LINGUIST List 23.3071

Mon Jul 16 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics; Pragmatics: Chapman (2011)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 20-Feb-2012
From: Meghan Moran <>
Subject: Pragmatics
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AUTHOR: Siobhan ChapmanTITLE: PragmaticsSERIES TITLE: Palgrave Modern LinguisticsPUBLISHER: Palgrave MacmillanYEAR: 2011

Meghan Kerry Moran, Doctoral Student in the Department of English, AppliedLinguistics Program, Northern Arizona University


Chapman’s ‘Pragmatics’ is one in a series of Modern Language-related textbookspublished by Palgrave Macmillan that covers a variety of subjects, from ‘EnglishSyntax 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, aswell 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 alreadyfamiliar with linguistics, the focus of this book is not on pragmatics ingeneral, but rather theoretical pragmatics, one of two distinct subfields (theother being social pragmatics). Chapman clearly articulates the book’srelevance for “…students taking undergraduate degree level courses in pragmaticsor in linguistics more generally, but it should also be of use to postgraduatestudents in these areas and to researchers in linguistics and relateddisciplines 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, thetypes of pragmatics that exist, how pragmatics is situated within the largerdiscipline of linguistics, and a structure of the book. She begins byemphasizing the interdisciplinarity of the field and discusses the difficulty inobtaining a concrete definition of pragmatics upon which all researchers canagree. Chapman illustrates the idea of pragmatics with an authentic example of astatement made by Roger Federer in the summer of 2008. With this example, thereader is able to understand the importance of context to production andcomprehension. Chapman also mentions the unfavorable light in which pragmaticswas once seen; for a time, it was considered by some linguists as the'wastebasket of linguistics' (p. 11). She concludes the chapter with a detailedoutline of the rest of the book.

Chapter Two, titled “Semantics and Pragmatics,” attempts to uncover theborderline between these two terms. Chapman claims that 'pragmatics is at leastin 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 thedistinguishing features is the difference between sentences and utterances, theformer indicating semantic study and the latter indicating pragmatics.Similarly, linguists look at the distinction between grammaticality andacceptability. Also in this chapter, Chapman shows how logicians in the pastattempted to explain language in terms of logic and truth conditionality. Shenotes that pragmatics challenges our typically learned notions of mood (e.g.interrogative, declarative, and imperative), and introduces the ideas ofimplicit and explicit messages and the gap between literal and intended meaning.Furthermore, she explains how the concepts of presupposition and entailment areinvolved in this particular analysis of language, and concludes with the idea ofdeixis (person, time, and place) as a factor that complicates the borderline ofsemantics and pragmatics.

Chapter Three, “History of Pragmatics,” follows the precursors of pragmatics,from Structuralism to Logical Positivism, Ordinary Language Philosophy, and thebeginnings of pragmatics itself. At the root is Saussure's work in generallanguage, making the separation between 'langue' and 'parole.' Charles Morriscontinued in the structuralist vein and introduced the word 'pragmatics,'although the term has developed a great deal since that time. Philosophers oflanguage then analyzed production through a mathematical, scientific, andlogical framework, seeking out the truth or falsity of sentences. This train ofthought did not last long, however; in reaction to Logical Positivism, scholarsposed the 'ordinary language philosophy,' led by J.L. Austin and Paul Grice,which began to recognize the importance of language in a naturalistic settingand believed language did more than simply make factual statements. Austin andGrice, although then seen as philosophers, are now known as the founders ofmodern pragmatics, and with their significant theories, the field became muchcloser to what it is today: context became an integral part of understandingmeaning, the Journal of Pragmatics was established in 1977, computers alteredlanguage and its study, and pragmatics continued (and continues) to develop intoa thriving academic discipline.

Chapter Four, “‘Classical’ Pragmatics,” focuses on the two separate but relatedtheories that have had the greatest impact on pragmatics: Speech Act Theory andImplicature. As learned in the previous chapter, Austin and Grice made asignificant impact on the field of pragmatics. Austin's Speech Act Theory claimsthat speech is 'performative,' in other words, that you can do things withspeech. His locutionary act (i.e. what was actually said), illocutionary act(i.e. what the speaker hoped to achieve), and perlocutionary act (i.e. theconsequences of the utterance) are staples in pragmatics. A student of Austin's,John Searle adopted much of Speech Act Theory in the 1970s, developing andexpanding upon it. Others have done similarly, but Austin's and Searle's workremain 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 toPaul Grice, Implicature works to describe the systematicity of the differencesbetween literal speech and what speakers intend to convey in context. One ofGrice's main tenets is that people involved in conversation work together towardsuccessful communication. Within the newly coined 'cooperative principle,'Grice lays out a number of maxims with subcategories. The main maxims includethe Category of Quantity, Category of Quality, Category of Relation, andCategory of Manner. Grice's theories are far from universally believed; Chapmandiscusses much of the controversy in her subsection, ''Responses to GriceanImplicature.''

“Modern Pragmatics” follows, broadly categorizing three main lineages ofthought: Neo-Gricean Pragmatics, Relevance Theory, and Semantic Autonomy andPragmatic Intrusion. Neo-Gricean Pragmatics strives to reduce and simplify thenumber of maxims. Two prominent scholars to have done this were Horn, with his Qand R principles, and Levinson, with his Q, I, and M principles. On a differenttrack, Relevance Theory, developed in the 1980s by Deirdre Wilson and DanSperber, seeks to describe what occurs cognitively through the production andinterpretation of speech. Francois Recanati disagrees with both Neo-Griceans andRelevance Theorists; his work stems from some of John Searle's theories andforms another distinct strand of modern pragmatics.

Chapter Six illustrates the “Applications of Pragmatics,” such as in politeness,literature, language acquisition, clinical linguistics, and experimentalpragmatics. Chapman stresses the real world applications of the field; it workscyclically in that we can both analyze real-life data and use our findings toinstruct others in how to communicate most successfully in a social context.Politeness theory in particular has spilled over into sociolinguistics andsecond language teaching, and is crucial for positive encounters between peopleand cultures. Pragmatics can be studied both in a person's first and second (oradditional) languages, and often it is pragmatics that is the most difficult andlast aspect to be learned in a target language.

To conclude, Chapter Seven, “Pragmatics and Language in Context,” explicates therelationship between pragmatics and related subfields of [applied] linguistics.Applied linguists rarely attempt to parse out individual components of languageeven if they are able to. Those studying conversation analysis (CA), discourseanalysis, sociolinguistics, or corpus linguistics, for instance, have all dealtwith pragmatics at some point or another, and each of these subfields provides aframe from which to study pragmatics. Chapman describes this interconnectivity,wrapping up her text with a sense of the integral and stable role pragmaticsplays in the study of [applied] linguistics.


‘Pragmatics’ not only gives an introduction to the field of pragmatics, but goesmany steps further to delve into its origins, history, prominent scholars,theories, and collaborations with, relatedness to, and distinctness from othersubfields of linguistics. With her overview of pragmatics and her real-lifeexamples, Chapman creates an energy and enthusiasm in the reader upon readingChapter One (Introduction). However, the remainder of the book, thoughinformative, organized, and well-developed, tends to get bogged down in thetypical register of a textbook, losing the exciting momentum created in thefirst few pages.

From the outset, Chapman lays out a clear structure to ‘Pragmatics.’ Not onlydoes she visibly define how each of the chapters will function, she also seeksto clarify topics and definitions, such as the differences between socialpragmatics and theoretical pragmatics. Likewise, she often refers to the‘semantic/pragmatic borderline,’ the nebulous point at which semantics leavesoff and pragmatics begins. In fact, Chapman’s ability to clarify concepts bycomparing and contrasting them to others persists into later chapters as shediscusses the major theories of pragmatics and their offshoots. This organized,often categorical-feeling approach with metalinguistic blurbs (e.g. “For thesereasons we will have more to say about deixis, along with the other phenomenaintroduced in this chapter, throughout the rest of the book” [p.42]) serve tocreate an understanding of connectedness for the reader, not only insofar as howpieces and chapters of the book fit together, but also of the interrelatednessof pragmatic models and theories.

‘Pragmatics’ was written in a particular genre, with a specific audience inmind. 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 targetaudience. As for the first intended demographic, namely undergraduate studentstaking courses in pragmatics and/or linguistics, the text seems to more-or-lessdo its job—‘more-or-less’ because the content seems, at times, too difficult forundergraduates. However, Chapman does well to stretch the content across levelsof difficulty, beginning with basics and building on them to greaterabstractions. If used in a course, a professor could cater his or her use of thebook to the students’ levels. Also, some of the difficult concepts, such asRelevance Theory, would presumably be further explained, discussed, andsupplemented in class.

Considering the latter part of the stated demographic, researchers who intend tokeep abreast of current issues in pragmatics, Chapman’s text only looselysatisfies this set of readers. Indeed, if ‘postgraduate students in these areas’want to refresh their knowledge of pragmatics, skimming this book would surelybe of use. However, to get more current information on work in pragmatics,researchers could easily find more appropriate material that gets into thespecifics of up-to-date research without delving into the history behindpragmatic theories.

The level of comprehensibility that Chapman attains is, unfortunately,inconsistent. Some concepts are well-explained and exemplified, such as theconstruct of ‘mood’ (Section 2.4), but others are less so. Chapman’s explanationof Horn’s idea of scalar implicature with the Q-principle and its relatedtesting by using cancellability and reinforcebility leave the reader with onlysomewhat of an understanding (such as the bath water temperature example onpages 92 and 93). Likewise, depending on their background knowledge inpragmatics, readers may still be fuzzy about the entire idea of Relevance Theoryeven after rereading the relevant sections multiple times.

Pragmatic theory must be grounded in examples in order to make sense to thoseless familiar with it. Chapman’s use of examples and their interpretationsoften, but not always, helps to clarify her explanations. Also, to supplementher accounts, Chapman concludes each chapter with a section on ‘furtherreading.’ Unlike many textbooks, the references are not merely listed. Instead,Chapman notes selected additional materials on specific subjects in paragraphform: “Contributions to the debate over the nature of conventional implicatureinclude Bach (1994), Francescotti (1995), Rieber (1997), Barker (2003) andVallee (2008). A broadly Gricean approach to figures of speech such as metaphoris adopted by Martinich (1984), but is challenged by Harnish (1976) and Davis(1998)” (p. 88). This succinct but explanatory approach to references leads thereader directly towards what he or she may wish to further investigate.

Further, Chapman enhances her text with a comprehensive glossary. One of theunstated yet valid aims of this text seems to be the acculturation of itsreaders into the terminology of pragmatics. When new terms are introduced, suchas ‘implicature’ and ‘deixis,’ they are written in capital letters and thenmapped onto the glossary. Notably missing from this glossary, however, is theactual term ‘pragmatics.’

Chapman includes exercises for students to complete in order to furtherreinforce explained ideas and theories. On page 127, she takes authenticexcerpts (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-Principlesand Relevance Theory, respectively, would explain them. These examples serve toground the seemingly abstract theories and make them relatable to real-lifeexperiences, and consequently, to students. If used in class, a professor couldchoose to highlight specific examples, illustrate them in class, assign them ashomework, or choose not to utilize them at all. Unfortunately, of the sevenchapters in ‘Pragmatics,’ only Chapters Four and Five have prescribed exercises.

Perhaps Chapman’s most engaging chapter, next to the “Introduction,” is herlast, “Pragmatics and Language in Context.” In this, she examines the fieldsrelated to pragmatics and how they compare and differ. By giving overviews ofconversation analysis (CA), discourse analysis (DA), sociolinguistics, andcorpus linguistics, she gave readers a map of the elements that deal withlanguage in context and how they interweave to promote a more wholesomedepiction of language at work. This chapter serves well as an ending, as Chapmanbegan her text with the broad question of “What is pragmatics?,” zoomed in onthe intricacies of the discipline, and finally, zooms back out to reestablish aperspective of interconnectedness.

The greatest strength of ‘Pragmatics’ is, simultaneously, its most disappointingweakness. While it has a number of appealing qualities as a textbook as well assome disadvantages (mentioned above), it is, at most, a typical textbook. Itfits 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 contentduly covers an introduction to pragmatics, history and development of the field,past and current theories, researchers and their respective camps, and examplesto better illustrate points. However, all this is done in a rather obligatoryway, lacking the flair and enthusiasm that could certainly be played up in atext on this topic. Pragmatics is a vibrant, dynamic area of study, and byadhering to the rather dull, sterile textbook voice, Chapman does a disserviceto those who are enthusiastic about pragmatics. Thus, if you are in need of apractical, comprehensive text to supplement a class or a broad reference fromwhich to draw on areas of pragmatics, Chapman’s ‘Pragmatics’ should serve youwell. However, if you are looking for a text that will inspire, pique, andsustain the interest of students in a required class or further stimulatestudents who already have a particular attraction to pragmatics, you shouldcontinue searching for something with much the same information but in a moreengaging 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 approachreconsidered. Linguistics and Philosophy, 18, 153-173.

Harnish, R. (1976). Logical form and implicature. In T.G. Bever, J.J. Katz, andD.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. Linguisticsand Philosophy, 20, 51-72.

Vallee, R. (2008). Conventional implicature revisited. Journal of Pragmatics,40, 407-430.


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.

Page Updated: 16-Jul-2012