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UNIT 1 - USING AND UNDERSTANDING LANGUAGE The more we study conversation or any kind of discourse, the more we realize that it is not so much what the sentences literally mean that matters, as how they reveal the intentions and strategies of the speakers themselves. What is pragmatics? Why do we need pragmatic knowledge in communication? Many authors have defined Pragmatics in different ways, and in these definitions, elements such as context, meaning beyond literal meaning, speech acts, deixis, understatement or implicature are presented as important components of this discipline. Leech explains that both Semantics and Pragmatics are concerned with meaning, but the difference between them lies in two different uses of the verb to mean:  What does X mean?  What did you mean by X? Semantics would deal with , and Pragmatics with . Thus, it is important to point out that pragmatics is defined with respect to a speaker or user of the language. FEATURES OF EVERYDAY LANGUAGE USE THAT ARE IMPORTANT IN PRAGMATICS • • • • • • • • • Appropriateness Non-literal or indirect meaning Inference Indeterminacy Context Relevance Accomodation Reflexivity Misfires 1. APPROPRIATENESS One of the important features of language has to do with appropriate ways of using language to get business done. Appropriateness is thought in relation to those who use the language and those to whom it is directed Read and look at this comic strip about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Do you find it appropriate? Is there anything strange about it? If so, what is it and why is it strange? 2) NON-LITERAL OR INDIRECT MEANING: Human discourse is full of nonliteral, indirect meanings. Consider the mother’s question in the strip on the right. Why is it indirect? What does she mean with her question? Many appropriate utterances are indirect. Sometimes appropriateness requires indirectness, as for instance in: A: What do you think of Paula? Is she pretty? B: Well, she’s certainly a very good student. 3) INFERENCE But how do we get from literal to nonliteral, indirect meaning? We obviously have to draw inferences or come to conclusions as to what the speaker is intending to convey. So what the patient in this cartoon does is verbalize the inference she made from what the doctor said. In the example below: Radion removes dirt AND odours We infer that other washing powders leave our clothes smelling bad, even though we are not told such a thing. So communication is not only about a speaker encoding a message and a hearer decoding it. The receiver must also draw an inference as to what is conveyed beyond what is stated. 4) INDETERMINACY: The fact that some meanings are matters of inference implies that the utterances we encounter are somehow unclear or ambiguous, i.e., underdetermined. This means that an utterance might have several possible meanings and that the inferences we draw determine which of these possible meanings is the one the addressee thinks the speaker is intending. The picture on the right is an example of image undeterminacy or ambiguity. Depending on how you look at it, it may be the picture of an old lady or of a young one. Can you see them both? Thus, the following utterance is under-determined in that it would mean different things depending on whether it’s uttered by most people or by a university lecturer: I’ve just finished a book Our ability to determine what speakers intend even when their utterances are under-determined is crucial for a better and successful communication exchange. 5) CONTEXT: Context is a crucial aspect for determining the meaning of an utterance. And we refer here not only to linguistic context, but to the physical, social and cultural contexts as well. The same utterance in different contexts may mean completely different things. Think of the utterance: I love people with good manners a) Said by a person in a conversation about good manners. b) Said by a person after someone else has been rude to her. Do a) and b) mean exactly the same? 6) RELEVANCE: Relevance has been seen as the most important principle in accounting for the way we understand language. Since we take every utterance as relevant, we understand utterances in whatever way will make them as relevant as possible. So, for instance in the example of the sign pinned to a chair that reads: Sit down with care. Legs can come off It is obviously more relevant to assume that it refers to the legs of the chair rather than to those of the person sitting down. Think of the nowadays famous T.V commercial where George Cloney says: “Nespresso; what else? What is the most relevant assertion intended by the question? 7) ACCOMMODATION “As we try to determine what people mean by what they say, we usually need to accept or accommodate a good deal of information which we feel is known to both the speaker and ourselves”. This background knowledge or accommodation is essential to making sense of exchanges like the following, taken from another of the Nespresso commercials. “We’ve run out of capsules up there” “Heaven can wait, George, but not for its capsules” Think of all the information we have to accommodate in order to understand the real meaning of this exchange between George and John. 8) REFLEXIVITY: We usually provide some sort of comment on how our utterance fits into the discourse as a whole, or on how we want to be understood. When we do this, we make it easier for our interlocutor(s) to understand what we mean. That is why reflexive uses of language as the following are so common: Bill Clinton (on his relationship with Monica Lewinsky): “Indeed, I did have a relationship with Ms Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong”. Here ‘indeed’, ‘in fact’ and the emphatic ‘did’ are examples of reflexive uses of language which tell us about Clinton’s commitment to the truth of what he is saying 9) MISFIRES: Pragmatic misfires occur when a given utterance does not have the expected pragmatic effect. In spite of the negative effect they may have, they are important because they tell us -by showing us the effect of not achieving the norm- that there are expected norms for talk. The following utterance was considered to be a misfire when a reader understood that the suit was a piece of clothing (when in fact it referred to a legal action), The tailor pressed one suit in the municipal court And the following headline was a misfire when the reader interpreted that the gun had been found beside the victim (and not that the victim had found it (which was the intended meaning): Stolen gun found by the victim This kind of misfires reminds us of the great care speakers need to exercise in order to convey the intended meaning successfully. However, misfires are rare, and normally speakers are able to convey the meanings they intend with remarkable consistency. TO CONCLUDE… Although all the above features have been treated separately for the sake of clarity, the fact is that all or most of them normally appear together in a bundle, as can be seen in the following utterance (made by a dancing teacher in her class to one of her new students): Is she your partner? I mean, are you going to dance together? We can see here how the features of everyday language studied in this unit (appropriateness, indeterminacy, inference, etc.) work together in order to make the utterance a pragmatic whole: 1) the question the teacher makes is an appropriate way to ask about dancing partners in a dancing class, but considering the student is new, the teacher realizes she has to reformulate her question in order to make sure the student does not misinterpret the question as one about his private life. Thus we see the element of reflexivity in the pragmatic marker I mean. Therefore, the question Is she your partner? is underdetermined and can become a misfire if the addressee does not have a common background and knowledge of the terminology used in a dancing class and of the context in general. This knowledge will make him work out the right inference as to what the teacher means by “partner” (i.e. ‘dancing partner’, not ‘girl-friend’), therefore making the former interpretation the most relevant. In this way, the student will learn to accommodate this background information in order to make the correct interpretation of the teacher’s utterance. Speech Acts: How do we do things with words? John Austin and, later on, John Searle developed a theory of speech acts, based on the premise that language is used to perform actions. Austin (1962) argued against the view that truth conditions should be considered central to language understanding, by developing a general theory of illocutionary acts which in turn became a central concern of general pragmatic theory. Austin showed the world that, when saying something, we are also DOING something; we are not just pronouncing some words, but also performing some kind of action. So when saying something, three kinds of acts are simultaneously performed: 1) LOCUTIONARY ACT The utterance of a sentence with a determinate sense and meaning. 2) ILLOCUTIONARY ACT The making of a statement, offer, promise, etc. in uttering a sentence, by virtue of the conventional force associated with it. 3) PERLOCUTIONARY ACT The bringing about of effects on the audience by means of uttering a sentence, such effects being special to the circumstances of utterance. (Austin, 1962) EXAMPLES A) A: It’s cold in here B: O.K., I’ll close the window 1) LOCUTIONARY ACT: The mere act of uttering the words “It’s cold in here”, with their literal sense and reference. 2) ILLOCUTIONARY ACT The act of indirectly (in this case) asking someone to close the window/door (Request) 3) PERLOCUTIONARY ACT The effect of the illocution on the addresse . In this case, (B) goes and closes the window B) The ‘Nespresso’ example When John Malcovich (God) in the Nespresso commercial says to George Clooney: “Heaven can wait, John, but not for its capsules” God’s words may look as an assertion, but if you read between the lines in order to understand the humor of the commercial, you realize that in fact, what God is doing with his words is to threaten George. So in this example: 1) The locutionary act is the act of uttering the words “Heaven can wait, George, but…”, which have a given sense and reference. 2) The illocutionary act is a threat (i.e. “If you don’t give me the capsules, heaven will not wait for you to visit us up there” (an consequently we’ll let you die) 1) The perlocutionary act will be the bringing about, by means of these words, of the inevitable effect : George will give God the Nespresso capsules (in order to ‘postpone’ his ‘visit to heaven’). You have now enough information to try Unit 1 activities.