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Fri Jul 13 2007

Review: Pragmatics: Huang (2007)

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Message 1: Review: Pragmatics: Huang (2007)
Date: 13-Jul-2007
From: Randall Eggert <>
Subject: Review: Pragmatics: Huang (2007)

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AUTHOR: Huang, Yan TITLE: Pragmatics PUBLISHER: Oxford Textbooks in Linguistics, Oxford University Press YEAR: 2007

Stacia Levy, University of the Pacific

DESCRIPTION The goal of this book is to provide an introduction to pragmatics, the study of language in use, including its central topics, history, and latest research. It opens with the history of pragmatics from Aristotle to the present and relates the subject to other linguistic topics, such as semantics, syntax, and sociolinguistics. After the introduction, the book is divided into two parts: Part One addresses the history of traditional theories of conversation, while Part Two explores current research on this topic and relates it to other fields of inquiry. All chapters in the book end with essay questions, key concepts, and suggested further readings. The intended audience is advanced undergraduate or graduate students.

Chapter 1 Introduction The introduction gives a definition and history of pragmatics and introduces its two basic schools of thought, Anglo-American and Continental. Huang approaches the book from the Anglo-American perspective, seeing this view as more focused and productive compared to the broader Continental perspective. The chapter also gives a rationale for the field of pragmatics and some of its basic concepts, such as , utterance, proposition, context, truth value, and truth condition. It also sets up the organization of the rest of the book.

Part 1 Central Topics in Pragmatics Chapter 2 Implicature In this chapter, the author traces the development of the concept of implicature. Originating with Grice, implicature is a central topic in pragmatics. The author, in this chapter, discusses a "Gricean pragmatic theory" (cf. Grice 1989), which is based largely on implicature and Grice's theory of meaning, setting up a difference between "meaning" in the external world and "meaning" in the linguistic world, which is related to the underlying intentions of utterances and the understanding of those intentions. Conversation is based on an underlying principle, according to Grice, which he called "the cooperative principle" and was divided into nine maxims of conversation related to quality, quantity, relation, and manner. Also addressed in this chapter are "neo-Gricean" theories," which attempt to minimize and simplify these principles. The author ends this chapter with a discussion of conventional implicature, also originating with Grice, which addresses meaning conventionally assigned to utterances: e.g. in "He is poor but honest," "but" is assigned a role conventionally implicating contrast, as opposed to conversational implicature, which is based not on such conventions but on principles of cooperation. Current attempts to relate Gricean pragmatic theory to other linguistic theories, such as accommodation theory (Thomason, 1990) and speech act theory (Vanderveken, 2002; Martinich, 1984) are also addressed.

Chapter 3 Presupposition Huang defines presupposition as "an inference or proposition whose truth is taken for granted in the utterance of a sentence" (p. 65), giving as an example, "The king of France is/isn't bald" presupposes there is a king of France (p. 65). Some of the properties of presupposition the chapter addresses are constancy under negation and defeasibility or cancelability. Huang notes there have been no cross-linguistic studies of presupposition, and while it is reasonable to assume that many of its properties are universal, there also may be language-specific ones.

Chapter 4 Speech Act Theory Huang begins this chapter with a history of speech act theory and a definition: "the central tenet of speech act theory is that the uttering of a sentence is, or is part of, an action within the framework of social institutions and conventions" (p 93). Speech acts are used to do things or get things done: e.g., "I christen/name this ship the Princess Elizabeth"; "I pronounce you man/husband and wife," and "I sentence you to ten years in prison" (p. 95). Other examples are "good morning," and "Put the car in the garage, please" (p. 94). They are language routines we use to do things or get others to do things, and they are largely routine and conventionalized. Different kinds of speech acts as well as a discussion of politeness are also addressed.

Chapter 5 Descriptive Analysis of Deixis This chapter defines deixis "as the phenomenon whereby features of context of utterance or speech event are encoded by lexical and/or grammatical means in a language" (p. 132). The rest of the chapter is devoted to analyzing deixis and its features "demonstratives... pronouns... tense markers... adverbs of time and space and... motion verbs" (p. 133). Deixis is a language universal necessary to meet communication demands. Addressed in the chapter are basic categories of deixis, such as person, time, and space, across languages.

Part 2 Pragmatics and Its Interfaces Chapter 6 Pragmatics and Cognition Huang's discussion of the interface between pragmatics and cognition centers on relevance theory; "the central thesis of the theory is that the human cognitive system works in such a way as to tend to maximize relevance with respect to communication" (p. 182). The communicative principles of relevance are addressed: the code model, which involves the coding and decoding of messages, and the inferential model, which involves more the underlying meaning of messages. Huang finds the code model inadequate, based as it is on the assumption that human language is a code of thoughts to sounds. He argues there is more to a message than its semantic representation, such as inference and the audience's recognition of the speaker's intended meaning: "According to the inferential model, communication is achieved by expressing and recognizing intentions" (p. 186). He revisits the topic of implicature here and the divide between what is said and what is implicated and how we resolve ambiguity in language by such methods as use of real world knowledge (e.g. in the sentence "Fried eggs should be cooked properly and if there are frail or elderly people in the house, they should be hard-boiled" (p. 185), real-world knowledge informs us that "they" refers to "eggs" not "frail or elderly people," even though the latter is actually the grammatical antecedent). This chapter also addresses the role of pragmatics in explicature, or what is actually said. Finally, in this chapter recent views on pragmatics as a submodel of the "theory of the mind" are noted.

Chapter 7 Pragmatics and Semantics Huang notes there is a recognition that the link between semantics and pragmatics is strong, both fields being concerned with language and meaning. In fact, it is so strong that some linguists refuse to distinguish between the two: they hold the view of semantic reductionism, that "pragmatics should be entirely reduced to semantics," and the opposing view, that of pragmatic reductionism, that "semantics is wholly included in pragmatics" (p. 210). A complementarist view, however, is more widely accepted and sees the two fields as "complementary though distinct subdisciplines" (p. 211). Huang addresses the ways in which the two fields may be distinguished from each other as well as discussing the views of different theorists on the topic.

Chapter 8 Pragmatics and Syntax In the final chapter, Huang considers the interface between pragmatics and syntax, in particular considering anaphora, or the relation between two language elements, such as a pronoun and its antecedent. Chomsky's view of language, i.e., that it is innate to humans and we are born equipped to acquire it, is discussed as well as his binding theory, the theory that certain linguistic features, such as pronominals and noun phrases, are either "bound" or "free" to other linguistic features. Problems with this theory are discussed, such as how it may be applied cross-linguistically, and a revision of the theory is presented.

EVALUATION Although supposedly an introductory text for an undergraduate audience, this book would be difficult for anyone without some, or perhaps extensive, prior training in linguistics. I found it at times obscure, due to the highly technical language, symbols, and abstract concepts, and much of the book required a second or even third reading to really comprehend the material. As an example, while the term "presupposition" is clearly defined at the outset of Chapter Three, "implicature," as far as I can tell, is never defined in Chapter Two, the chapter devoted to it. It is later revisited in Chapter Six, where it is defined in the context of that chapter's topic, pragmatics and relevance theory, as a "communicated assumption derivable solely via pragmatic inference" (p. 194). Also, the book is heavy with the jargon, acronyms, and symbols particular to the field.

However, the book is very thorough in its coverage of topics within the field. Mindful of its student audience, it also has extensive study questions, examples, and glossaries. My overall impression is that it is a valuable textbook to anyone in the field of pragmatics, but may be too difficult for its intended audience of students to follow without heavy guidance from a more experienced scholar.

REFERENCES Grice, H.P. (1989). Studies in the way of words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Martinich, A. P. (1984). Communication and reference. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Thomason, Richmond H. (1990). Accommodation, meaning, and implicature: interdisciplinary foundations for pragmatics. In Cohen, P.R., Morgan, J., and Pollack, M.E. (eds.) Intention in communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 325-64.

Vanderveken, Daniel. (2002). Universal grammar and speech act theory. In Vanderveken, D. and Kubo, S. (eds.) Essays in speech act theory. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 25-62.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Stacia Levy is an English and education professor at the University of California, Davis, and University of the Pacific. She completed her doctorate at the University of the Pacific. Her dissertation examines the vocabulary patterns found in college student and professional writing. Her areas of research interest include academic writing instruction, adolescent literacy, and vocabulary acquisition.