Two of the goals of human communication are: to be understood and to be believed. In persuasive communication, both of these acts are fulfilled. Pragmatists have investigated the first goal and how it is carried out, while social psychologists have focused on the second goal. This paper attempts to shed new light on persuasion by reviewing work from both fields and sketching the outline of a model integrating such work. Relevance theory bridges communication and cognition and, as such, provides a solid foundation for further research on persuasion. Marketing communication offers a rich domain of investigation for this endeavor: we show that pragmatics can only benefit from an analysis of persuasive communication in an “optimized” context such as marketing.
1 Introduction One of our goals, when we communicate, is to be understood. Another goal is to be believed: we try to affect our audiences’ beliefs, desires and actions. Persuasion is the communicative act that carries out both these goals – an audience that has been persuaded has understood an utterance, and believed its message1. Accounting for the understanding aspect has typically been the work of pragmatic theorists, while explaining how attitudes change has been the focus of social psychologists. A plausible study of persuasion must bring the two fields together. Both disciplines have so far fallen short of providing satisfactory models of persuasion because they have failed to *
I would like to thank Deirdre Wilson for her continued support and invaluable guidance for my work in general and this paper in particular. I also wish to thank Jack Hawkins for encouraging me to come back to linguistics after “several” years away from the field. I am aware of the different meanings of the word “message” in the three disciplines of pragmatics, social psychology and marketing. I have endeavored to use “message” in a pragmatic context to refer to the content of an utterance. When used in a social psychology context, it is roughly interchangeable with “stimulus.” In a marketing context, it refers mostly to an “advertising message.” 1
take each other’s work into account. My principal aim in this paper is to begin to remedy this shortfall and to show how pragmatics and social psychology interact in persuasion. I will review work on persuasion in both disciplines and introduce the outline of an integrated model of persuasive communication, beginning with the speaker’s intention to communicate and persuade, through to the hearer’s potential attitude change. My second goal is to utilize this framework to look at a specific type of persuasive communication, marketing communication. I will show how and why both marketing and pragmatics can benefit from using marketing as a domain of investigation in studying communication.
2 Persuasion and Communication 2.1 Speech Act Theory and Perlocutionary Acts 2.1.0. Persuading someone is performing an act (roughly, that of affecting someone’s beliefs or desires) using some form of communication, usually language. As such, persuasion constitutes a “speech act,” an act performed in, or by speaking. The notion of speech act and the theory that was developed around it were first introduced by J.L. Austin in his William James Lectures at Harvard in 1955, and published in 1962 in his How To Do Things With Words. I will review Austin’s work as it relates specifically to persuasion, as well as other work by speech act theorists, and pragmatists who have also looked at similar speech acts. I will show how and why persuasion, and related speech acts, turn out to be perplexing and somewhat frustrating for pragmatists. 2.1.1 Austin (1962). The verb “to persuade” is typically given as one of the first examples of perlocution by speech act theorists. Indeed, Austin (1962), when he develops speech act theory and introduces...