Pragmatics of communication

May 13th, 20121:50 pm


Pragmatics of communication

1) Pragmatics as a science
2) Pragmatic components of communication
3) Maxims of communication
4) Communicative meaning of the utterance

1. The modern use of the term “pragmatics” which comes from Greek word (meaning deed or state of affairs) is attributed to the philosopher Charles Morris, who outlined the scope of the science of signs or semiotics. Within semiotics he distinguished 3 branches of inquiry:
– syntax or the formal relation of signs to one another;
– semantics or the study of the relation of signs to the objects they represent;
pragmatics or the study of the relation of signs to their interpreters.

At the beginning of 1960s Pragmatics became a part of Linguistics. The 1st representatives of Linguistic Pragmatics were the authors of Speech Act Theory John Austin and John Searle.

Pragmatics as a branch of Linguistics studies the functioning of language units in speech.

Fraser, Bach, Levinson, Leech.

Ivanova, Pocheptsov.

Linguistic Pragmatics studies functional characteristics of linguistic units in a particular context of utterance. The context is defined as the set of background assumption that are necessary for the utterance to be intelligible, including the knowledge, beliefs and relationships between the speaker and the listener. In pragmatic research linguistic expressions with the same structure may have different communicative functions depending on the situation of contexts in which they were uttered, f.e.

What are you doing?  I’ll watch you.

Pragmatic understanding of the utterance involves making inferences that will connect what is said to what is mutually assumed by speakers or to what has been said before.

These communicative inferences are not part of the semantic content of the sentence. They reflect our ability to comprehend the contextual assumptions that are implied.

2) Pragmatic components of communication

Dealing with the scope of Pragmatics Stephen Levinson provides a list of phenomena for which a pragmatic theory must account.

Conversational implicature is a special kind of communicated pragmatic inference, an aspect of the meaning of an utterance in a particular context and situation inferred by the hearer, but not explicitly said by the speaker.

John is a machine.

Presupposition is a self-evident implicit assumption about the sense of a linguistic expression, that is more closely based on the linguistic structure of sentences. Presuppositions are speaker’s assumptions concerning smth that hearer excepts without preliminary explanation.

John stopped beating his wife.

In order to distinguish presupposition from implicature a negation test is used, which means that by definition presupposition remains constant under negation while implicature converts to its opposite.

Is the present king of France bald?

Implication or entailment is a metalinguistic relation between 2 propositions where 1 logically follows from the other and if every semantic interpretation makes the 1st proposition true, the 2nd becomes true automatically.

All humans are mortal. Socratus is a human —– Socratus is mortal.

The cat is lying on the mat —- The mat is underneath the cat.

Deixis is a linguistic term borrowed from Greek which means pointing or indicating and it includes the following traditional categories:
– person deixis, which concerns the encoding of the role of the participants in the speech event and is generally expressed by the 1st and 2nd person pronouns;
– place deixis, which encodes special location of the participants, which can be proximal and distal. It is expressed by demonstratives and place adverbs;
– time deixis, which encodes temporal points and periods relative to the time at which the utterance was spoken. It’s expressed by the tense forms and adverbs of time;
– discourse deixis, which has to do with the encoding of reference to the fragments of unfolding discourse in which the utterance is located;
– social deixis, which concerns the encoding of social distinctions relative to the roles of the participants and is expressed by title or forms of address.

Honorifics – choices between pronouns You-you.

3) Maxims (set expression, like aphorism, saying) of communication

The success of a communication depends upon various speaker’s approaches to the interaction. The way in which people try to make communication work is sometimes called the cooperative principle, which was represented by a number of conversational maxis (Herbert Grice – 1967).

He defined this principle as requirements accepted as reasonable for effective communication, which if violated can cause a break-down.

4 maxims

1) the maxim of relevance – “Be relevant to the communication”- speaker’s contribution should relate clearly to the purpose of communication;

2) the maxim of quality – “Be truthful according to the evidence you have” – speakers shouldn’t say what they think is false or make statements for which they have no evidence;

3) the maxim of quantity – “Be informative but not over-informative” – speaker’s contribution should be as informative as it’s required for the communication to proceed. It should be neither too little, not too much;

4) the maxim of manner – “Say things dearly, unambiguously and briefly” – speaker’s contribution should be orderly, logic and avoiding obscurity.

Politeness theory was formed by Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson. In their opinion politeness is the relation why people do not always say what they mean. These 2 scientists sum up human politeness behavior in 4 strategies:
1) bald on-record;
2) negative politeness;
3) positive politeness;
4) off-record indirect strategy.

1) Bald on-record does nothing to minimize threat to the hearer’s identity (emergency, direct order/command).
2) Negative politeness recognizes that the speaker is in a way imposing on a hearer. It combines mitigating and imposition (I don’t want to bother you but… You must forgive me but….    I was just wondering – indirect question).
3) Positive politeness shows that you recognize the hearer’s desire to be respected (when you avoid disagreement, when you attend to the hearer : You must be hungry. How about some lunch?   You really should try harder).
4) Off-record indirect strategy includes giving hints, being vague, being sarcastic or joking (It’s a bit cold in here.     Perhaps someone should be more responsible).

Theory by Leech defines politeness as a form of behavior that establishes and maintains an atmosphere of relative harmony of communication.

* Tact maxim (in directives [impositives] and commissives): minimise cost to other; [maximise benefit to other]

* Generosity maxim (in directives and commissives): minimise benefit to self; [maximise cost to self]

* Approbation maxim (in expressives and representatives [assertives]): minimise dispraise of other; [maximise praise of other]

* Modesty maxim (in expressives and representatives): minimise praise of self; [maximise dispraise of self]

* Agreement maxim (in representatives): minimise disagreement between self and other; [maximise agreement between self and other]

* Sympathy maxim (in representatives): minimise antipathy between self and other; [maximise sympathy between self and other].

The communicative meaning of the utterance depends upon the context in which the sentence was spoken, upon what was said before, upon where and when it was said before, upon when and where it was spoken and by whom it was uttered. It is also necessary to know what the speaker had in mind in saying that and what his relationship with the receiver is. It is important to differentiate between communicative and propositional meaning. Proposition expresses the given state of affairs and is based upon reference and predication.

e.g. Phil smokes habitually.

Does Phil really smoke habitually?

It is not true that Phil makes habitually.

If Phil smokes habitually, then he will not live much longer (the propositional meaning is the same in all the sentences).

Propositional meaning is the semantic kernel of the sentence that determines its truth conditions, regardless of its syntactic form, while communicative meaning largely depends upon the situation and context.

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