LINGUIST List 28.2322

Thu May 25 2017

Review: Pragmatics; Sociolinguistics: Bianchi, Gesuato (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 10-Jan-2017
From: Dongmei Cheng <>
Subject: Pragmatic Issues in Specialized Communicative Contexts
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Francesca Bianchi
EDITOR: Sara Gesuato
TITLE: Pragmatic Issues in Specialized Communicative Contexts
SERIES TITLE: Utrecht Studies in Language & Communication
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Dongmei Cheng, Texas A&M University

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Pragmatic knowledge, an important component of language knowledge, deals with how utterances, sentences, and texts are related to language users’ communicative goals and contexts (Bachman & Palmer, 1996). Following this definition of pragmatic knowledge, this edited collection presents the application of pragmatic analysis in a wide range of communicative settings, including interpreting, scholarly discourse, scripted conversations, and classroom contexts. To benefit practitioners in the field, the contributors also highlight the relevance of pragmatic analysis to second/foreign language pedagogies.

The book is divided into four parts, with each part focusing on one general category of communicative context. Part 1 (Chapter 1-3) addresses challenges faced by interpreters when handling different communicative goals in interpreter training, healthcare interpretations, and talk show interpretations. Beginning with a discussion on the notion of “Pragmatic Dark” (i.e., interpreters’ failure to manage pragmatic devices while trying to translate a given speech), Chapter 1 by Emanuele Brambilla presents examples from the translations of ten speeches by David Cameron, as well as a model for interpreter training, which focuses on argument schemes. Brambilla argues that more pragmatically accurate interpretations can be achieved by training interpreters to pay close attention to argument schemes used in political speeches. Chapter 2 by Federico Farini uses conversation analysis to examine the coordinating role of interpreters in healthcare communication between doctors and foreign patients. Results showed that interpreters are actually active participants in healthcare communication and influence the way foreign patients are treated by their doctors, depending upon whether or not their emotions are heard by the doctors through the interpreters. Farini urges all training programs to consider including awareness training of interpreters in health care institutions to better accommodate foreign patients’ emotional needs. Chapter 3 by Eugenia Dal Fovo outlines a training course for talk show interpreters. Given the uniqueness of talk show interpretations, the interpreters need to be aware of their specific role and behavior, including treating each talk show interpretation as a performance, serving as discourse resources for entertaining purposes by allowing host and guests to pick on their verbal and nonverbal behaviors, as well as adjusting to their multiple discourse identities. The trainees in this course also participated in a role-play experiment, in which they simulated the interpreters’ roles in a talk-show interview and discussed their own performances in a follow-up analysis.

Part 2 (Chapter 4-6) investigates the pragmatic issues in scholarly contexts, including TED talks, archaeology book reviews, and email requests made by faculty and students. Chapter 4 by Antonio Compagnone compares pragmatic features of TED talks with those of university lectures found in the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE). Findings showed that TED talks utilize different pragmatic features compared to university lectures in that they place more emphasis on establishing the speakers’ credentials through an audience-exclusive first person pronoun ‘we’ and mental verbs like ‘see’ and ‘know’. Results from this case study shed light on the pragmatic devices used in a web-mediated spoken academic discourse, a new genre that has rarely been examined in previous pragmatic studies. Chapter 5 by Daniela Cesiri evaluates praise and criticism in archaeology book reviews published in a renowned journal. Corpus analysis results indicated a balance between praise and criticism demonstrated by archaeologists in composing book reviews, with negative appraisals often mitigated. The discipline of archaeology has rarely been studied in previous linguistic analyses; therefore, conclusions about the rhetorical structures used by archeologists can be useful to both students and teachers in English for Archeology. Chapter 6 by Phoenix Lam is a case study on academic email requests, comparing features of such requests made by faculty and by students from a Hong Kong university. While faculty members are shown to use more standardized request forms, students utilize a range of choices in terms of formality, sentence structures and word choices. Lam proposes a data-driven approach at the end of the chapter to raise students’ awareness in making more appropriate email requests in academic settings.

Part 3 (Chapter 7-8) explores the function of film dialogues in learners’ development of pragmatic abilities. Chapter 7 by Silvia Bruti discusses a multimodal approach in using audiovisual texts from films in an EFL classroom. Two conversational routines, namely compliments and insults, were focused in analyzing different film clips. The author argues for the benefits of incorporating nonlinguistic channels (e.g., camera shot descriptions, kinesics and proxemics) in analyzing conversational routines. Through such multimodal analysis of film transcripts, the author hopes to highlight the importance of both pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic aspects of the two conversational routines. Chapter 8 by Chiara Zamborlin analyzes the comical techniques used by Italian comedian and movie director Roberto Benigni in teaching intercultural humor to students in a Japanese university. Survey results from students showed that humor appears to be operationalized differently in Italian and in Japanese culture. While humor in Italian is more universal and permeates people’s daily lives, it is only believed to be handled well by professionals in Japan. Contexts were also shown to be different in the utilization of humor in the West and in Japan. While humor is widely used in different aspects of Western society, including politics, it is an untouched subject in some domains in Japan (e.g., jokes about the Imperial Family do not exist.)

Part 4 (Chapter 9-10) targets pragmatic instruction in foreign language classrooms. Through an investigation of textual pragmatic markers in three languages utilized by students in a multilingual classroom, Chapter 9 by Sofía Martín-Laguna provides evidence for pragmatic multicompetence, meaning that learners can transfer useful pragmatic knowledge from one language they know to another through establishing relationships among multiple languages in their linguistic repertoire. Such positive transfer in pragmatics lends support to the importance of multilingual education. In Chapter 10, Thorsten Schröter describes an undergraduate course in a Swedish university and shares information on the teaching of pragmatics in a college EFL classroom. A small research assignment from this course was described, with the following pragmatic features examined in detail: expletives as a solidarity signal (e.g., swearwords), humor and gender, as well as perceptions of non-standard usage. Classroom observation report like this offers useful pedagogical information for classes in other similar contexts.


The articles in this volume have covered a range of communicative contexts. This wide scope, especially the inclusion of the interpreting contexts, which are rarely covered in previous pragmatic studies, will be welcomed by researchers in pragmatics, applied linguistics, and other related fields. Another highlight of this book is the inclusion of pedagogical implications at the end of each chapter. The importance and usefulness of pragmatic instruction has long been recognized in the field (e.g., Cohen, 2008; Jeon & Kaya, 2006; Kasper & Roever, 2005; Kasper & Rose, 1999, 2002; Rose, 2005; Takahashi, 2010a, 2010b; Taguchi, 2011, 2015); however, the application of pragmatic theories is still rarely seen in teacher education programs (Ishihara & Cohen, 2010). A great contribution of this book is that in addition to its research focus on contextualized pragmatic analysis, it also provides teachers in English as a Second/Foreign (ESL/EFL) programs and English for Specific Purposes (ESP) programs with concrete and research-based materials to use in delivering pragmatic instructions.

Each of the four parts of the book offers helpful suggestions for practitioners in different content areas. Part 1 connects pragmatic theories with the field of interpretation. The famous Chinese translator Yan Fu established the triple translation criteria, namely faithfulness, fluency and elegance. While literal translation undoubtedly fulfills the criterion of faithfulness, it often lacks fluency and elegance since these two criteria are more difficult to achieve due to their close relation to sociopragmatic knowledge or knowledge of the target culture (Chan, 2004). To become successful interpreters, one must not only know the literal translation of the source text but also comprehend the pragmatic devices used in the original text and their alternatives in the interpreted texts. Moreover, pragmatic markers that carry emotions and discourse structures that have culturally-embedded knowledge are both important for successful delivery of meaning in interpretations. In addition to interpreting contexts, academic contexts also require pragmatic knowledge, as illustrated from the three chapters in Part 2. Each of the three studies in this part makes its own contribution to the study of academic communication. Understanding the pragmatic features used in TED talks is beneficial for both teachers and students who are interested in presenting spoken academic discourse through web media. The rhetorical structural model provided in the archeological book reviews is a useful tool for students and trainee teachers in ESP programs; it helps with successful preparation of postgraduate courses in archeology or careers of young archeologists. Comparing email requests made by students with those made by faculty in university settings has useful pedagogical implications as well, as students can learn from the professional email request models presented by their faculty members. Films are naturally embedded with pragmatic information of targeted cultures, and are therefore ideal materials in pragmatic instruction. The two studies presented in Part 3 both provide helpful insights on foreign language teaching through using film dialogues. In examining film clips, linguistic cues are shown to be not the only features learners should pay attention to, as nonverbal cues such as the camera angles and body movements are equally important in delivering pragmatic meanings. Also, foreign films are natural resources for cultural comparisons if shown to language learners, as seen from the intercultural humor example presented in Chapter 8. Both studies in Part 4 have direct impact on pragmatic instructions in foreign language settings. The study on the usage of textual pragmatic markers by multilingual learners provides positive evidence on the transfer of pragmatic abilities from one language to another. Teachers of multilingual learners, therefore, can use this information to direct learners in acquiring pragmatic knowledge in another language. Finally, the report on teaching pragmatics in an undergraduate course at a Swedish university supplies useful resources for pragmatic teaching in a college EFL classroom. It would be interesting to see if pragmatic instruction is done in similar or different ways in other global contexts.

Despite the fact that this collection includes a wide range of communicative contexts and different pragmatic issues, it lacks a variety of language backgrounds in empirical investigations. Among the eight empirical studies reported in this book (excluding Chapter 4 and 5, which are corpus studies), only four studies recruited participants from areas outside of Italy (i.e., Hong Kong, Japan, Spain, and Sweden). Given the wide scope of the investigations covered in this book, it would be more relevant to a global audience if more languages and cultural backgrounds were included.

Another shortcoming of this collection falls in the teaching applications and methods presented in some chapters. Although including a section of teaching application at the end of each chapter makes the entire collection seemingly coherent, some teaching applications are unclear or difficult to implement. In Chapter 5, while discussing the pedagogical implications of evaluation in archeology, the author presents some concrete ideas on how the genre-based approach used in this study can be continued in future projects in Italian universities. However, the descriptions of these future projects are so context-dependent that it is difficult to see how they can be applied in different settings outside Italy for non-Italian readers. Moreover, the multimodal analysis presented in Chapter 7 in teaching pragmatics through films is a concept that is hard to implement for students who are not majoring in film studies. The focuses on nonverbal elements, such as shot descriptions, kinesics and proxemics might be easy to explain from the instructors’ perspective; however, they are much more difficult to describe to learners who have limited English proficiency. Also, it creates another challenge to transfer the knowledge of the targeted two speech acts, compliments and insults, from films to real-life situations. In addition, the method presented in Chapter 9 on exploring textual pragmatic markers in a multilingual classroom context is missing significant details. The author stated the task and topic equivalence used in the study as they “were pilot-tested in a group of learners that did not participate in the final study to ensure they were of similar difficulty, elicited the target pragmatic issue, and aroused the same amount of interest in the students” (p. 201). This is a rather bold statement, as the author did not include any details on the pilot test. Unless statistical evidence is presented, there is no proof for task and topic equivalence, given the fact that three tasks, nine topics, and three languages were incorporated in this study. Another issue with the findings of this study is generalizability. Two of the three languages investigated (i.e., Catalan and Spanish) are fairly similar languages in terms of typology, which can naturally result in more positive pragmatic transfers. However, whether the same positive transfer can be found among other languages in other contexts is an empirical question that still remains unanswered.

The volume starts with an introductory chapter written by Sara Gesuato, who raised some thought-provoking questions at the beginning: “What things do people do with language? Why and what for? How do people signal and recognize what they are doing? And once researchers have found out, what can they do with the newly acquired knowledge? Who would it be relevant to?” (p. 1). These are all fundamental questions in pragmatics that motivate research pursuits demonstrated throughout the volume. Although Gesuato provides us with general answers to these questions at the end of her introduction, it would be better if her answers were expanded in a concluding chapter by adding more empirical evidence drawing from the different studies in the book. A concluding chapter would also have helped with connecting the different parts and chapters together in a more coherent way.

Overall, Pragmatic Issues in Specialized Communicative Contexts is a book worth reading by researchers and practitioners who are interested in the advancement of pragmatic knowledge in real world communicative settings. Selected chapters from this volume can be especially enlightening for professionals in English for Specific Purposes (ESP) programs, such as interpretation, archeology, and film studies.


Bachman, L. F. & Palmer, A. S. (1996). Language Testing in Practice: Designing and Developing Useful Language Tests. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Chan, T. L. (2004). Twentieth-century Chinese translation theory: Modes, issues and debates. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Cohen, A. D. (2008). Teaching and assessing L2 pragmatics: What can we expect from learners? Language Teaching, 41, 213-235.

Ishihara, N. & A.D. Cohen (2010). Teaching and learning pragmatics: Where language and culture meet. Harlow, UK: Pearson Longman.

Jeon, E. H. & T. Kaya (2006). Effects of L2 instruction on interlanguage pragmatic development. In N. John & L. Ortega (eds.), Synthesizing research on language learning and teaching. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 165-211.

Kasper, G., & C. Roever (2005). Pragmatics in second language learning. In E. Hinkel (ed.), Pragmatics in language teaching and learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 317-328.

Kasper, G., & K. Rose (1999). Pragmatis and SLA. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 19, 81-104.

Kasper, G., & K. Rose (2002). Pragmatic development in a second language. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Rose, K. R. (2005). On the effects of instruction in second language pragmatics. System, 33, 385-399.

Taguchi, N. (2011). Teaching pragmatics: Trends and issues. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 31, 289-310.

Taguchi, N. (2015). Instructed pragmatics at a glance: Where instructional studies were, are, and should be going. Language Teaching, 48, 1-50.

Takahashi, S. (2010a). Assessing learnability in second language pragmatics. In A. Trosborg (ed.), Handbook of pragmatics (vol.7). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 391-421.

Takahashi, S (2010b). The effect of pragmatic instruction on speech act performance. In Martínez-Flor, A. & E. Usó-Juan (eds.), Speech act performance: Theoretical, empirical and methodological issues. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 127-144.


Dongmei Cheng is an assistant professor in Applied Linguistics at Texas A&M University-Commerce. As a sociolinguist, she is primarily interested in interlanguage pragmatics, especially the acquisition of speech acts from second language learners. Another research interest of her is second language writing, which is resulted from her years of composition teaching to students from different cultural backgrounds and experiences in TA training. As a previous technology coordinator and an instructor of a two-series graduate-level CALL courses, she is also interested in adapting new technological tools in language teaching and teacher training programs.

Page Updated: 25-May-2017