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Meaning in Interaction

Notes from Jenny Thomas, Meaning in Interaction: An Introduction to Pragmatics (London: Longman, 1995).

Chapter 1, What Is Pragmatics?

2    Pragmatics: 2 interpretations: speaker meaning or utterance interpretation. 1st social, 2nd more cognitive. Levels of meaning: 1st level, abstract meaning; 2nd, utterance meaning or contextual meaning.

6    Assigning sense in context: “part of the process of determining what speakers mean (as opposed to what their words mean) involves assigning sense to those words”.

9    Assigning reference in context: “In order to understand an utternace, we not only have to assign sense to words, but also to assign reference (i.e. to determine in context who or what is being referred to).” Deictics, etc.

12    Structural ambiguity: “we have to derive the sense and reference which a speaker intends from the range of possible senses and references which a sentence could have.”

16    Utterance meaning: “what the speaker actually does mean by these words on this particular occasion” (= contextual meaning).

18    Force: “In pragmatics we use the term force to refer to the speaker’s communicative intention”. 4 possible permutations (interrelations) between utterance meaning and force, the two components of speaker meaning:
    - understanding both utterance meaning and force,
19    - understnding utterance meaning but not force,
    - understanding force but not utterance meaning,
20    - understanding neither utterance meaning nor force.

22    Speaker meaning: pragmaticists focusing on speaker intention rarely take into consideration the hearer. “It must be obvious that for the speaker ambiguities of sense, reference or structure rarely, if ever, exist”.

Pragmatics: Meaning in interaction. “In this book I shall be working towards a definition of pragmatics as meaning in interaction. This reflects the view that meaning is not something which is inherent in the words alone, nor is it produced by the speaker alone, nor by  the hearer alone. Making meaning is a dynamic process, involving the negotiation of meaning between speakera and hearer, the context of utterance (physical, social and linguistic) and the meaning potential of an utterance.”

Chapter 2, Speech Acts

29    Moore vs Russell, pro common language; Austin vs. Russell, ordinary lang. is effective enough for communication.

31     Austin: “our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connexions they have found worth marking in the lifetimes of many generations” (Austin).

32     Austin began with the assumption that most utterances have no truth conditions.

34     On explicit or metalinguistic performatives, used to distance speaker from commitment to the truth of the statement, “metalinguistic performatives are often used in precisely this way, even by speakrs who are completely naïve linguistically”.

35    “most seem to agree that I apologize often sounds like something one says for form’s sake, that it is less sincere than I’m sorry”.

36    “Although as I have already noted, all performatives are self-verifying, there is a difference between metalinguistic performatives and the rest. Metalinguistic performatives as well as always bein true, are, in addition, always felicitous or successful.”

37 (Mala definición de Ausin atando las felicity conditions a los pensamientos e intenciones de las personas).

40    Explicit reference to felicity conditions: “Often speakers make reference to the felicity conditions which allow them to perform  a particular act”. Collaborative performatives: bets or wagers; group performatives, committees, etc.

43    “the majority of speech acts require some degree of hearer uptake in order to succeed (and can thus be seen as ‘collaborative’).”


Chapter 3: Conversational implicature

(Grice's maxims, etc.)


Chapter 4: Approaches to pragmatics

88    “We have already noted that an utterance frequently has a range of possible interpretations; Grice, however, did not discurss the possibility that more than one implicature might be intended.”
Vs. Searle’s rule-governed approach to speech acts: conditions both over-specific and over-general.

103    “One reason for this is that Searle treats speech acts as if they were clearly-defined categories with clear-cut boundaries. In reality, as we have seen, the boundaries between, say, commanding, ordering, requesting, asking and inviting are blurred, overlapping and fluid…”

105    “As in literature, so in life: it is often the case in pragmatics that the most interesting effects are achieved when categories overlap or are blurred (such that one interactant can exploit the uncertainty) or are unclear to one of the participants.” Same thing applies to other ling phenomena such as discourse roles and activity types.

106    “a whole constellation of features contribute to the way in which participants in interaction (rather than analysts examining the data after the event) classify a speech act."

107    “the whole approach to describing speech acts in terms of rules was misconceived” “speech acts … are better described in terms of principles.” (Or maxims).

“Searle was attempting to handle pragmatics in a manner appropriate to grammar.”

108    “• Rules are all or nothing, principles more or less.
    • Rules are exclusive, principles can co-occur.
    • Rules are constitutive, principles are regulative.
    • Rules are definite, principles are probabilistic.
    • Rules are conventional, principles are motivated.”


Chapter 5, Pragmatics and Indirectness

119     Intentional indirectness here. It is costly and risky. Rational: advantages gained. Expressibility assumption.

124    How do we know how indirect to be? Factors:
    “• The relative power of the speaker over the hearer
    • The social distance between the speaker and the hearer
    • The degree to which X is rated an imposition in culture Y.
    • Relative rights and obligations between the speaker and the hearer.”

135    Wilson and Sperber 1981 argue “that there is a correlation betwen the degree of indirectness of an utterance and the amount of ‘work’ a hearer has to do in order to arrive at the propositional meaning” (NO- please. Not the PROPOSITIONAL meaning! jagl).

136    Further complications not addressed by them would involve “the nature of the activity type in which the interactants believe themselves to be engaged” (cf. Frames – jagl)

138 Also background knowledge.

139 The role of co-text in interpreting indirecness “on other occasions … the possible range of interpretations of an utterance is note heavily constrained either by context or by co-text and the n the process of utternace interpretation becomes much more difficult.”

Goals and the interpretation of indirecness. “Leech’s … approach to computing indirectness is to ‘calculate’ the length of the path from the illocutionary act to its
140    illocutionary goal.”    (Why not to the perlocutionary goal?)

“However, I would argue that the speaker will always bear in mind the steps the hearer will have to take in order to interpret what is said, and this will be a powerful constraint on the way the speaker formulates his or utterance (sic). Similarly, the hearer, in interpreting what the speaker has said, will necessarily take account of the social (and other) constraints upon him or her.”

142    “From this discussion it should be clear that the term indirectness covers a range of phenomena; in some situations it is the illocutionary goal which is unclear, on other occasions (as we shall see in the discussion of ambivalence in chapter 7) the speaker’s illocutionary goal is perfectly obvious, but the pragmatic force of the utterance is not” (e.g. If I were you… goal clear, but is it a warning, a threat, etc.?) (Debería decir perlocutionary goal, no illocutionary goal).

143    “Just occasionally we find examples of people using indirectness (in this case flouting the maxim of Quantity) in order to be uninteresting, or to deflect interest”.

144    Indirecness, too, in order to increase the force of the message. “If your hearer has to work at understanding the message, he or she has a greater ‘investment’ in that message”.

145    “Pyle … notes that we often employ indirectness because we have two goals which compete.”

146    “in speaking of politeness we are talking of ‘what is said’ and not (as in this chapter) of the genuine underlying motivation which leads the speaker to make those linguistic choices”.


Chapter 6 Theories of politeness

149 “Under the heading of politeness, people have discussed five separate, though related, sets of phenomena:
    • Politenes as a real-world goal
    • Deference
    • Register
    • Politeness as a surface level phenomenon
    • Politeness as an illocutionary phenomenon

150    “Deference … is  a distinct phenomenon: it is the opposite of familiarity. It refers to the respect we show to other people by virtue of their higher status, greater age, etc. Politeness is a more general matter o showing (or rather, of giving the appearance of showing) consideration to others”.

154    Register: “As with deference, register has little to do with politeness and little connection with pragmatics, since we have no real choice about whether or not to use formal language in formal situations (unless we are prepared to risk sanction, such as social censure” (like deference, register is a sociolinguitic phenomenon).  (¡!!!!! - no comment!!).

Difference pragmatics / sociolinguistics:

156    “’Doing’ pragmatics crucially requires context. This leads to the second issue: as soon as we put a speech act in context, we can see that there is no necessary connection between the linguistic form and the perceived politeness of a speech act.”

157    “The third reason why it is unsafe to equate surface linguistic form with politeness is that some speech acts seem almost inherently impolite” (¡¡¡y ahora lo explica con un ejemplo totalmente descontextualizado!!!)

“in pragmatics we are not concerned with whether or not the speakers are genuinely motivated by a desire to be nice to one another: all we can do is observe what is said and the effect of what is said on the hearer” (¿???)

“we cannot assess politeness reliably out of context; it is not the linguistic form alone which renders the speech act polite or impolite, but the linguistic form + the context of utterance + the relationship between the speaker and the hearer.”

Politeness as pragmatic phenomenon:

158    3 headings. Politeness in terms of maxims and principles (Leech), face-management view (Brown and Levinson) and Fraser’s “conversational-contract view”, plus Spencer-Oatey ‘pragmatic scales’ view.

159    Leech: Politeness Principle: “Minimize (all things being equal) the expression of impolite beliefs; Maximize (all things being equal) the expression of polite beliefs.”

“people will often explicitly ‘mark’ the fact that they cannot or do not intend to observe politeness norms”

160: Tact Maxim: “Minimize the expression of beliefs which imply cost to other: maximize the expression of beliefs which imply benefits to other” (Leech).

161    “It would seem that even in the case of ‘impositives’ minimizing the expression of cost to other is by no means universally polite”.

Lakoff. Give options. “Allowing options (or giving the appearance of allowing options) is absolutely central to Western notions of politeness”.

162. Generosity maxim. Better formulation than Leech’s: (JT:) “Minimize the expression of cost to other: maximize the expression of benefit to other”. (NO: Debería ser Minimize the expression of cost to self; maximize the expression of benefit to self). Important in Mediterranean cultures.

“remember that we are only dealing with the importance attached to the linguistic expression of generosity—there is no suggestion that members of one culture really are more generous than members of another”.

165    Agreement Maxim: “Minimize the expression of disagreement between self and other: maximize the expression of agreement between self and other” . “Remember, toto, that it is not being claimed that people avoid disagreeing with one another. We simply observe that they are much more direct in expressing their agreement, than disagreement”.

166 Leech, The Pollyanna Principle: “to put the best possible gloss on what we have to say”.

167 Problems with Leech’s approach: “there appears no motivated way of restricting the number of maxims” (but they are really subspecifications!!!).

168    “The term ‘face’ in the sense of ‘reputation’ or ‘good name’ seems to have been first used in English in 1876 as a translation of the Chinese term ‘diu lian’ in the phrase ‘Arrangements by which China has lost face’. Since then it has been used widely in phrases such as ‘losing face’, ‘saving face’”. Goffman’s definition, etc. (Not the same! not commented on).

169     “Within politeness theory ‘face’ is best un derstood as every indiidual’s feeling of self-worth or self-image: this image can be damaged, maintained or enhanced thorugh interaction with others” (Menos semiótico que Goffman).

FTA. Superstrategies for performing them. Without redress (bald-on-record), with redress (positive politeness), with redress (negative politeness), also 15 strategies for oof-record politeness in Brown and Levinson. Indirectness, etc. (Or: “do not perform FTA").

175    “There is a third situation—where there is such a strong expectation that something will be said, that saying nothing is in itself a massive FTA”.

176    “many acts can be seen to threaten the face of both S and H simultaneously.” (e.g. apologies.)
“Brown and Levinson claim that positive and negative politeness are mutually exclusive. In practice, a single utterance can be oriented to both positive and negative face simultaneously.”
“Nofsinger (1975): simply by speaking we trespass on another person’s face. Saying anything at all (or even saying nothing!) is potentially face-threatening.” (In Goffman too-jagl).

Politeness as a conversational contract:
Fraser includes ‘rights and obligations’ which fit well with the notion of activity types. (Missing: wider sociological framework articulating this. E.g. Goffman. etc.- jagl).

Misunderstandings of politeness theory fall outside pragmatics. (!!). JT pro less psychologistic terminology to avoid confusion.



Chapter 7: The Construction of Meaning.

183    Vs. formal grammar-like approaches being equally appropriate to pragmatics.

“It is therefore unfortunate to see in the work of many linguists who claim to be ‘doing pragmatics’ the uncritical adoption of rule-governed approaches to the description of pragmatic phenomena (such as speech acts), of static notions of context and of role relationships and a view of meaning as the ‘property’ of the speaker, as given rather than negotiated.”

184    How does pragmatics fit into linguistics?

“pragmatics is concerned with issues not addressed within other areas of linguistics, such as the assignment of meaning in context—utterance meaning and pragmatic force—speech acts, implicature, indirectness and the negotiation of meaning between speaker and hearer.” (Aquí entra la teoría de la interpretación en literatura).

“Pragmatics is a separate level of description, but there are also pragmatic aspects to other levels of linguistic description” Same with other levels.

Pragmatics versus sociolinguistics:
“There are certainly areas of overlap, but roughly we could say that sociolinguistics is mainly concerned with the systematic linguistic correlates of relatively fixed and stable social variables (such as region of origin, social class, ethnicity, sex, age, etc.) on the way an individual speaks. Pragmatics, on the other hand, is mainly concerned with describing the linguistic correlates of relatively changeable features of that same individual (such as relative status, social role) and the way in which the speaker exploit his/her (socio)linguistic repertoire in order to achieve a particular goal.”

187    “it makes as much (or as little) sense to say that sociolinguistics is the same as pragmatics as it does to say that phonetics and sociolinguistics are the same.”

Activity types vs. speech events:

Hymes’s SPEAKING mnemonic for his ‘speech events’: Situation, Participants, Ends, Act sequences (message form and content), Key (tone, manner), Instrumentalities (channel, language varieties), Norms (of interpretation, of interaction) and Genre. (Theory of action missing here - jagl).

189    “The sociolinguist tries to show how features of context systematically constrain language use. The pragmaticist tries to show how speakers use language in order to change the situation they find themselves in.”

190    “Clearly most situations lie between the totally pre-scripted and the totally unscripted and a good description of context could usefully take as its point of departure the sociolinguist’s description of givens ... but it would not stop there”.

Activity type description might include: goals of participants, allowable contributions, the
191    degree to which Gricean maxims and interpersonal maxims are adhered to or suspended, turn-taking and topic control, manipulation of pragmatic parameters (social distance, power, rights, obiligations, size of imposition), etc.).

194    “language which is not simply a reflexion of the physical or social context, or of the role relationship between the two speakers, but language used in order to establish and then change the nature of the relationship between A and B and the nature of the activity in which they are participating.... context cannot be seen only as a ‘given’, as something imposed from the outside. The participants, by their use of language, also contribute to making and changing their context. (Cf. Roger Sell. Cf. also contingency of context, established through negotiation, density of situation, integrational use of language - jagl).

195     The Construction of meaning. Intended force of an utterance may be left deliberately indeterminate (question, request, etc.). “it may be in the interests of both participants tthat the force of the utterance should be negotiable”.

196    “In fact, we find that almost all speech acts are collaborative, at least to a degree. Exceptions to this generalization are performatives such as I sentence you... “ (Bueno, cuestionable, claro. No hay excepciones).

“it is almost always the case that the hearer has a contribution to make in determining the successfulness (or otherwise) of a speech act.”

200    “speakers often ‘build up to’ the performance of a particular speech act” (sometimes stretching over days).

202 Discoursal ambivalence: Pre-requests? Levinson observes that this is a post hoc classification by the analyst (so what? Benefit of hindsight). “In pragmatics we want to know what the participants understood to be going on at this point” (Noción de la consciencia demasiado simplista. Debemos intentar comprender LO QUE PASABA, no lo que entendían que pasaba. Pro una teoría crítica de la interpretación).

203    Dynamic pragmatics. “Notice that assigning meaning is an active (dynamic) procedure. Meaning is not given, but is constructed (at least in part) by the hearer: it is a process of hypothesis-formation and testing, of making meaning on the basis of likelihood and probability.” (Cf. Herbert Blumer's symbolic interactionism - jagl).

204    What counts as evidence in pragmatics?
“- The perlocutionary effect of an utterance on the hearer
- Explicit commentary by the speaker
- Explicit commentary by someone other than the speaker
- Subsequent discourse

207 (Interpreta cotext como 'subsequent discourse', pero podría incluirse la interacción crítica).

208    “In real interactions we are often uncertain about precise meanings/intentions and can tolerate and operate with such uncertainties. What we need, therefore, is a descriptive system which adequately models this indeterminacy and which accords it proper theoretical status” (¿Y que ha hecho si no la teoría de la interpretacion en literatura?)

“in producing an utterance a speaker takes account of the social, psychological and cognitive limitations of the hearer; while the hearer, in interpreting an utterance, necessarily takes account of the social constraints leading a speaker to formulate the utterance in a particular way. The process of making meaning is a joint accomplishment between speaker and hearer, and that is what I mean by ‘meaning in interaction’.” (Cf. the basic assumptions of reader-response criticism - jagl).




Jueves, 07 de Junio de 2007 22:00. José Ángel García Landa Enlace permanente. Semiótica

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