowledges. It is not clear how the analysis could be generalized to other interactions.

    82. Communication and Strategic Inference. Prashant Parikh. This paper presents the Strategic Discourse Model, a model of communication based on situation theory and game theory. The author tries to solve the problem of how to get from meaning to content. Situation theory (Barwise and Perry 1983) provides an account of context, and game theory (as developed by von Neumann and others) accounts for the behaviour of rational agents in context. The model lays out the tools for a systematic account of Gricean communication, including mutual knowledge and non-natural meaning.

    Part Ten: Talk In Interaction 83. A Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn- taking for Conversation. Harvey Sacks, Emanuel A. Schegloff and Gail Jefferson. The paper details the deceivingly simple rules for turn allocation in conversation. It first defines the unit necessary for the analysis of conversation, the Turn-Constructional Unit (TCU). Each speaker is entitled to at least one TCU, after each one comes the point where turn can be allocated to any of the participants, including the speaker herself---this is the Transitional Relevant Point (TRP). The rules account for conversations of any length, and with a number of participants (although there is a bias towards the two- person conversation, with conversations of four or more typically breaking up in smaller groups).

    The paper also introduces the notion of an adjacency pair, a first-part and second-part pair, in which the first part invites a preferred second part. Examples are sequences such as 'question-answer', 'greeting-greeting' (Schegloff and Sacks 1973).

    Conversation is defined as an interactionally and locally managed system. One effect of the application of the rules is that, for spontaneous conversation, they introduce a motivation for careful listening: the listener must pay attention in order to know when the next TRP will occur.

    84. The Preference for Self-correction in the Organization of Repair in Conversation. Emanuel A. Schegloff, Gail Jefferson and Harvey Sacks. Repair in conversation includes substitution of words (corrections), search for words, or clarifications. The authors work within the framework described in the previous paper, to show that there is, in conversation, a preference for the speaker to repair his or her own utterances (self-repair), rather than have them repaired by the interlocutor (other-repair). They also distinguish between repair initiation, and repair outcome, the latter being potentially unsuccessful. The paper details, with numerous real-life examples, the possible placements of self- and other-repair, and concludes that speakers tend to self-repair. Other-repair may also be used in particular contexts, especially adult-child interactions. In those contexts, other-repair seems to act as a device for dealing with a child that is learning how to operate in a system where self-repair is the preferred mode.

    85. Response Cries. Erving Goffman. "Utterances are not housed in paragraphs, but in turns at talk," Goffman states at the beginning of this paper, emphasizing that utterances are to be understood within the turn-taking system. He is interested here in three types of utterances that appear to produce communicative effects, but do not enter in the dialogue. The first type is self-talk, which breaches social rules because it does not qualify as communication. Goffman proposes a rule, "no talking to oneself in public." He discusses situations where one-sided talk is acceptable, such as talking on a public phone, or addressing a pet. This leads to the second type of utterances discussed, interjections emitted when one stumbles, or is surprised. These are not instances of ordinary talk either, because they are not part of a conversational encounter, or of the summoning of one. They are, however, not totally involuntary, and are subject to self-monitoring. When in a nursery, for instance, one might tone down an expression of surprise elsewhere expressed as a curse. Finally, he discusses response cries, vocalizations such as "oops" and "phew" that constitute ritualized acts in which we align ourselves with the circumstances of the world around us. But we also use them even when we are removed from the situation itself, as when a friend reports on something unpleasant or painful that happened to him or her, and we respond "ouch!". In this case, the response cry is part of the interaction, not removed from it.

    Goffman concludes that all three instances of expression are conventionalized and specifically designed to be used outside regular conversation. They can, however, enter in conversation, but always understood as originating from a ritual function. He challenges linguists to include social situations, not simply talk, in their study of conversation.

    86. Collectivities in Action: Establishing the Relevance of Conjoined Participation in Conversation. Gene H. Lerner. This paper explores multi-party conversation, especially the type of interactions that occur when a group participates in the conversation as a whole. For instance, the audience during a talk and the students in a classroom sometimes behave as one participant, for purposes of taking the floor (choral response) or producing backchannel cues (laughter, applause, booing). Lerner studies all the possibilities for addressing a group, and how the group can respond (in unison, through a speaker person, by conferring among themselves first). He observes how group interactions take turns according to the rules laid out by Sacks et al. (in the article discussed above).

    Part Eleven: Discourse 87. The Pragmatics of Discourse. Teun A. van Dijk. Postscript (1995): The New Pragmatics. Van Dijk defines the pragmatics of discourse as "the systematic relations between structures of text and context," which takes into account not only how certain discourse structures are determined by the situation, but also how discourse structures, when introduced in a conversation, become part of the context itself. In this chapter, he focuses on sequencing of sentences and speech acts, and the contextual conditions under which connectives (such as "and", "so", "because", "since", "therefore") can join two speech acts in one sentence. Typically, sentence boundaries represent the boundaries between speech acts. Sometimes, two speech acts can be accomplished in one sentence. For instance, "I'll give you the money, but you don't deserve it" contains both a promise and an assertion. A change in sentence is, however, required when there is a change in illocutionary force ("#It's cold in here and please shut the window").

    Van Dijk proposes pragmatics as the study of how we accomplish certain social acts, and he expands on that in the Postscript, produced for this volume a few years after the original paper. There, he reviews the definition of pragmatics and, especially, how the label has been used throughout the years. He discusses how pragmatics has overlapped with other disciplines such as sociolinguistics, the ethnography of communication, discourse and conversation analysis, and, much less, psycholinguistics. He dislikes that fuzziness of boundaries, and proposes a restriction of the term, to cover exclusively the study of action (parallel to the way syntax studies form and semantics is concerned with meaning). Nevertheless, pragmatics always needs to be discourse-based; one should not confine the study of speech acts to the sentence.

    88. Pragmatics and the Description of Discourse. Charles J. Fillmore. The paper constitutes another suggestion for an approach to the analysis of discourse. Fillmore considers that the concern of those studying discourse should not be either predictive or prescriptive, but rather descriptive of the competence of speakers in judging the appropriateness of utterances in context. Fillmore describes a type of narrative, in which neither author nor addressee are represented, and where the point of view can be associated with a character in the narrative. He shows how discourse type (also known as genre) places constraints on other syntactic and semantic choices, such as use of pronouns, personal names, type of verbs, etc.

    The article concludes that face-to-face conversation is the most basic type of discourse. By describing the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic characteristics of that type of discourse, we can further our understanding of how other types of discourse differ from it. However, we can discover the pragmatic conditions of that basic type of discourse by looking at other discourses that deviate from it.

    89. Generative Discourse Analysis in America. Susumo Kuno. The author describes the research in generative syntax in America at the time he was writing. He characterizes it as being either purely syntactic or primarily non-syntactic, with a lack of crossover between the two. He reviews some of the research up to that time that calls upon discourse factors to explain syntactic phenomena. In particular, Kuno summarizes the explanatory power of functional sentence perspective (FSP)---first outlined by Mathesius (1939), and developed by the Prague School---in sentence-level phenomena, such as gapping, pronominalization, and adverb position.

    90. Speech Acts, Discourse Structure and Pragmatic Connectives. Eddy Roulet. This paper presents a summary of Roulet's model of discourse, a hierarchical model according to which each conversation can be analyzed into exchanges, exchanges into moves, and moves into a master act, possibly with embedded exchanges, moves or acts. The relationships between the master act and the elements subordinated to it are indicated by pragmatic connectives. The model is very close to Sinclair and Coulthard's (1975) analyses, first applied to classroom interaction. His interactive relations are also close to rhetorical relations (Mann and Thompson 1988), which have also been studied in relation to discourse markers (Knott and Dale 1994).

    The analysis of speech acts in discourse, Roulet points out, has been illustrated in a few studies. He wants to take it one step further, and apply it monologic discourse, but from a point of view where the monologue is considered as part of an ongoing dialogue (Bakhtin 1981), i.e., as a move that constitutes part of an exchange, whether present or implicit. For instance, a newspaper editorial can be seen as a reactive move to some current issue, but also as an initiating move, inviting a response from the readers.

    91. Discourse Analysis: A Part of the Study of Linguistic Competence. Ellen F. Prince. "'Discourse analysis' is without doubt one of the most widely used and loosely defined terms in the entire field of linguistics." With this statement, Prince starts a discussion of the field of discourse analysis, and its scope. She believes that discourse analysis should be concerned, not with the utterance of words in context, but with the influence of context in linguistic form. And linguistic form refers to the competence of a speaker in his or her language (pragmatic linguistic competence), independently of other social or cultural norms.

    Prince studies some discourse functions in different languages (English and Yiddish, mainly), to show that the choice of linguistic expression in those has to be part of the linguistic competence of the speaker, something that is learnt with the language. For instance, she shows how, in the same context, English uses an it-cleft, whereas Yiddish uses a different construction. Thus, there is nothing iconic or cognitive determining the use of the it-cleft; it is rather a language-specific discourse constraint. The article concludes with a call to include this type of discourse analysis---the study of speakers' knowledge of how to use linguistic forms in discourse---as part of any theory of linguistic competence.

    92. On the Informativeness Requirement. Rachel Giora. Postscript (1995). Giora explains the informativeness constraint, which states that (narrative) texts proceed from a generalization to the most informative content, the Discourse Topic. This is based on Grice's (1975) maxims, and on Relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson 1986), with relevance being viewed here as informativeness. The author shows, with a number of experiments, that readers prefer texts where the most informative message occupies paragraph-final position. She compares this progression to the organization of categories (e.g. Rosch 1973). A text is organized like a category, going from the most typical member (the least informative message) to the least typical member (the most informative message). In the Postscript, Giora discusses her work after the paper, and how it has expanded the informativeness requirement to cover non- narrative texts, jokes, and irony.

    EVALUATION In my evaluation, I will try not to repeat what was said by previous reviewers of the collection, although I do agree with most of the comments they made. The evaluation is mainly concerned with two areas: the format of the volume and the series, and the choice and content of the articles in this volume.

    First of all, and with regard to format, the series is obviously conceived to be purchased as a set. The individual volumes do not have information on previous place and date of publication for each of the papers, and the introductions to the sections often make reference to other volumes in the series for further detail (for example, for biographical information about the authors). The individual volume felt like a bit of an orphan by itself, since it contained no general preface to the series, or an explanation of its place and relation to other volumes.

    [It was the review editors' decision to split up the anthology among five different reviewers, so that their experience will not be shared by many readers. However, anyone who borrows a single volume from a library will have something like their experience. --Eds.]

    Within the volume itself, it is difficult to browse the articles, because the running header is the same for each part (i.e., the only headers are "Communication", "Talk in Interaction", "Discourse"). It would have been really useful to add an index to each volume, although I acknowledge this would have been a colossal task, on top of what must have been an enormous effort of selection and compilation of the articles.

    The editor provides very little information on the choice of particular papers for the collection, except to say that they are "major contributions" (we assume that is the reason they were chosen for the collection). The introductions are uninformative about the choice of articles, and are uneven with respect to the biographical information provided for each author. The articles in the Communication section do not seem to relate nicely to each other, except for the debate between Searle and Chomsky. Dummett's article was probably chosen because it mentions language and communication. The article, however, is not the best example of a discussion of communication; it is a proposal for what philosophy of language should concentrate on. There is no unifying definition of communication, and the differing definitions are not presented in a way so that they can be contrasted or compared. One also finds a gap in the lack of discussion of animal communication.

    Part Ten, Talk in Interaction, on the other hand, is more coherent because the four papers describe work within the same framework, of conversation analysis and interactional sociolinguistics.

    The papers in the last part, Discourse Analysis, do represent a good cross-section of the work being done on discourse analysis (albeit, of course, not an exhaustive compilation). It is interesting to note how all the papers have some programmatic aspect: they all attempt to define and characterize discourse analysis. The authors propose objects of study and methodologies for the area. This is probably a reflection of the wide scope of the field, and also a result of the vagueness---polysemy at best---of the term "discourse." It is also a clear indication that there is no consensus, among linguists, about what it is that the study of discourse needs to include, and its relation to pragmatics (the section on discourse analysis is a very small part of a six-volume series on pragmatics).

    In all, the collection is welcome from an aesthetic and practical point of view, since it provides a very nice binding for important articles in the field. Lengthier introductions and an index would have given it added value.

    REFERENCES Bakhtin, M. (1981) Discourse in the Novel. In Michael Holquist (ed.) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin. Austin: University of Texas Press. Translated by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. 259-422.

    Barwise, J. and J. Perry (1983) Situations and Attitudes. Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Grice, P. H. (1975) Logic and Conversation. In P. Cole and J. Morgan (eds.) Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts. New York: Academic Press.

    Knott, A. and R. Dale (1994) Using Linguistic Phenomena to Motivate a Set of Coherence Relations. Discourse Processes 18 (1): 35-62.

    Mann, W. and S. Thompson (1988) Rhetorical Structure Theory: Toward a Functional Theory of Text Organization. Text 8 (3): 243-281.

    Mathesius, V. (1939) On Information-Bearing Structure of the Sentence. Harvard Studies in Syntax and Semantics 1.

    Rosch, E. (1973) On the internal structure of perceptual and semantic categories. In T. E. Moore (ed.) Cognitive Development and the Acquisition of Language. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum: 27-48.

    Schegloff, E. and Sacks, H. (1973) Opening Up Closings. Semiotica 8: 289-327.

    Searle, J. (1972) Chomsky's Revolution in Linguistics. New York Review of Books. June 29.

    Shannon, C. (1948) A mathematical theory of Communication. Bell System Technical Journal, vol. 27, pp. 379-423 and 623-656.

    Shannon, C. and W. Weaver (1949) The Mathematical Theory of Communication. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

    Sinclair, J. and M. Coulthard (1975) Towards an Analysis of Discourse: The English Used by Teachers and Pupils. London: OUP.

    Sperber, D. and D. Wilson (1986) Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Blackwell: Oxford.

    Strawson, P. (1970) Meaning and Truth. Inaugural Lecture, University of Oxford, November 5, 1969. London: OUP.

    ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Maite Taboada is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics at Simon Fraser University. She works on discourse and computational linguistics.