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Review of  The Pragmatics Reader

Reviewer: Zhen-Qiang Fan
Book Title: The Pragmatics Reader
Book Author: Dawn Archer Peter Grundy
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.4369

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EDITORS: Dawn Archer, Peter Grundy
TITLE: The Pragmatics Reader
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2011

Zhen-qiang Fan, Zhejiang Gongshang University, P. R. China


This reader, edited by Dawn Archer and Peter Grundy (henceforth A&G), comprises
26 core articles in the field, many of them classics, from leading figures in
pragmatics. It also includes four papers specially solicited for the present
collection. Apart from an introductory section (section 1) and a concluding
section (section 10, Theory and Practice in Pragmatics), the 28 contributions
are placed in thematic groupings: (2) Linguistic Pragmatics, (3) Post-Gricean
Pragmatics, (4) Indexicality, (5) Historical Pragmatics, (6) Politeness, Face
and Impoliteness, (7) Cross-Cultural and Intercultural Pragmatics, (8)
Pragmatics and Conversation -- Development and Impairment, (9) Pragmaticians on

The introduction provides a survey of the pragmatics enterprise, thereby setting
the scene for the remaining articles. First, the editors start their
introduction by tentatively defining pragmatics as 'the study of meaning in
context'. On this basis, they specify different competing paradigms of research.
With regard to the relationship between meaning and context, they distinguish
those who regard context as presumptive and those who consider context as
emergent. In terms of the scope of context, they differentiate a narrow and
idealized view of context from those views which interpret context as broad
sociocultural or mental phenomena. They also present different theoretical
perspectives concerning the semantics/pragmatics interface. Finally, the
introduction also offers a snapshot of the readings which follow.

Section 2, ''Linguistic Pragmatics'', presents readings concerning three essential
issues of linguistic pragmatics -- speech acts, conversational implicature, and
presupposition. The editors' introduction provides some background knowledge and
overview of the readings, as is done in other sections. In terms of speech act
theory, J.L. Austin's ''How to Do Things with Words'' and John Searle's ''Indirect
Speech Acts'' are presented. In the former, the editors include Austin's
distinction of the three levels of speech acts: locutionary, illocutionary and
perlocutionary acts; the latter reading presents Searle's proposition of certain
'rules' or 'conditions' for a speech act to be successful and his explanation of
how we can derive the primary illocutionary act of indirect speech from the
literal illocution. The third article is selected from H.P. Grice's canonical
work, ''Logic and Conversation'', which brings forth the concept of implicature
and its inference mechanism, the Cooperative Principle and conversational
maxims. The next two readings are devoted to presupposition. Arguing against the
two-value logic treatment of presupposition, Pieter Seuren's paper addresses
numerous issues concerning existential presupposition and negation, and
concludes that presupposition is a pragmatic phenomenon. In his paper 'Pragmatic
Presuppositions', R. C. Stalnaker bases his discussion of presupposition on the
shared assumptions of speakers and addressees, which he calls the 'common
ground', and argues that this notion can offer “both rigorous and intuitively
natural” (p. 77) explanations of various facets of presupposition.

Section 3 is divided into two subsections, reflecting two differing lines of
development of Grice's conversation implicature theory: One, called
'neo-Gricean' pragmatics, is a follow-up refinement of Gricean theory; the
other, named 'Post-Gricean' pragmatics' or relevance theoretic pragmatics, is a
new orientation beyond Grice's framework, although inspired by it in the first
place. In contrast to Grice's doubt on the necessity of the second maxim of
Quantity, Levinson justifies its status as a maxim of minimalization and
reformulates it as the Principle of Informativeness or the I-Principle. Compared
with Grice's version, this new rendition takes both speaker and listener into
account and is more detailed and operational than their earlier proposal (Atlas
and Levinson 1981). Then in the second part of this selection, Levinson
elaborates the significance of Generalized Conversational Implicature (GCI) to
the pragmatics/semantics interface, or to the construction of the general theory
of meaning, claiming that GCI can contribute to propositional content and is the
input to truth conditions. The next reading is a new paper on lexical
pragmatics. Working in a neo-Gricean framework, which assumes the Q principle
and the R principle, Blutner draws on optimality theory to explain “the
mechanism by which linguistically-specified word meanings are modified in use”
(p. 101). It can be noted that Blutner, in his discussion, compares and
contrasts optimality theory and relevance theory, so his reading provides a
smooth transition from neo-Gricean pragmatics to post-Gricean pragmatics.

The groups of readings in the next subsection bring us beyond linguistic
pragmatics and philosophy of language to the domain of cognitive pragmatics and
philosophy of mind. This subsection starts with two readings offering an
overview of relevance theory: Blakemore's paper, published in 1995, provides an
interpretation and comment on Sperber and Wilson (1986); Clark's article
discusses the major modifications of relevance theory from the “postface” (as
opposed to “preface”) of Sperber and Wilson (second edition 1995) and surveys
the recent developments and applications of relevance theory since 1995. Robyn
Carston's reading is extracted from her 2002 book dedicated to explicit
communication. This selection reflects her amendments to Sperber and Wilson's
notion of explicature and her unique redefinition of this concept. This section
ends with Sperber and Wilson's paper which focuses on the mapping between words
and concepts. They claim that there is no exhaustive one-to-one mapping between
concepts and words, and “words are used as pointers to contextually intended
senses” (p. 160). So in inferential communication, the speaker's utterances are
his/her evidence of his/her intention, the understanding of which requires the
listener's construction of ad hoc concepts.

Indexicality, a topic which many pragmatics books tend to put before other
topics like speech act theory, implicature, presupposition, etc. is placed in
section 4 where three representative readings are selected, the reason being
that A&G “make the transition from theories of language usage, typically
exemplified with invented examples or with examples abstracted from real
contexts of use, to explanations of contextualized language” (p. 164). That is
to say, discussions of indexicality rely on naturally-occurring data. In his
paper ''Deixis'', Stephen C. Levinson first presents some challenges of
indexicality, including its semantic deficiency, its dependence on context for
achieving reference and its lack of clear boundaries. He then reviews the
approaches to this phenomenon from semantics and philosophy of language, and
illustrates the role of pragmatics in the resolution of deictic expressions.
Finally, he concentrates on six deictic categories. ''Alternative grounds in the
interpretation of deictic expressions'' by Jo Rubba attempts to explain how place
deictics whose referents are not present in the immediate utterance situation
are processed. The author approaches this phenomenon by drawing on key
theoretical models from cognitive linguistics, such as mental spaces, profiling
and Idealized Cognitive Models (ICMs). Jef Verschueren, in ''Notes on the role of
metapragmatic awareness in language use'', treats deixis as an implicit
metalinguistic phenomenon and extends indexicality beyond deictics to include “a
very wide range of phenomena that index, guide or constrain the desired
pragmatic interpretation of utterances and link code and message overtly” (p.
165). Notably, he argues that it is “absolutely necessary” to see indexicality
as a dimension of language rather than an object. This article also expounds on
the functions of metapragmatic awareness and its social implications concerning
language ideologies and identity construction.

The three readings in section 5, ''Historical Pragmatics'', adopt a diachronic
perspective to investigate the evolution of certain pragmatic features. In ''The
role of pragmatics in semantic change'', Elizabeth Closs Traugott introduces her
own model for explaining semantic change -- the Invited Inferencing Theory of
Semantic Change (IITSC). This model stresses that it is
“speaker/writer-negotiated meaning [that] motivates the strong tendency in
semantic change toward subjectification” (p. 225). She demonstrates the
explanatory power of her model by applying it to explaining the change of 'as/so
long as' in English. The next two readings explore diachronic change of
pragmatic markers and speech acts respectively. Laurel Brinton's reading
addresses 'I gesse' in Middle English. She discusses the functions and
grammaticalization process of pragmatic markers. Andreas Jucker and Irma
Taavitsainen in their paper, ''Diachronic speech act analysis: Insults from
flyting to flaming'', offers an account of the speech act of insulting, covering
the diachronic changes of their realization and their underlying speech
function. Notably, it adopts a prototype-based approach to speech acts and its
applicability to other speech acts besides insulting.

Section 6, “Politeness, Face and Impoliteness”, starts with an extract from
Erving Goffman's book ''On facework: An analysis of ritual elements in social
interaction'', a pioneering work in the field of 'face' and 'facework'. In
choosing Goffman's material, A&G opt for those notions which are inherited or
developed by the following three readings, making these group of readings highly
connected. In ''Politeness: some universals in language use'', Penelope Brown and
Stephen C. Levinson define several key concepts concerning politeness such as
'positive face', 'negative face', 'rational agents', and 'face threatening acts
(FTA)'. They also propose five strategies to minimize the threat when doing FTAs
and discuss the factors that can influence the choice of these strategies. Their
method is to construct an idealized model person (MP) and attribute politeness
to a rational MP's wants. In contrast, ''Politeness, face and impoliteness'' by
Miriam Locher and Richard Watts, views politeness as a social norm. They place
more emphasis on the role of participants themselves, taking 'impolite' or
'polite' to refer to participants' judgment of their co-participant's verbal
behavior in ongoing social interaction. This more dynamic approach combines both
Goffman's social approach and Brown and Levinson's cognitive explanation in the
sense that “what an individual develops as his/her continual construction of
self depends on social interaction, and social interaction takes place between
individuals” (p. 318). In presenting his model of impoliteness and his analysis
of 'impoliteness as entertainment' in a quiz show, Jonathan Culpeper, in
''Impoliteness and entertainment in the television quiz show: The Weakest Link''
employs and develops some notions from the previous papers, e.g. Goffman's
distinction between intentional, accidental and incidental face threat, and
Brown and Levinson's politeness strategies.

Section 7, “Cross-Cultural and Intercultural Pragmatics”, starts with Shoshana
Blum-Kulka, Juliane House and Gabriele Kasper’s reading which was originally the
introduction of their book entitled “Cross-cultural pragmatics: requests and
apologies”. The book represents the findings of the Cross-Cultural Speech Act
Realization Project (CCSARP), which is regarded as “the most carefully
conceived, comprehensive study in cross-cultural pragmatics” (p. 341). The
selected reading introduces the instrument of measurement, population,
procedure, data analysis and the primary features coded for requests and
apologies. Centering on the indexical function of language, Haruko Minegishi
Cook, in ''Why can't learners of JFL distinguish polite from impolite speech
styles?'', examines how students of Japanese as a foreign language (JFL)
interpret and use contextualization cues and their pragmatic competence to
distinguish polite from impolite speech styles. The study indicates that “in
order to understand the pragmatic meaning of a speech style, JFL students need
to know a wider range of co-occurring linguistic forms and their pragmatic
functions which constitute various speech registers as well as their specific
cultural norms of interpretation” (p. 369), hence the complexities involved in
explicit instruction of contextualization cues. The last reading, ''Intercultural
pragmatics'', is a new paper by Istvan Kecskes who elaborates his socio-cognitive
approach (SCA) for the study of intercultural pragmatics. According to this
approach, interculturality is defined as “a situationally emergent and
co-constructed phenomenon that relies both on relatively definable cultural
norms and models as well as situationally evolving features” (p. 376). SCA
synthesizes a number of contrasting but interactive concepts such as
social/individual, intention/attention, cooperation/egocentrism,
relevance/salience, and private experience/actual situational experience. The
author also contrasts intercultural pragmatics and other paradigms in pragmatics.

To reflect the achievements of pragmatics prioritizing spoken interaction,
Section 8, ''Pragmatics and conversation -- development and impairment'', is
devoted to developmental pragmatic and clinical pragmatic research which
overlaps with ethnomethodological studies. Anat Ninio and Catherine Snow's book
extract, ''Children as Conversationalists'' presents their conversation-analysis
(CA)-based exploration of children's development of conversation skills such as
turn-taking and turn-management skills, and children's handling of repair
sequences used by their caregivers. Also drawing upon insights from CA, Emanuel
Schegloff examines video data related to patients with disabled communication
between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Contrary to the then
accepted view regarding the problems such patients face like the handling of
turn-taking, commands and requests, or politeness, Schegloff's minute and
holistic analysis reveals that the patients' evidence for communicative behavior
is to be found in their nonverbal bodily actions. Schegloff's study stresses the
advantage of the CA-based approach over laboratory testing in capturing
patients' conversational behavior. Also emphasizing the importance of
concentrating on naturally-occurring patient-partner interactions, Heidi
Hamilton adopts an interactional sociolinguistic approach to investigate the
communication competence of an Alzheimer's patient named Elsie. It is pointed
out that researcher's intervention can affect their conclusion.

The three readings in section 9, “Pragmaticians on Pragmatics”, represent the
arguments and approaches of the Chicago School, which, instead of reducing
pragmatics to the study of propositional meaning by a rational agent, argue for
scrutinizing language use in a broader sociocultural context. The main part of
Roman Kopytko's paper, ''Against rationalistic pragmatics” is his critique of the
assumptions and methodologies of rationalistic pragmatics (RP). Drawing on
insights from philosophy, linguistics, sociology and social psychology, he
critically analyses the inadequacies of RP in terms of 'rationality',
'reductionism', and 'context'. He proposes that the theoretical foundations of a
unified view of empirical pragmatics should be based on features like: “(1)
non-modular, (2) non-essentialist, (3) non-categorical, (4) non-deterministic in
its view of pragmatics, (5) contextual, (6) non-reductionist in its approach to
pragmatics” (p. 449). Jon F. Pressman, in ''Pragmatics in the late twentieth
century countering recent historiographic neglect'', outlines the ideas of
Jakobson, Silverstein, and two of Silverstein's students -- Charles Briggs and
Greg Urban, and stresses the need for linguistic pragmaticians to integrate
insights from an ethnolinguistic approach to pragmatics. Questioning the
widely-adopted practice in pragmatics that seeks abstract and general rules
governing 'ordinary' and 'everyday' conversation, Charles L. Briggs, in ''From
the ideal, the ordinary, and the orderly to conflict and violence in pragmatic
research'', shifts the focus to 'extraordinary' discourse of conflict and
violence and methods truly free of preconceived analytical frames.

The Reader is rounded off by the editors' discussion on theory and practice in
pragmatics. This section provides snapshots of three applied pragmatic
disciplines -- developmental pragmatics, which concerns how language-intact
children develop their pragmatic competence; clinical pragmatics, which studies
disruptive aspects of communication of individuals who are normal or have
cerebral injury or pathology; and experimental pragmatics, which utilizes
laboratory experiments to test the assumptions made in theoretical pragmatics.
A&G also elaborate on how theoretical pragmatics and applied pragmatic
disciplines can feed into each other.


Pragmatics is growing far beyond its origins in analytic philosophy to encompass
areas which have been studied by a number of disciplines like cognitive
psychology, language acquisition, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, etc. Two
schools of thought have been identified in contemporary pragmatics: the
Anglo-American school, also known as “the component view” of pragmatics, which
treats pragmatics as a core component of a theory of language and contains
topics such as deixis, speech acts, implicature, presupposition and so forth;
and the Europe Continental School, which adopts “the perspective view” of
pragmatics, taking it as presenting a functional (social, cognitive and
cultural) perspective on every aspect of language use (see Huang, 2009:4). “The
Pragmatics Reader” attempts to make a balanced representation of both schools
when selecting and arranging the topics, so it is more comprehensive than those
which represent only one (e.g. Horn and Ward 2006). In order to make the
readings more coherent in the collection, the editors add a diachronic dimension
to them and organize them in the order 'philosophical, cognitive, and
sociocultural', and this order can even be reflected in one section (e.g.
section 5). The coherence of the collection is also captured by how different
approaches adopt an increasingly broad (as reflected in the sequential
organization of the book) treatment of 'context' and 'meaning', two core issues
in defining pragmatics. This unique arrangement distinguishes this book from
other collections which are either just thematically grouped (Davis 1991; Kasher
1998) or alphabetically sequenced (Mey 2010; Cummings 2010). Finally, the
coherence of the collection is shown by numerous cross-references and the
interrelatedness mentioned in the sectional introductions (e.g. pp. 12 and 14).

Another distinctive feature of this book is that, unlike other pragmatics
readers (e.g. Davis 1991) or collections (e.g. Kasher 1998), it shows the
editors' unique trimming and guiding to make it highly pedagogical, engaging and
selectively focused. Firstly, it is very suitable for both self-study uses and
instructional purposes. Each section begins with a sectional introduction
designed to help readers contextualize the papers in that section and ends with
an annotated list of further readings. Moreover, each reading follows the same
format: they are preceded by a pre-reading activity, contain an in-reading
activity and are followed by a post-reading activity. The pre-readings are meant
to set the users thinking in the right direction (so that the reader would know
what kinds of issues need to be resolved); the in-reading activities are
designed to guide and assist the reader to gain a deeper understanding (so when
reading the user can have a specific purpose); and finally the post-reading
activities are intended to provide important food for thought (so users could
find their own point of departure). Second, compared with Kasher's six-volume
collection, this reader is more condensed and focused in that A&G select from
published papers or monographs only the most representative parts which fit the
overall 'philosophical, social and cultural' order.

It must be clarified that the editors' 'interventions' in the readings do not
limit the reader's own thinking or channel the reader into some biased views.
Rather they are playing an assisting role in one way or another. For instance,
some in-reading activities provide a photograph (e.g. p. 119) to help the reader
grasp the key points of the reading; and many others just highlight some key
points with a marginal mark to provoke the reader into critical thinking in an
open way.

Because most of the chapters are selected from whole books or complete articles,
collections like the present one might run the risk of losing the completeness
of the original publication. The editors successfully avoided this by not only
offering a highly accessible background-providing introduction at the beginning
of each section but also including selections which specifically review the
development and state-of-the-art research in the related area (e.g. Blakemore
and Clark's survey of relevance theory in section 3).

There are also some very minor bugs related to typos. For example, on p. 208,
'arc' appears in lieu of 'are'. In addition, the full form of some acronyms of
special terms are not written in full at first mention (e.g. on p. 91, GCI means
'Generalized Conversational Implicature'; on p. 92, PCI means 'Particular
Conversational Implicature'), the reason being that the part of text containing
their precedents are not included in the reader. Moreover, one scholar’s name is
misspelt, i.e. Elizabeth Closs Traugott, the author of the first reading in
section 5, is misspelt as Elizabeth Close Traugott. However, the above does not
detract from the book's coherence and readability.

The volume only mentions applied disciplines like developmental pragmatics,
clinical pragmatics and experimental pragmatics in passing when discussing
theory and practice in the last section. Future editions may be expanded to
include more readings in more fields as is acknowledged by A&G.

Overall, this reader provides students and researchers alike with access to the
primary literature. It both serves as an accessible introduction to pragmatics,
and forms an important reference work which charts the evolution and range of
research in pragmatics. It can be used as a core text in undergraduate or
graduate level courses on pragmatics, or as a resource by interested scholars
and lay readers who would like to gain a better understanding of the pragmatics


Atlas, J. D. and Levinson, S. C. 1981. It-clefts, informativeness and logical
form. In P. Cole (ed.) Radical Pragmatics. New York: Academic Press, pp. 1-61.

Carston, R. 2002. Thoughts and Utterances: the pragmatics of explicit
communication. Oxford: Blackwell.

Cummings, L. 2010. The Pragmatics Encyclopedia. London: Routledge.

Davis, S. (ed.) 1991. Pragmatics: a reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Horn, L. R. and Ward. G. (eds.) 2006. The Handbook of Pragmatics. Oxford: Blackwell.

Huang, Y. 2009. Pragmatics. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.

Kasher, A. (ed.) 1998. Pragmatics: critical concepts. London and New York:

Mey, J. L. 2010. Concise Encyclopedia of Pragmatics. Oxford: Elsevier Science.

Sperber, D. and Wilson, D. 1986. Relevance: communication and cognition. Oxford:

Sperber, D. and Wilson, D. 1995. Relevance: communication and cognition, 2nd
edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Fan Zhen-qiang is a lecturer in linguistics at Zhejiang Gongshang University in Hangzhou, China. He obtained his doctoral degree in the Center for the Study of Language and Cognition, Zhejiang University, China. In 2008, he was a visiting PhD at the Utrecht Institute of Linguistics (Uil-Ots), Utrecht University, the Netherlands. His research interests lie in the areas of pragmatics, cognitive linguistics, and discourse analysis.

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