Unit 1 Some Preliminaries
1．1 Introducing the field of pragmatics Pragmatics is a rapidly growing field in 1．2 The emergence of pragmatics as a field contemporary linguistics. In recent years, it has
not only become a center of intense interest in 1．3 Pragmatics as a branch of linguistics linguistics and the philosophy of language, it has 1．4 Pragmatics as a functional perspective also attracted a considerable amount of attention 1．5 Basic notions in pragmatic studies from anthropologists, artificial intelligence
workers, cognitive scientists, psychologists, and
--- Yan Huang, Pragmatics, p.1 Pre-Class Reading
This unit aims to present a brief yet informative introduction to linguistic pragmatics as a
relatively new field of linguistic study. By tracing the origin and goals of the field, we hope to get
across what it is about and why it is necessary.
1.1 Introducing the field of pragmatics
Although ordinary people invariably find language used by someone in some context, modern
linguists such as Ferdinand de Saussure and Noam Chomsky choose to disregard this hard fact. Rather,
they dissociate it from them and study it in isolation. Consider the following pair of sentences:
(1) a. John visited Jane last week.
b. Jane was visited by Jane last week.
Grammatically speaking, (1a) belongs to a SVO (Subject+ Predicator V +Object) sentence pattern; it
employs the past tense; it has an indicative mood; so on and so forth. For generative linguists, the
primary concern is to describe and explain how the individual words combine in accordance with
some syntactic rules to generate the sentences as observed. They are also concerned with explaining
how two or more semantically comparable sentences relate to each other although they are different in
terms of structural pattern. For instance, while (1a) is an active-voice sentence, (1b) is a passive-voice
sentence. However, they may say that the difference results from a syntactic transformation named
passivization from (1a) to (1b).
Semantics also deals with language, specifically its meaning, to the exclusion of the language
users and the context. It decomposes the meaning of words into smaller components; it draws a
distinction between sense and reference, with the focus of attention on the former; it depends on the
meaning of individual words and grammatical rules to understand the meaning of sentences as well as
their semantic relations; it also studies the meaning of sentences in terms of their truth conditions; so
on and so forth. Thus, we know the meaning of the two sentences above because we know the
meaning of the words used and have the grammatical knowledge involved. Also, literally, (1a) is
synonymous with (1b): they are paraphrases for each other.
However, with syntax and semantics, a lot of other questions remain unanswered. We may list a
couple of them below:
a. If (1a) and (1b) have common meaning, why does language allow the two forms to exist side by
b. If (1a) and (1b) have slight difference in meaning, what is the difference? When do we use (1a) and
c. What would happen to the truth value of the sentences if they were uttered in different contexts,
since whether (1a) and (1b) are true or false is relative to the time of speaking?
d. What can a speaker mean by using the sentences in specific contexts?
e. What effect may the uttering of the sentences produce on the hearer?
We might just address the last two questions here. We all know that a sentence like “I’m tired”,
when put into use, may vary in meaning, depending on who says it to whom for what in what contexts.
The easiest interpretation, depending merely on semantics and syntax, is that the speaker is describing
his physical state when saying the words. Now suppose John is hungry and says “Can you get me
some food?” to Jane, his wife. Jane, by saying “I’m tired”, is understood as declining to get any food for him. Here, sheer syntactic and semantic knowledge is not enough. What also participates in the
process of comprehension is our experience (e.g. if one is tired, one is unable or unwilling to do
anything but take a rest), the assumption that Jane intends the words to be her response to John’s
question (understood as a request), etc. Or, suppose John says “I’m tired” when asked by Jane why he does not prepare the food himself. Then, we understand that John intends to offer an explanation
rather than merely describing his physical state. Still, the sentence can be used to perform an indirect
request, as when John points to the dirty dishes and says it to Jane. Thus, theoretically, there are other
potential meanings assignable to the sentence in appropriate contexts. Yet, in virtually all the cases, we
need to make use of the non-linguistic elements long and stubbornly excluded from linguistic study.
Fortunately, we now have pragmatics, a fairly newly developed but rapidly growing branch of
study about language, or more predominantly the use of language in context by people. The field seeks
to complement, rather than overthrow, syntax and semantics by examining language in relation to its
context and user. While ordinary people as competent language users attain understandings of
language use by intuition, pragmaticians need to reveal the factors, rules, principles, and process of
language use that long lie outside of the scope of linguistics. With the emergence and development of
pragmatics, we get to know the hidden patterns and regularities in language use and in turn understand
1.2 The emergence of pragmatics as a field
“Pragmatics” (“pragma-“ as a Latin root means “act” or “action”) as a by-now-familiar term
originated with Charles Morris, who referred to it as one of the three branches of semiotics (the other
two being syntactics and semantics) in a collection of papers titled “Logical Positivism, Pragmaticism and Scientific Empiricism published in 1937. While syntactics (or syntax today) deals with relations
“to other signs of the language” and semantics with relations “to objects that are signified”,
pragmatics addresses the relation of linguistic signs “to persons by whom they are used and understood.” Now, in the literature, the term has three popular readings. One refers to the field of
study dealing with language use in its context. Another usage relates to the phenomenon of specific
language use (like the use of the passive voice) as opposed to its syntactic and semantic properties.
The other meaning of the term means the kind of research that is by nature pragmatic (characterized
by resorting to notions of context, language user, intention, etc.), as used in “the pragmatics of tag
Clearly, pragmatics as a branch of study is inseparable from semiotics. However, it is more
ascribable to the philosophy of language to which Charles Morris and other semioticians as well
philosophers also contributed. In the 1950s, there were two major camps regarding the nature of
language: one representing the school of ideal language and the other representing the school of
ordinary language philosophy. Philosophers like Gottlob Frege, Alfred Taski and Bertrand Russell
argued that since natural languages are imperfect and incapable of representing the world or logical
analysis, there is a need to invent and study artificial languages. Their effort as well as their followers
like Richard Montague and David Donaldson gave rise to what we know as formal semantics today. In
the other camp, philosophers like John Austin, Paul Grice, Ludwig Wittgenstein (at his later stage),
Peter Strawson, and John Searle contended that natural or ordinary languages are good enough and
that more effort is called for to better understand them. Part of the effort made was the development of
the speech act theory (to be dealt with in Units 2 and 3) primarily by John Austin. Another effort was
the formulation of the theory of conversational implicature (to be dealt with in Units 4 and 5) by Paul
Grice. These efforts as well as others laid the foundation for an initially philosophical and increasingly
linguistic framework of pragmatics
Yet pragmatics became widely known not for philosophical reason but for linguistic reason. In
the late 1960s and early 1970s, some of Noam Chomsky’s followers parted with his doctrine that language is an abstract cognitive mechanism working independently of language users and the context
of its use. They found, instead, that some syntactic phenomena cannot be explained without recourse
to context and the human factor. Deixis (to be treated in Unit 7) and presupposition (to be detailed in
Unit 8), among others, are such hard nuts whose solution crucially requires the participation of context.
For linguists like Laurence Horn and Charles Fillmore, topics like these are by no means trivial. More importantly, a lot of linguistic issues can be better resolved if a pragmatic element is accommodated. In other words, pragmatics is more than a “waste basket” and thus needs systematic theorizing. A
timely effort was Stephen Levinson’s Pragmatics published in 1983, which marked the growth of a
fairly systematic and linguistic theory of language use. Ever since, a lot of theories about language use have been proposed, such as Neo-Gricean pragmatic theories (to be discussed in Unit 6), the Politeness Principle and face theory (to be addressed in Unit 10 and 11 respectively) the relevance theory (to be elaborated in Units 12 and 15), and the theory of linguistic adaptation (to be touched upon in Units 14 and 15). With these theories, we are much more acquainted with language use and allowed more insights into language proper.
We would miss much without pragmatics.
1.3 Pragmatics as a component of linguistics
While philosophical inquiry never ceases, more and more scholars prefer to see pragmatics as a linguistic enterprise. Given this common understanding, two radically different views exist regarding whether pragmatics constitutes a separate core branch or component of linguistics on a par with the well established ones like syntax, phonology and semantics or it represents a functional (social, cultural, and cognitive) perspective on (every layer of) language. The disparity also creates two camps, one being the Anglo-American tradition and the other being the European Continental tradition. Scholars like Stephen Levinson, Geoffrey Leech, Georgia Green, Jenny Thomas, Peter Grundy, and the like adopts the component view. They treat pragmatics as another branch of linguistics on a par with phonology, syntax, and semantics. It also studies meaning, though differently from semantics. For many scholars, semantics deals with the abstract meaning or literal meaning of language, whereas pragmatics is concerned with the study of speaker meaning or the meaning in context. This complementarity view as heralded by Geoffrey Leech has gained general consensus, although radical semanticists view pragmatics as falling within the domain of semantics while radical pragmaticians regard semantics as part of pragmatics.
1.4 Pragmatics as a functional perspective
The European Continental tradition, despite less popularity and popularization, is also highly influential in the world of pragmatics. Scholars like Haberland, Jacob Mey, Jef Verschueren, etc. would formulate a theory of pragmatics that is more consistent with the inspiring semiotic view of pragmatics. On their view, pragmatics is concerned with people’s use of language as a form of
behavior or social action. Language is thus linked to human life in general by virtue of its use. Analogously, pragmatics can be seen as a link between linguistics and other humanities and social sciences.
Typically, Jef Verschueren defines pragmatics as “a general functional (i.e. cognitive, social and
cultural) perspective on linguistic phenomena in relation to their usage in the form of behavior.”
(Verschueren, 1999, p.7) This definition, known as perspective view, is based on the arguments that unlike syntax and semantics, pragmatics has no basic unit of language to analyze and that unlike sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics, pragmatics has no correlational object to examine. Rather, it encompasses all facets and layers of language structuring and arrests all social, cognitive, psychological effects on language use, resulting in integrated and global understandings of language use, at the cost of a neat methodology and distinct division of labor among the various well-developed linguistically related disciplines.
1.5 Basic notions in pragmatic studies
By and large, pragmatics as we know today has at least the following objectives: -- To investigate and describe the factors, properties, patterns, regularities, principles, rules, and processes of language use/usage;
-- To make sense of language use in different types of context;
-- explain language use from a dynamic perspective with recourse to the ever-changing context; -- To explore the social, psychological and cognitive constraints and mechanisms underlying language
use (production and comprehension);
-- To analyze and explain the effect of the interaction between language use and language system, between language use and discourse structure, language use and social structure, etc.
In the pursuit of these objects, the following notions characterize pragmatic studies: -- Language use (production and comprehension alike) is to be seen as linguistic choice-making; -- Linguistic choices are to be seen as communicating different purposes or achieving different effects; -- Context as a combination of various elements ranging from situational through social-cultural and mental to linguistic factors is crucial to choice making and sense-making; -- Language users’ intention, though it may fail to get across, determines the direction of language use,
involving encoding (or decoding) and inference.
To be sure, just as we do not learn how to translate in order to do translation, so we do not have to
learn pragmatics in order to use language. Then, why is a course in pragmatics necessary? Our answer is that such a course may serve three-fold purposes: 1) to enhance pragmatic awareness; 2) to promote pragmatic competence; and 3) to enable pragmatic analysis. These purposes can be achieved by systematically and explicitly exemplifying and exploiting pragmatic knowledge.
[Check your understanding]
Judge whether each of the following statements is TRUE or FALSE.
1. Pragmatics is more powerful than semantics and syntax in that it can solve problems that the other two disciplines cannot.
2. Pragmatics is concerned only with language use but not the language system.
3. Context is a core concept in pragmatics.
4. Pragmatics is subjective and therefore unscientific because it considers too much of the human factor.
5. Pragmatics is by and large complementary with semantics.
1. In daily life, we sometimes do not say what we mean. Consider the following dialogue: A: Are you coming to the lecture this afternoon?
B: It's on pragmatics.
a. What does B want to communicate?
b. How can A get to know what B means?
c. What factors are involved in making the inference?
2. Some semantically ill-formed sentences can make sense if they are considered
pragmatically. Look at the following sentences:
(1) John is a machine.
(2) Golf plays John.
(3) Boys are boys.
(4) The colorless green idea is sleeping furiously.
a. In what ways are the sentences above semantically ill-formed?
b. How do you understand the intended meaning of the speaker in the first three cases? c. In what context can (4) make sense at all?
3. Context is one of the most important factors when we conduct pragmatic analysis. Without the knowledge of the context involved, comprehension is often impossible. Look at the following
a. Where do we expect to find the two signs?
b. What do “DOG FREE PARK” and “INFANT CHANING” mean to you? c. What contextual information is involved in the comprehension of each?
4. Pragmatics has two components according to Geoffrey Leech. One is pragma-linguistics
and the other sociopragmatics. The former deals with the pragmatic aspect of linguistic
categories, structures, etc. and how an act can be performed linguistically (in different
linguistic forms) (e.g. advising), while the latter is concerned with how social conditions (e.g.
social hierarchy, social status, social settings, occupation, etc) affect language use. Read
the following story from New Concept English (Book Two, Lesson 1)
A Private Conversation
(1) Last week I went to the theatre. (2) I had a very good seat. (3) The play was very
interesting. (4) I did not enjoy it. (5) A young man and a young woman were sitting behind
me. (6) They were talking loudly. (7) I got very angry. (8) I could not hear the actors. (9) I
turned round. (10) I looked at the man and the woman angrily. (11) They did not pay any
attention. (12) In the end, I could not bear it. (13) I turned round again. (14) 'I can't hear a
word!’ I said angrily. (15) ‘It’s none of your business,’ the young man said rudely. (16) ‘This
is a private conversation!’.
a. All the sentences used in the story are declarative in type. Of the 16 tokens, the part “I can’t hear a
word” in Sentence (14) is itself declarative. However, functionally speaking, it is not declarative at
b. In what way is the young man’s response in Sentences (15) and (16) “said rudely”?
c. What do we generally expect the young man’s response to be like? Why?
5. A distinction is often drawn between sociopragmatics and societal pragmatics. Societal
pragmatics deals with how institutional, political, economic, ethnical, diplomatic,
educational, ideological factors condition and shape language use. Its topics cover the
relation between language and power; advertising; propaganda, etc. Look at the following
a. Why is this slogan controversial?
b. Can you provide other similar cases?
c. Advertisements often deliberately misinform the customers. Do you have any evidence for this?
6. Language is culturally bound; so is language use. Cross-cultural or intercultural pragmatics seeks to reveal how cultural factors like customs and conventions influence language use differently across different cultures and how cultural differences may affect cross-cultural communication. Look at the following picture:
a. How do understand the advertisement? How would a Chinese advertiser say in the same situation? b. Cross-cultural pragmatics often explores how the same act is performed in culturally different ways. For instance, how do Chinese and native speakers of English greet each other?
7. The cognitive study of language use constitutes what we call “cognitive pragmatics”, which
probes into the cognitive processes, mechanisms, constraints of language use (production and comprehension). e.g.
Jack: Do you speak English?
Jane: I’m an English major.
a. What does Jane mean?
b. How is inference made?
c. What fundamental assumption must Jack hold in order to make the inference?
8. We are not born to be communicators. We generally acquire or internalize some pragmatic rules or conventions while we are growing up. Devoted to this developmental aspect of language use, developmental pragmatics undertakes the study of the gradual though not
necessarily successful acquisition of pragmatic rules and principles by children. Look at the following two dialogues:
(1) Mike: I got that letter yesterday.
Mom: Which letter?
(2) Mike: Close the window, mom.
Mom: Say “Please”.
a. What problem does Mile run into in each case?
b. Can you provide more evidence of children’s miscommunication or inappropriate communication?
c. The development of pragmatic competence is not only a task for children, but one for L2 learners as
well. When communicating in L2, say English, Chinese students are often found to commit such
pragmatic failures as saying “No, no, my English is still very poor” when complimented by native
speakers. Hence, interlanguage pragmatics studies the acquisition of L2 pragmatic rules and
principles by adults. Can you supply more inappropriate uses of English by Chinese students?
Task 1: Definition collection
Find in the pragmatics literature at least four definitions for the following terms:
Task 2: Focus on a pragmatician
Find in the library or on the Internet some bio-data about Stephen Levinson and He Ziran.
Task 3: Study Questions
1. Study the following uses of English.
(1) Wait a minute.
(2) Move a bit.
(3) May I have a word with you? [BUT: I can’t hear a word]
a. What regularities are there in these cases?
b. What strategies are being employed here?
c. What are the rules for these strategies?
d. What principles underlie these cases of language use?
2. A distinction is often drawn between a rule and a principle (refer to Leech (1983).
all or nothing more or less
It is said that the rules of grammar are fundamentally conventional, whereas the principles of
pragmatics are fundamentally non-conventional, i.e. motivated in terms of conversational goals.
(Leech, 1983). There are two kinds of conventionality: absolute conventionality of the rule; the
motivated conventionality [some motivation is evident].
Use the following sentences to exemplify the distinction above.
(1) Be quiet.
(2) Be quiet, will you?
3. Pragmatics allows humans into the analysis. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this kind
of analysis? [in relation to Saussure's, Chomsky's, Halliday's and Hymes' view of linguistic study]
4. A distinction is sometimes drawn between sociolinguistics and sociopragmatics. Specifically, the
former deals with how social factors are encoded in language (static), while the latter is concerned
with how social factors affect language use (dynamic); whereas the former addresses how a social
man is constrained by social factors in language use (passive), the latter probes into how a social
man manipulates social factors in language use (active); whereas the former is context-independent,
the latter is activity-related, goal-oriented, context-dependent. e.g. Change of address: Tommy, Tom,
Thomas, Jef Thomas. Collect data to illustrate the differences.
5. Socio-psychological pragmatics studies how socio-psychological factors like face, interest, and
affect or condition language use, i.e. interpersonal communication, e.g.
Father: The window glass is broken. Do you know how it has happened, Jack?
Son: Well, I don't know. I've been reading in the room the whole morning.
a. Why does the son use the underlined part in his response?
b. Can you supply some examples of your own?
6. Literary pragmatics is concerned with the application of pragmatic theories to literary analysis, e.g.
analyze a character in terms of how and to what extent s/he abides by pragmatic conventions.
Collect data to show the applicability.
7. Pedagogical pragmatics refers to the application of pragmatic theories to L1 and/or L2 language
teaching, with a view to the development of pragmatic competence in L2 as opposed to
communicative competence and linguistic competence in L2, e.g. how we do things with grammar.
Use an example to discuss the application.
Read articles or book chapters that introduce the field of pragmatics and find information on the
a. the background of pragmatics
b. the definition of pragmatics
c. the aims of pragmatics
d. the branches of pragmatics
e. the relation between pragmatics and semantics
倪 波:“国外关于语用学的探索”《外国语》82/2/53 何自然:“什么是语用学”《外语教学与研究》87/4/20 戚雨村:“语用学说略”《外国语》88/4/14
1. 何自然, Notes on Pragmatics. Nanjing Normal University Press. Ch.1.
2. S. Levinson, Pragmatics. Cambridge: CUP, 1983, pp. -.
3. H. Yan, Pragmatics. Oxford: OUP, 2007, pp. -.
4. Gu Yueguo, The impasse of perlocution, Journal of Pragmatics, 20(5): -.
5. 何自然、冉永平，语用概论学（修订本），长沙：湖南教育出版社，2002，pp. -.
6. 何自然、陈新仁，当代语用学，北京：外语教学与研究出版社，2004，pp. -.
7. Pragmatics, Huang Yan, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
8. Meaning in Interaction: An Introduction to Pragmatics, J. Thomas, London: Longman, 1995.
Some reference books on pragmatics
1.Understanding Pragmatics, J. Verschueren, London: Arnold, 1999.
2. Pragmatics, J. Peccei, Routledge, 1999.
3. Pragmatics, G. Yule, Oxford: OUP, 1996.
4. Relevance: Cognition and Communication, D. Sperber and D. Wilson, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986/1995.
5. Pragmatics in Language Teaching, Rose, K. & G. Kasper (eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University
6. Interlanguage Pragmatics, Kasper, G. & Blum-Kulka (eds.), Oxford University Press, 1993.
7. Doing Pragmatics, P. Grundy, London: Edward Arnold, 1995.
8. Pragmatics: An Introduction, J. Mey, Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.
9. Cross-cultural Pragmatics, Blum-Kulka, House and Kasper (eds.), Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1989.
10. Politeness: some universals in language usage, P. Brown and S. Levinson, Cambridge: CUP, 1987. 11. Principles of Pragmatics, G. Leech, London: Longman, 1983.
12. Pragmatics, S. Levinson, Cambridge: CUP, 1983.
13. Semantics and Pragmatics: Meaning in Language and Discourse, K. M. Jaszczolt, Pearson
Education Limited, 2002. /北京大学出版社,2004.
1. 新编语用学概要，何兆熊，上海外语教育出版社，2000。 2. 语用学——理论与应用，姜望琪，北京大学出版社，2000。 3. 当代语用学，何自然、陈新仁，外语教学与研究出版社，2004。 4. 语用学与英语学习，何自然，上海外语教育出版社，1997。 5. 汉语文化语用学，钱连，清华大学出版社，1997。 6. 语用学概论，何自然，湖南教育出版社，1988。
1. Journal of Pragmatics
3. Discourse Studies
5. Intercultural Pragmatics
•www.relevance theory online bibliography.com