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Review of  Introducing Pragmatics in Use

Reviewer: Bradley D Langer
Book Title: Introducing Pragmatics in Use
Book Author: Anne O'Keeffe Brian Clancy Svenja Adolphs
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.3831

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AUTHOR: Anne O’Keeffe, Brian Clancy and Svenja Adolphs
TITLE: Introducing Pragmatics in Use
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2011

Bradley D. Langer, Department of Modern Languages, Kansas State University


This is a textbook designed for advanced undergraduate or graduate students who
are studying pragmatics or corpus linguistics, or plan to research these areas.
It contains eight chapters, with Chapter 1 serving as an introduction to the
book itself as well as the field of pragmatics. At the end of each chapter, the
authors present a list of selected references (the majority of which are
annotated) for further readings related to the content of each chapter.

Chapter 1: Introduction

The authors present an introduction to the study of pragmatics in which they
provide a working definition of pragmatics and emphasize the importance of
context and analyzing language in use. The authors make reference to a number of
large corpora, which are comprised of authentic language tokens and serve as
evidence of language in use. The main corpora mentioned throughout the book (in
descending order based on size) include: The Corpus of Contemporary American
English (COCA), The British National Corpus (BNC), Michigan Corpus of Academic
Spoken English (MICASE), The Limerick Corpus of Irish English (LCIE), The
Limerick and Belfast Corpus of Academic Spoken English (LIBEL CASE), Corpus of
Meetings of English Language Teachers (C-MELT), and The Nottingham Multi-Modal
Corpus (NMMC). The remainder of this introductory chapter outlines the structure
of the book with brief descriptions of each of the following chapters.

Chapter 2: Researching pragmatics

This chapter details the primary research methods in the field of pragmatics,
while referencing many studies that show the diverse approaches used to
investigate this area. Some of the ways of collecting data that are discussed in
this section include Dialogue Completion Tasks, interviews, role-plays, and an
especially in-depth discussion on the use of corpus data. The authors make
reference to many studies in the Journal of Pragmatics to illustrate the various

Chapter 3: Deixis

Chapter 3 discusses the concept of deixis, which is the manner in which each
language uses its grammar to orientate speakers. In other words, deixis is how
grammar is used to situate interlocutors. This orientation is paramount to the
study of pragmatics since it is dependent on context. In this section, these
items are discussed in detail to show authentic examples of expressions that
provide points of reference, such as personal pronouns and demonstrative
adjectives. The authors provide numerous examples from various corpora that
illustrate different kinds of deictic referents, namely those that identify the
person, place, or time of referents. A common example of a deictic referent for
time and space in English is the use of demonstratives. Consider the following
example from page 49,

“[…] what colour do you want to put on the wall?”
“What about this one?”
“That one isn’t bad.”

We see that “this one” and “that one” refer to the same object (the color of the
wall), but the reference changes based on the speaker. These references help the
speakers understand which object they are speaking about.

Chapter 4: Politeness in context

This chapter can be divided into two main theoretical sections: Brown and
Levinson’s Politeness Theory and Watts’ Theory of Politeness. It is impossible
to discuss politeness in a pragmatic or linguistic sense without referencing
Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Model (1978). Here, we see strategies that
speakers use to save face (i.e. one’s public self-image) and how they avoid
face-threatening speech acts, including positive and negative politeness
strategies (i.e. ways that speakers soften face-threatening acts or maintain a
positive public image). Watts’ theory, on the other hand, supports the notion
that politeness is driven by the interlocutors’ interpretation of an utterance.
This theory distinguishes between common politeness and the concept of
face-threatening acts. In other words, a given group of people may have a
certain definition of politeness, even if a certain act is considered
face-threatening. All of these theoretical discussions are presented with
empirical evidence from corpora, such as being conventionally indirect (e.g.
“Would you by any chance have nail polish remover?” (69)) or hedging (i.e. words
or phrases used to avoid sounding blunt or assertive; e.g. “Well, I mean, I
have, you know, never actually really liked her as a teacher” (70)). In these
examples, the speaker uses indirect methods to ask for something (‘nail polish
remover’) or to criticize (‘I never liked her as a teacher’).

Chapter 5: Speech acts in context

Chapter 5 looks at the connection between linguistic forms and the function of
utterances. This connection is represented by a variety of speech acts (i.e. an
utterance used to perform a certain task; e.g. request, invitation or apology),
which may have different functions depending on context. Austin’s Speech Act
Theory (1962) discusses direct and indirect speech acts and the different kinds
of action that each utterance contains, including the utterance itself, the
intended meaning of the utterance and the effect of the utterance. Speech acts
are very context-dependent, and as such, the context can dictate the
appropriateness of an utterance or the effect of a speech act.

Chapter 6: Pragmatics across languages and cultures

This chapter examines the differences in pragmatic norms across cultures. The
authors discuss the distinction between interlanguage pragmatics and
cross-cultural pragmatics. They compare Asian norms to those of the Western
world to illustrate various pragmatic differences due to cultural or language
variation. The authors purport the notion that “self” in Western cultures is
individualistic, while in Asian cultures it is more collectivistic (see Cheng,
2003 for a discussion of Chinese “self”). Furthermore, the authors suggest using
a corpus-based approach to analyze pragmatic forms in context, in order to
better see differences in pragmatic norms across languages and cultures.

Chapter 7: Pragmatics in specific discourse domains

In this section, the book focuses on five domains and analyzes each one in order
to illustrate many of the previous notions mentioned in the book. Namely, this
chapter examines casual conversations, healthcare communication, the classroom,
service encounters, and soap operas. Additionally, the authors compare these
domains and the components of these conversations to show how context affects
the details of conversations, such as the mode of communication, turn taking,
and relationship roles. One of the contexts mentioned deals with teachers, and
the authors provide the following examples from a group of teachers discussing
their opinions: “Now we can certainly do better than last time,” and “don’t know
if we can assume that to be true” (126). In these examples, the use of “we can”
shows that all the teachers are working as a group and illustrates that the
opinions are uncontroversial.

Chapter 8: Pragmatics and language teaching

After presenting and comparing a variety of specific domains in previous
chapters, this chapter focuses on the classroom domain in order to discuss the
teaching of pragmatics with regards to teaching English. This is supported by
corpora which the authors use to create activities that can be used in the
language classroom. These activities serve to draw the learners’ attention to
various pragmatic forms as well as the function of certain speech acts. The
activities also provide strategies, such as hedging, that learners can develop
to help them successfully carry out speech acts. One activity has students
compare two emails in order to see which is more polite and to locate examples
of hedging or other strategies that support their choice (150).


“Introducing Pragmatics in Use” would be a very useful textbook for an advanced
undergraduate course on pragmatics or a graduate course in this area. This book
could also be helpful for English teachers looking to incorporate pragmatic
elements in the language classroom. The book is extremely easy to read and has a
logical sequence of ideas. In fact, the organization is a very positive aspect
of this book, especially since each chapter includes clearly marked
sub-sections, useful information boxes to draw the reader’s attention to
important points, and an annotated bibliography of selected references at the
end of each chapter. This last component is useful for students, as it directs
them to references on a certain topic, instead of relying on the complete list
of references at the end of the book. Furthermore, since a key objective of the
book is to promote the benefits of using corpus-based evidence to research
pragmatics, each chapter ties a theoretical discussion with examples of
authentic language use from various corpora.

This book does a commendable job of not only introducing the field of pragmatics
-- as the title suggests -- but also presenting the diverse issues that
researchers in this area of study encounter. Pragmatics can be tricky to define
and break down for students who are not familiar with it as an area of study,
yet the authors explain the various components of pragmatics in a clear manner
by using relevant literature and numerous examples from corpora. The
presentation of the various methods of collecting data in pragmatics was also
very helpful. The literature cited and the corpora are relevant to examining the
use of pragmatics in context.

The book concludes with a satisfying chapter on teaching pragmatics and
incorporating it in the English language classroom. It even includes sample
activities that blend a focus on meaning and form. Despite the fact that the
book focuses on the English language -- and therefore learners of English -- it
might be useful to draw comparisons across languages. For example, a type of
contrastive analysis illustrating how a certain speech act is performed in
English, compared to a student’s native language, would be helpful. Cultural and
linguistic differences are touched upon in Chapter 6, but drawing attention to
cultural and linguistic variation is important for learners as well. There is
also no mention of how immersion or study-abroad programs might affect a
learner’s pragmatic development, or the challenges that speakers immersed in a
foreign culture face on a pragmatic level (Freed, 1995; Cohen and Shively, 2007;
among many others). A brief section on this fruitful area of investigation would
only serve to reinforce the notion that learning and understanding pragmatic
forms is important for all speakers across the globe. That being said, an
in-depth analysis of teaching pragmatics and second language pragmatic
development may be outside the scope of this book, even though it would nicely
supplement the objectives of the book. However, there is considerable mention of
the various domains in which various pragmatic markers and speech acts occur.


Austin, J.L. (1962). How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Brown, P. and Levinson, S (1978). “Universals in language usage: politeness
phenomena:, in E. Goody (ed.), Questions and Politeness: Strategies in Social
Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cheng, W. (2003). Intercultural Conversation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Cohen, A. D., & Shively, R. L. (2007). Acquisition of requests and apologies in
Spanish and French: Impact of study abroad and strategy-building intervention.
Modern Language Journal 1: 190-212.

Freed, B. (1995). “Language Learning and Study Abroad” In Second Language
Acquisition in a Study Abroad Context. Barbara F. Freed, ed. John Benjamins
Publishing: Philadelphia, 3-35.

Watts, R. (2003). Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bradley D. Langer is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition at Kansas State University. His research interests include interlanguage pragmatics, explicit instruction, the benefits of study abroad, and second language teaching.

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