Pragmatic Analysis of Seinfeld's the Contest

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  • Topic: Pragmatics, Speech act, Illocutionary act
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Materia
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Paper

Pragmatic Analysis of
Seinfeld
“The Contest”

Alumno: Juan Wickenhagen
Profesora: Karen De Francesco

CAFI
2012

Index

Abstract……………………………………………………2 Introduction………………………………………………..3 Corpus……………………………………………………..4 Conclusion……………………………………………….16 Bibliography……………………………………………...17 Annex:
Seinfeld “The Contest” : Full Synopsis………………..18

Abstract

This paper focuses on the pragmatic analysis of an episode of the American sitcom “Seinfeld” called “The Contest”. In order to carry out the work several fragments were selected from the episode’s script, which were analyzed using as theoretical framework the concepts taken from the book “Pragmatics” by George Yule. The interactions of those concepts (reference and inference, presupposition, cooperation and implicature, politeness and interaction, and speech acts and events) with the fragments selected demonstrate the importance of the unsaid not only in everyday conversation but also in the creation of a sitcom.

Introduction
The present paper is mainly concerned with the pragmatic analysis of one episode of the American sitcom “Seinfeld”, focusing the work on four main related topics: reference and inference, presupposition, cooperation and implicature, politeness and interaction, and speech acts and events. The Seinfeld episode in discussion is “The Contest”, in which the four main characters are involved in a sort of competition—in the way of a bet—in which the winner will be the one who can hold out without masturbating longer than the others. Such a topic for a sitcom needed a special care in the dialogues included in the script such as the constant use of irony, metaphors and understatements to avoid using taboo language, which also provides the comic effect to the story. The main aim of this work is to show the importance of the unsaid in conversation—in this case the dialogues used in a sitcom—which is particularly essential in this Seinfeld episode where none of the characters mention not even once the words “masturbation” or “bet” or “contest”. Despite this, the plot is developed fluently thanks to the pragmatic resources and literary devices used by the writers. The applied methodology consist of the analysis and discussion of different fragments taken from the script as examples of the concepts provided by George Yule in his book “Pragmatics” and by the Chair of Linguistics as well.

Corpus

Reference and inference
Exophoric and Anaphoric Reference
All along the episode the characters refer to masturbation without using the word itself. Since the beginning, when George tells his friends that he was “caught” by his mother we can find many different ways of inferring that they are talking about that sexual activity. In fact, they never mention the word “masturbation”, therefore the reference is exophoric (e.g.: it is not present in the text): GEORGE: (Vowing) Well, I'll tell you this, though - I am never doing... that, again. ELAINE: What, you mean, in your mother's house, or altogether? GEORGE: (Definite) Altogether.

The use of “that” in this dialogue refers clearly to what George was doing at his mother’s house, which is already known by the viewers. Another similar example takes place when George is trying to explain what happened with his mother: GEORGE: Her back went out. She's gotta be there for a couple of days. All she said on the way over in the car was, "Why, George, why?!".. I said, "Because it's there!" Again the use of the pronoun “it” refers to the same “taboo” word. There is another example of exophora, which gives the scene part of its funny effect: GEORGE:…My mother had a Glamour magazine, I started leafing through it… JERRY: “Glamour”?

It is well known that “Glamour” is a magazine whose main target are women and it is strange that men using it for masturbating. In the same sense, while George is visiting his mother in hospital, she refers to what her son was doing at home when she suddenly...
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