The Pragmatic Aspects of the Sentence

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Introduction

Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, linguistics and anthropology. Unlike semantics, which examines meaning that is conventional or "coded" in a given language, pragmatics studies how the transmission of meaning depends not only on structural and linguistic knowledge (e.g., grammar, lexicon, etc.) of the speaker and listener, but also on the context of the utterance, any preexisting knowledge about those involved, and other factors. In this respect, pragmatics explains how language users are able to overcome apparent ambiguity, since meaning relies on the manner, place, time etc. of an utterance. In pragmatics, an utterance is most often taken to be a linguistic action performed by a certain speaker in a certain place at a certain moment. The problem of pragmatics is not new. A significant contribution to the study was made by such scientists as Austin, Morris, Wezhbicka, Grice, Goffmann and others.

The pragmatic aspect of the sentence

In 1938 Charles Morris published Foundation of the Theory of Signs. He distinguished there three areas of logical investigation: syntax, semantics and pragmatics. This book is commonly recognized as the starting point of investigation into the area of pragmatics. As a matter of fact, Morris' book did not make any contribution to pragmatics but rather described problems of the understanding language which cannot be handled by semantic methods. He also explicitly indicated the need to solve them in another way. Concrete research began in the fifties. Levinson contains a review of the linguistic approach to pragmatics; however, an adequate monograph presenting the logical contributions to the area is still lacking. Since then the main results in the area have been achieved mainly by linguistically-oriented logicians and logically-oriented linguists. This stresses the fact that pragmatics lies on the borderline between logic and linguistics. [1; 215] When it is manifest that one individual is producing an ostensive stimulus (e.g. an utterance) in order to communicate with another individual, it is manifest that intends to find this stimulus worth his attention (or else, manifestly, communication would fail). Humans are good at predicting what will attract the attention of others. So when one person understands that another person intends him to find her ostensive stimulus worth his attention, we can unpack his understanding in terms of the notion of relevance: one person intends another person to find the stimulus relevant enough to secure his attention. Thus, every utterance (or other type of ostensive stimulus, though we will talk only of utterances from now on) conveys a presumption of its own relevance. John Austin is the person who is usually credited with generating interest in what has since come to be known as pragmatics and speech act theory. His ideas of language were set out in a series of lectures which he gave at Oxford University. These lectures were later published under the title “How to do things with words”. His first step was to show that some utterances are not statements or questions but actions. He reached this conclusion through an analysis of what he termed ‘performative verbs’. [1; 22] If pragmatics is the study of linguistic acts and the contexts in which they are performed, speech-act theory constitutes a central subdomain. It has long been recognized that the propositional content of utterance can be distinguished from its illocutionary force, the speaker's intention in uttering. [2; 135] The identification and classification of speech acts was initiated by Wittgenstein, Austin, and Searle. In an explicit performative utterance (e.g. *I hereby promise to marry you*), the speaker does...
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