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Winter 2003

Pragmatics in Catalan (socio)linguistics,  by Núria Alturo

This article describes the process by which the pragmatic perspective was introduced into the field of Catalan language studies. Three stages can be distinguished: the beginnings (the 80s), expansion (the 90s) and a third stage, still under way, which may represent the consolidation of pragmatic studies on the Catalan language.


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1. Introduction

2. Pragmatics

3. The pragmatics of Catalan
3.1 The beginnings
3.2 Expansion
3.3 Consolidation?

4. Bibliography


1. Introduction

This article sets out to present a chronological portrait of the adoption of the pragmatic perspective in the field of research into the Catalan language. More specifically, our intention here is to show how the concept of pragmatics in this area has evolved and what was the process of its institutionalisation since the beginnings around 1980, until the present time. Here, we will not be concerned with giving an overall review of the objectives of pragmatic research into Catalan, which will be treated in another work (Alturo, forthcoming).  (1)

In the following sections, we distinguish stages or phases in the development of Catalan pragmatics: the beginnings (section 3.1), which we situate in the eighties, the expansion (section 3.2), which occurred during the nineties, and now a third stage which, we hope, is a one of consolidation (section 3.3), which began around 2001. This chronological portrait of the field is preceded by a brief definition of the concept of pragmatics, upon which this article is founded (section 2).

2. Pragmatics

The articles that make up this monographic issue present pragmatics as a many faceted discipline, founded on independent areas of study (philosophy, sociology and psychological, cognitive, linguistic and literary anthropology) and this has lead to certain authors describing it as an "interdisciplinary perspective on the use of language resources in human communication" (Haberland and Mey 1977, Reyes 1990, Verschueren 1999). Pragmatics, understood in a wider sense, is a frontier discipline, which shares both the goal of systematisation typical of the linguistics of resources and the open humanist spirit of interdisciplinary research on language.

The logical consequence of this conception of pragmatics is the necessary acceptance of theoretical and methodological pluralism, limited by just three basic conditions:

1. Pragmatics is a scientific discipline, and assumes that language use is systematic and can be observed, described and ultimately explained. This means, obviously, that it cannot be prescriptive or normative. The function of the pragmatist is not to shape and dictate the rules of linguistic behaviour, but rather to discover the laws and principles that govern this behaviour. This fact, clearly, in no way denies the importance of the scientific analysis of standard language in the framework of studies on intralinguistic variation, nor the application of such to different fields (for example, language teaching).

2. Given that pragmatics investigates language as a variety of behaviour, or studies it in relation to human behaviour generally, only the data that reflects this behaviour should be accepted as empirically valid evidence.

3. Linguistic activity is of interest only to the extent that it relates to the meaning that it has for the people who are involved. In this respect, the empirical orientation which is adopted has to enable analysis of meaning in relation to the processes of production and interpretation.

Apart from these basic requisites, pragmatic research should be able to bring together and integrate empirical evidence of the cultural, social and psychological dimensions of language use. This, however, is little more than a theoretical ideal, even today, despite the integrating forces that have repeatedly been in play since the discipline's first beginnings. And in fact, compliance with the basic requisites stated above is not, nor has been in the past, a constant in pragmatics research, particularly where "real" data is concerned. As a number of authors have emphasised (Reyes 1990: 35, Salvador 1997: 206), the philosophic origins of pragmatics and its intimate relationship to semantics have, often, encouraged research based on materials constructed by linguistics, with sentences taken out of context. A classic example of this is the work on speech acts and inferences, which while constituting a fundamental part of the study of meaning in context, has traditionally used isolated, artificially contrived phrases as data. Nonetheless, pragmatics has evolved toward more empirical techniques of investigation, in part as a consequence of its intimate relationship with disciplines which "avoid" the idealisation of the object of study, above all sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics, and in part thanks to technological advances, which have made it feasible to process large corpora consisting of real oral and written language.

3. The pragmatics of Catalan (2)

As is the case with general pragmatics, Catalan pragmatics emerged and took shape out of different traditions which converged (or are converging) on interest in language use. Thus pragmatic studies on Catalan have tended come to us by way of sociolinguistics, general linguistics, descriptive grammar, stylistics, applied linguistics... What studies in such disciplines have in common, what makes them of interest to us in this article, is that, like the pragmatics described in the previous section, they offer an interdisciplinary perspective on language use. To speak, then, of Catalan pragmatics is not to speak of an autonomous discipline, with theoretical and methodological components well defined and clearly differentiated from other disciplines, but rather to speak of studies of the Catalan language incorporating the interdisciplinary view of the processes of language use, together with the systematic description of different linguistic levels of Catalan.

In this section, then, we show how interest in the processes the language use, and their effect on linguistic structures, have continued to extend and grow within the framework of Catalan language studies. We will look at considerations relating to the focus of the research, the wish to compile and disseminate interest in language use, the introduction of pragmatics into university programmes, the increasing number of publications in Catalan on pragmatics issues, etc.

3.1 The beginnings

Catalan scholarly interest in the area of pragmatics, as we have already mentioned, did not begin until the eighties. It is true that there were authors before that who were interested in variation in language use covarying with context (among others, López del Castillo 1976, Vallverdú 1968, Coromines 1971, Eberenz-Greoles 1979, Vinyoles 1978, or indeed the much earlier precedent, Calveras 1925, revindicated by Aracil 1983: 102), but these were isolated pieces of work, not part of a generalised move to open up to new trends, trends which were ushering in pragmatics on the international scene. Catalan sociolinguistics, which could have constituted the entering wedge for activity converging on pragmatics, was simply too busy, during the long period of the Franco regime, speaking out against the political and cultural situation of the Catalan language. Furthermore, Catalan linguistics kept firmly within the descriptive and normative tradition which prevailed in the Philology faculties of Spanish universities and only very gradually began to open up to other approaches.

In the eighties, this situation changed. A sociolinguist, Aracil, began to lecture at universal level on questions of linguistic variation conditioned by context. (3) At the same time, other language specialists began to be interested things pragmatic and published writings which were to be of key importance in the subsequent development of the discipline: Serrano (1980), Rigau (1981), Payrató (1988) and Salvador (1984a, 1984b). The work carried out by these authors, alongside that of Aracil and the various researchers who produced short empirical or theoretical studies on pragmatic-related issues (Calsamiglia and Tuson 1980, Marí 1983, Cabré 1984), or dissertations (Viana 1983, Conca 1985) and doctoral theses (Espinal 1985, (4) Bassols 1988), (5) all opened up Catalan linguistics to the different currents and trends of the discipline. Apart from these individuals, mention should be made of the journal Límits, as well as the organisation of the first groups and seminars focussing on the sort of issues discussed here (the Seminari de Sociolingüística de Barcelona (Barcelona Sociolinguistics Seminary), promoted by Aracil; the setting up of the Cercle d’Anàlisi del Discurs (Discourse Analysis Circle), not officially known by that name until 1991; and the holding of certain seminars on textual analysis in Valencia and Lleida, etc.).

The plurality of perspectives coexisting on the international scene had the effect of fostering, among Catalan researchers, new interest in the nature and name of a new discipline that set out to increase awareness of language use from an interdisciplinary perspective (Rigau 1981, Aracil 1982a, 1983, Serrano 1980, 1982, Salvador 1984c, 1990, Cabré 1984, Viana 1986, Payrató 1988). Aracil, as a sociolinguist and Rigau, as a linguist, at that moment represented the two poles of a movement, an opening up to new international trends which would lead to the institutionalisation of pragmatics. (6)

In an article written in 1978, and published for the first time in 1982, Aracil presented some of the traditions which make up modern pragmatics: the studies on English-language and French language discourse, Hymes' Ethnography of speaking, Halliday's functionalism, Kaplan's comparative rhetoric, Austin's and Searle's philosophy of language, Bernstein's work on elaborated and restricted codes, as well as the sociology of everyday life and common sense (Shutz, Berger) ethnomethodology (Cicourel, Garfinkel, Goffman). For Aracil, these research approaches would contribute to the emerging of a new autonomous discipline ("new" in Catalan linguistics, that is) that would be concerned with linguistic usage (language use) in different communicative settings and which would have the discourse or text as the basic working unit. Aracil's article provoked a debate in which at least three other scholars participate: Salvador (1984a,c), Viana (1986) and Payrató (1988). Salvador (1984a,c) expressed his general agreement with the proposals put forward by Aracil and suggested that these could be the basis of a new epistemological area: sociolinguistics, semiotics, the philosophy of language, text linguistics and literary theory. Salvador presented the field with an interdisciplinary "programme" and refrained from making any suggestion about what the area should be called, although he did express his own personal liking for the term stylistics, the term which Aracil had proposed. Viana (1986) took up the thread of discourse first isolated by Aracil and Salvador and showed the effectiveness of recourse to pragmatics to make sense of the interpretative aspects of discourse. Two terms appeared in this work which subsequently came to be most used in the field of Catalan research, to refer to the area of pragmatics (or at least to one of the possible approaches to this area): pragmatics and discourse analysis. Payrató (1988: 14), lastly, reviewed the ideas of Aracil, Salvador and Viana and called for a discipline "straddling pragmatics and sociolinguistics". (7) At the same time that Aracil was expressing the need for an interdisciplinary perspective on language use, a work appeared which paved the way for functional and anthropological approaches to pragmatics: Signes, llengua i cultura (Serrano 1980), a personal view of Catalan culture seen from the semiotics paradigm, with elements drawn from studies on non-verbal communication.

In 1981 Rigau published Gramàtica del discurs, a revised version of her doctoral thesis (1979, Aspectes d’una gramàtica generativa del discurs o text). In this book, which could be considered the work which began a more linguistic orientation within Catalan linguistics, Rigau produced a synthesis of the most significant terms and the theories in the field of text grammars. She noted the need to describe and explain from several different angles to be able to arrive at a theory of discourse which could be formalised. Two aspects of this work are particularly noteworthy: in the first place the positive evaluation made of generative semantics, which reflect the fact that on the international level there was an opening up, a readiness to consider text and other disciplines from the more orthodox positions of formal syntax and semantics; secondly, the presentation of the speech act theory of Austin and Searle and, for the first time in Catalan, a treatment of Grice's conversational maxims. Three years later, Cabré (1984) presented her ideas on the general area of discourse analysis which linked up with the work of Rigau. Cabré delegated to pragmatics the more linguistic aspects of the investigation of languages in context. She then situated fairly and squarely within the ambit of discourse analysis a good part of the trends and focuses (including from within linguistics) which, from the wider perspective of pragmatics as described earlier, fit into the process by which this discipline came into being. The latter include Harris's discourse, Benviniste's utterance theory (enonciation), Austin and Searle's speech act theory, Foucault and Pêcheux (etc.) and their theory of ideologies. This work contributed to the diffusion of linguistic and philosophic models which had already been presented by Rigau, and to which was added the theory of ideologies and a reference to sociolinguistics models.

3.2 Expansion

The decade of the nineties was the period of expansion of pragmatics studies in Catalan language research. In 1990, two facts marked the beginning of this new stage: (a) the publication of a monographic issue of the journal Caplletra on "Discourse analysis", which had actually been compiled and edited towards the end of 1989, and (b) the celebration, in Barcelona, of the third conference of the International Pragmatics Association (IPrA). As a result of these events, the research, the teaching programmes, research publications, the setting up of groups and the organisation of activities (series of talks, seminars...) all with a pragmatics orientation, grew progressively.

Caplletra's monographic issue served to present some of the basic concepts of the analysis of discourse (Salvador), linguistic pragmatics (Bassols) and conversational analysis (Cots, Nussbaum, Payrató and Tuson), at the same time as there was an exploration of certain connections between syntax and discourse (Viana, Cuenca) and between language and literature (Conca and Carbó). The third IPrA conference had substantial repercussions on the institutionalisation of Catalan pragmatics. Here for the first time scholars of Catalan came together from such diverse areas of interest as pragmatics, conversation and discourse. It was also a real opportunity to participate directly in the formation of a relatively incipient field (recall that this was the third conference).

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