pragmatic view: precedents and origins
Orientations and connections
and old issues
examples and a proposal
Confluences and perspectives
Mindful of the
prototypic readership of this journal, and paraphrasing the title of a book well known on
logic for linguists (not to mention a Woody Allen film), this article ought to have been
entitled "all that a sociolinguist wanted to know about pragmatics
dare ask". But this would hardly have been fair, although pragmatists
and sociolinguists continue to be two quite independent trades, the connections between
the two are quite obvious, and it's not difficult to think of famous names that could be
placed in either band. These connections have meant that pragmatics has made its
own a good part of the findings of sociolinguistics. Less obviously, perhaps,
sociolinguistics has tended to take up not a few of the new issues and challenges (new,
that is, from its perspective) coming from pragmatics.
paraphrase, this time of a famous quote from Roman Jakobson: if we were to accept that
nothing linguistic is foreign to us, perhaps we could also admit, firstly, that the
sociolinguistic point of view cannot be foreign to pragmatics (we run the risk, otherwise,
of creating a sort of angelic or a-social, grammar-like pragmatics) and secondly,
that the pragmatics point of view has to be included in sociolinguistics and its
approaches (to avoid a sociolinguistics bereft of communicative phenomena).
The pragmatic view: precedents and origins
What has come
to be called the pragmatic outlook or perspective, as a term with a
deliberately wide meaning, is to be seen, not so much as a discipline with a particular
orientation, but as a confluence of trends or currents, all having many and various
origins (cf. Levinson 1983, Verschueren, Östman and Blommaert (eds.) 1995, Mey (ed.)
The oldest of
these would be classical rhetoric, with obvious emphasis on oral discourse; the philosophy
of language, many centuries later, would be one of the most recent, along with an interest
in the theory of human action, resulting in speech act theory (J. L. Austin, J. R.
questions of grammar were the point of departure, the route that led to pragmatics was
variously through the inadequacy of semantic theory (when confronted with the problem of
context of use), or the desire to argue for functionalist approaches (in M. A. K.
Halliday's work, for example) that took account of linguistic variation. The latter
converged, in practice, with developments in interactional sociolinguistics,
anthropological linguistics and the ethnography of communication (D. Hymes and J. J.
or more specific disciplines also paved the way for pragmatics. Enunciation theory for
instance (R. Jakobson, E. Benveniste), and psycholinguistic and cognitive theories (L. S.
Vygotsky). The fields of text linguistics and discourse analysis also come into being,
alongside pragmatics, and the interrelationships between all these are multiple.
semiotics (with its interest in the study of signs and communication), has always been
cited as one of the main roads leading to pragmatics, above all, thanks to the work of Ch.
S. Peirce and Ch. W. Morris, both in the North American tradition, and of M.M. Bakhtin in
the Soviet tradition (more allied to literary criticism). To Peirce, reformulated by
Morris, we owe what is arguably the most usual conception and definition of pragmatics,
complementary to syntax and semantics, which analyses the relationship between signs and
uses or users.
definition, while criticised for its vagueness, constitutes a way of centring pragmatics,
at least in general terms by intension-- that is, by naming the criterion according
to which objects do, or do not, form part of the whole (in this case all that refers to language use). Other more specific criteria have been sought to
replace or narrow down the above. As a result, pragmatics has often been defined, rather, by
extension that is, by listing one by one its objects of study (speech acts,
deixis, inference, modality, and so on).
3. Orientations and connections
What, then, is
original about the pragmatic view that is not found in other, neighbouring views? Perhaps
there is not any one thing in particular, but rather the sum of a series of traits and
interests (cf. Payrató 2003): emphasis on the speakers or the énonciation, the
links between text and context, the will to explain meaning (literal and non-literal) and
its interpretation, the regulation of linguistic behaviour, the integration of
complementary points of view on use, the need to explain functional variation in
particular, and variation and diversity in general
on one hand, and objectives on the other, have given different shades and nuances to the
various orientations within pragmatics, from those most linked to sociolinguistics to
those most grammatical (sociopragmatics at one extreme and pragmalinguistics at
other, according to Leech 1983), and from the most general, concerned with pragmatics
universals and the general requisites and conditions for language use, to the most
specific, emphasising the description of particular aspects or resources of a given
language or culture.
In fact, as
most commentators would freely agree, it is no easy task to define where pragmatics ends
and sociolinguistics begins (see for example Calsamiglia and Tusón 1991; and cf. manuals
by Boix and Vila 1998 and Bassols 2001). At the same time there is nothing to be gained
from subsuming all research on language use under a general heading which might seem to
unify but which would end up being a ragbag category of miscellaneous items. The way
forward seems rather to try to determine, as much from a diachronic as from a synchronic
angle, the theoretical network of connections in which to situate each individual piece of
research. Grosso modo, the prevailing orientations and approaches in pragmatics are, first
of all, as in other sciences: the often inaptly named theoretical orientation,
which comprises the baseline research and includes metapragmatics, the descriptive orientation
(which in turn necessarily includes a contrastive component and an historical component)
and the applied orientation, aimed at solving practical problems arising out of
development of pragmatic explanation, as a general theory of use, would include
providing satisfactory answers or findings on a series of issues including the question of
pragmatic universals and the processes of grammaticalisation (basically, the nature of the
relationship between pragmatics and grammar). Issues, these, which cannot be disassociated
from research with more empiric or descriptive scope, on the impact of social and cultural
factors in language use. This orientation has to permit theoretical speculation securely
grounded on an empirical basis. Ideally it also has to facilitate applications of all
sorts: in the field of language teaching, in the resolving of conflicts that commonly
arise in everyday interaction, in interethnic or intercultural communication, in the
diagnosis and treatment of language disabilities, and so forth.
4. New and old issues
The multiple viewpoints
or outlooks which the object of analysis
that of language use-- affords us finally become different ways of photographing
(or filming, for those who prefer a less static metaphor!) this object. Pragmatics
has developed via theories which, in more or less faithful ways, have had their influence
on the following focuses of interest (see Payrató 2003):
Rules and principles: what controlling norms govern interlocutors' language use or
The context: how do utterances match or relate to contexts of use?
Meaning and inference: how do we recognise and interpret the meaning of utterances?
Grammaticalisation: where do pragmatics end and grammar begin, and what is the motivation
behind processes of grammaticalisation?
Functionality: how is language, as machinery or system, adapted to requirements made on
Out of these
different focuses of interest, and the associated issues, have come theories that can
throw light on a nucleus of problems which intuition tells us must be difficult to reduce
to a single parameter. Traditional speech act theory the theory of what we do when
we speak has been the motivating force behind most work in the pragmatics field,
with distinctions drawn between various dimensions: the locutionary aspect (the act of saying), illocutionary aspect (what is done
when we say something: affirmation, order, etc.), the perlocutionary aspect (what
result is produced by what we say, the effect on the interlocutor-receiver). This has led
to work, for example, on acts of indirection, in which the illocutionary force does
not coincide with what we would expect from the message's literal content; for example, You've
left the light on, meaning that the light should be turned off, and not meant as a
simple statement of fact.
Work on such
speak act theory has considerable momentum even today (see especially Kerbrat-Orecchioni
2001 and Vanderveken and Kubo (eds.) 2001), although the study of inference, more
concerned with overtones of meaning than with a general theory of human action, has come
to be the prime area of research interest. Not without considerable discrepancy however:
apart from theories on argumentation (see Anscombre and Ducrot 1983, Moeschler and Reboul
1994), two main orientations can be seen, represented by Levinson (1983, 2000), on the one
hand, and Sperber and Wilson (1986/1995), on the other. The latter scholars are the
introducers and defenders of relevance theory. This holds relevance (or pertinence) to be
what shapes and structures communicative and cognitive activity, underpinning the way in
which we produce and understand linguistic utterances.
of relevance or pertinence was already covered by H. P. Grice, not formulated as a
principle, but rather as a lower-level factor, that of conversational maxim, along
with truth, quantity and manner. As Grice saw it, these four taken
together made up the principle of conversational cooperation, which establishes the
fact of cooperation between interlocutors in the conversational enterprise. Other
principles, referring to relationship, quantity, informativeness, communicability and
politeness (or tact), have also made their appearance in the many and varied treatments of
rule-governed language use (cf. Lakoff 1973, Leech 1983, Horn 1988, Mey 1993, Verschueren,
Östman & Blommaert (eds.) 1995, Mey (ed.) 1998).
continues to be a point of contention in many senses, whether seen in cognitive terms, as
in relevance theory, or in sociocultural and situational terms. There are probably few
notions in pragmatics (and in linguistics) that are more diffuse and more controversial
than this, present as it is in many theories, especially those which seek to explain the
adaptability of language (see Verschueren 1987 and 1999). This capacity to adapt implies
developing theories (or sub theories) that might allow us both to explain the
functionality of language as a vehicle (as a universal feature) and the grammaticalisation
of certain structures. The latter would represent, in terms of a syntactic core, what is
the essence of pragmatics, the universal elements of a pragmatic nature that have become
codified (for example the I and you of the interaction; see Mey (ed.) 1998).
that any single one of the current pragmatics theories will be able to fully explain or
resolve the issues that have emerged both from long-standing areas of interest or from
more recently explored ones. Research on deixis as a link between system and the
use, at personal, time, and space levels and modality, understood in the broader
sense of what the speaker states in the utterance, all need to be added to the above, and
present multiple connections between grammatical aspects, since they constitute, in
reality, the interface between system and use.
What is more,
modality is akin to subjectivity (Kerbrat-Orecchioni 1980), and the latter in turn is akin
to style: pragmastylistics is in fact (or stylistics tout court), an area of study
which has always been present, more or less explicitly, with different slants, in
pragmatics studies (see Hickey (ed.) 1989 and volume 29 of Caplletra, 2000). The
nature of choice albeit restricted by social norms associated with language
use, is what lies behind this continuing presence which has led in its turn to different
(sub)theories, which need to cohere with explanations of functional variation.
recent approaches connect grammar with sociocultural aspects: linguistic politeness, above
all, has emerged as a centre of interest that has brought together and articulated a very
large amount of research, particularly after publication of the study by Brown and
Levinson (1987). Lastly, pragmatic connections have started to extend into the field of
multimodality, that is to say the analysis of communicative phenomena performed in synchronisation across different channels. It has
been several years since the issue was first