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AUTHOR: Anne O’Keeffe, Brian Clancy and Svenja Adolphs TITLE: Introducing Pragmatics in Use PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis) YEAR: 2011
Bradley D. Langer, Department of Modern Languages, Kansas State University
This is a textbook designed for advanced undergraduate or graduate students who are studying pragmatics or corpus linguistics, or plan to research these areas. It contains eight chapters, with Chapter 1 serving as an introduction to the book itself as well as the field of pragmatics. At the end of each chapter, the authors present a list of selected references (the majority of which are annotated) for further readings related to the content of each chapter.
Chapter 1: Introduction
The authors present an introduction to the study of pragmatics in which they provide a working definition of pragmatics and emphasize the importance of context and analyzing language in use. The authors make reference to a number of large corpora, which are comprised of authentic language tokens and serve as evidence of language in use. The main corpora mentioned throughout the book (in descending order based on size) include: The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), The British National Corpus (BNC), Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE), The Limerick Corpus of Irish English (LCIE), The Limerick and Belfast Corpus of Academic Spoken English (LIBEL CASE), Corpus of Meetings of English Language Teachers (C-MELT), and The Nottingham Multi-Modal Corpus (NMMC). The remainder of this introductory chapter outlines the structure of the book with brief descriptions of each of the following chapters.
Chapter 2: Researching pragmatics
This chapter details the primary research methods in the field of pragmatics, while referencing many studies that show the diverse approaches used to investigate this area. Some of the ways of collecting data that are discussed in this section include Dialogue Completion Tasks, interviews, role-plays, and an especially in-depth discussion on the use of corpus data. The authors make reference to many studies in the Journal of Pragmatics to illustrate the various approaches.
Chapter 3: Deixis
Chapter 3 discusses the concept of deixis, which is the manner in which each language uses its grammar to orientate speakers. In other words, deixis is how grammar is used to situate interlocutors. This orientation is paramount to the study of pragmatics since it is dependent on context. In this section, these items are discussed in detail to show authentic examples of expressions that provide points of reference, such as personal pronouns and demonstrative adjectives. The authors provide numerous examples from various corpora that illustrate different kinds of deictic referents, namely those that identify the person, place, or time of referents. A common example of a deictic referent for time and space in English is the use of demonstratives. Consider the following example from page 49,
“[…] what colour do you want to put on the wall?” “What about this one?” “That one isn’t bad.”
We see that “this one” and “that one” refer to the same object (the color of the wall), but the reference changes based on the speaker. These references help the speakers understand which object they are speaking about.
Chapter 4: Politeness in context
This chapter can be divided into two main theoretical sections: Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Theory and Watts’ Theory of Politeness. It is impossible to discuss politeness in a pragmatic or linguistic sense without referencing Brown and Levinson’s Politeness Model (1978). Here, we see strategies that speakers use to save face (i.e. one’s public self-image) and how they avoid face-threatening speech acts, including positive and negative politeness strategies (i.e. ways that speakers soften face-threatening acts or maintain a positive public image). Watts’ theory, on the other hand, supports the notion that politeness is driven by the interlocutors’ interpretation of an utterance. This theory distinguishes between common politeness and the concept of face-threatening acts. In other words, a given group of people may have a certain definition of politeness, even if a certain act is considered face-threatening. All of these theoretical discussions are presented with empirical evidence from corpora, such as being conventionally indirect (e.g. “Would you by any chance have nail polish remover?” (69)) or hedging (i.e. words or phrases used to avoid sounding blunt or assertive; e.g. “Well, I mean, I have, you know, never actually really liked her as a teacher” (70)). In these examples, the speaker uses indirect methods to ask for something (‘nail polish remover’) or to criticize (‘I never liked her as a teacher’).
Chapter 5: Speech acts in context
Chapter 5 looks at the connection between linguistic forms and the function of utterances. This connection is represented by a variety of speech acts (i.e. an utterance used to perform a certain task; e.g. request, invitation or apology), which may have different functions depending on context. Austin’s Speech Act Theory (1962) discusses direct and indirect speech acts and the different kinds of action that each utterance contains, including the utterance itself, the intended meaning of the utterance and the effect of the utterance. Speech acts are very context-dependent, and as such, the context can dictate the appropriateness of an utterance or the effect of a speech act.
Chapter 6: Pragmatics across languages and cultures
This chapter examines the differences in pragmatic norms across cultures. The authors discuss the distinction between interlanguage pragmatics and cross-cultural pragmatics. They compare Asian norms to those of the Western world to illustrate various pragmatic differences due to cultural or language variation. The authors purport the notion that “self” in Western cultures is individualistic, while in Asian cultures it is more collectivistic (see Cheng, 2003 for a discussion of Chinese “self”). Furthermore, the authors suggest using a corpus-based approach to analyze pragmatic forms in context, in order to better see differences in pragmatic norms across languages and cultures.
Chapter 7: Pragmatics in specific discourse domains
In this section, the book focuses on five domains and analyzes each one in order to illustrate many of the previous notions mentioned in the book. Namely, this chapter examines casual conversations, healthcare communication, the classroom, service encounters, and soap operas. Additionally, the authors compare these domains and the components of these conversations to show how context affects the details of conversations, such as the mode of communication, turn taking, and relationship roles. One of the contexts mentioned deals with teachers, and the authors provide the following examples from a group of teachers discussing their opinions: “Now we can certainly do better than last time,” and “don’t know if we can assume that to be true” (126). In these examples, the use of “we can” shows that all the teachers are working as a group and illustrates that the opinions are uncontroversial.
Chapter 8: Pragmatics and language teaching
After presenting and comparing a variety of specific domains in previous chapters, this chapter focuses on the classroom domain in order to discuss the teaching of pragmatics with regards to teaching English. This is supported by corpora which the authors use to create activities that can be used in the language classroom. These activities serve to draw the learners’ attention to various pragmatic forms as well as the function of certain speech acts. The activities also provide strategies, such as hedging, that learners can develop to help them successfully carry out speech acts. One activity has students compare two emails in order to see which is more polite and to locate examples of hedging or other strategies that support their choice (150).
“Introducing Pragmatics in Use” would be a very useful textbook for an advanced undergraduate course on pragmatics or a graduate course in this area. This book could also be helpful for English teachers looking to incorporate pragmatic elements in the language classroom. The book is extremely easy to read and has a logical sequence of ideas. In fact, the organization is a very positive aspect of this book, especially since each chapter includes clearly marked sub-sections, useful information boxes to draw the reader’s attention to important points, and an annotated bibliography of selected references at the end of each chapter. This last component is useful for students, as it directs them to references on a certain topic, instead of relying on the complete list of references at the end of the book. Furthermore, since a key objective of the book is to promote the benefits of using corpus-based evidence to research pragmatics, each chapter ties a theoretical discussion with examples of authentic language use from various corpora.
This book does a commendable job of not only introducing the field of pragmatics -- as the title suggests -- but also presenting the diverse issues that researchers in this area of study encounter. Pragmatics can be tricky to define and break down for students who are not familiar with it as an area of study, yet the authors explain the various components of pragmatics in a clear manner by using relevant literature and numerous examples from corpora. The presentation of the various methods of collecting data in pragmatics was also very helpful. The literature cited and the corpora are relevant to examining the use of pragmatics in context.
The book concludes with a satisfying chapter on teaching pragmatics and incorporating it in the English language classroom. It even includes sample activities that blend a focus on meaning and form. Despite the fact that the book focuses on the English language -- and therefore learners of English -- it might be useful to draw comparisons across languages. For example, a type of contrastive analysis illustrating how a certain speech act is performed in English, compared to a student’s native language, would be helpful. Cultural and linguistic differences are touched upon in Chapter 6, but drawing attention to cultural and linguistic variation is important for learners as well. There is also no mention of how immersion or study-abroad programs might affect a learner’s pragmatic development, or the challenges that speakers immersed in a foreign culture face on a pragmatic level (Freed, 1995; Cohen and Shively, 2007; among many others). A brief section on this fruitful area of investigation would only serve to reinforce the notion that learning and understanding pragmatic forms is important for all speakers across the globe. That being said, an in-depth analysis of teaching pragmatics and second language pragmatic development may be outside the scope of this book, even though it would nicely supplement the objectives of the book. However, there is considerable mention of the various domains in which various pragmatic markers and speech acts occur.
Austin, J.L. (1962). How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Brown, P. and Levinson, S (1978). “Universals in language usage: politeness phenomena:, in E. Goody (ed.), Questions and Politeness: Strategies in Social Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cheng, W. (2003). Intercultural Conversation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Cohen, A. D., & Shively, R. L. (2007). Acquisition of requests and apologies in Spanish and French: Impact of study abroad and strategy-building intervention. Modern Language Journal 1: 190-212.
Freed, B. (1995). “Language Learning and Study Abroad” In Second Language Acquisition in a Study Abroad Context. Barbara F. Freed, ed. John Benjamins Publishing: Philadelphia, 3-35.
Watts, R. (2003). Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Bradley D. Langer is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish Linguistics
and Second Language Acquisition at Kansas State University. His research
interests include interlanguage pragmatics, explicit instruction, the
benefits of study abroad, and second language teaching.