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Pragmatics and Variation

I. Pragmatics vs. other branches of
II. Participants and conversational
III. Social groups
IV. Variation Theory
V. Pragmatics vs. other branches of
linguistics revisited
I. Pragmatics vs. other branches of linguistics

Task 1: Do a syntactic, semantic and

pragmatic analysis of the following utterance:

Situation: Queen Victoria had been in a

prolonged depression caused by the death of
her husband, Albert. The following words
were uttered by the Queen as a response to a
joke made by her courtiers.

We are not amused.

SYNTACTIC ANALYSIS = relationships
between linguistic forms.
We are not amused.
We = the noun phrase subject, a first
person plural pronoun
Are = the main verb agreeing with
Not = a negative marker
amused = an adjectival complement.

The analysis targets TEXT level.

SEMANTIC ANALYSIS = relationships
between linguistic forms and entities in
the world.
We are not amused.

We = indicates the person speaking

Are = a state
amused = a synonym of entertained

The analysis targets TEXT level.

PRAGMATIC ANALYSIS = relationships between
linguistic forms and the users of those forms
(Yule, 1996).
We are not amused.
Taking into account the situation, the analyst
would infer that the Queens intention was to
prevent them from trying to make her laugh
and lift her out of the depression.
Her statement also implies that she is to be
respected as Queen (pronoun WE).
So a pragmatic analysis studies text taking into
account context in order to reveal function.
The analysis targets the levels of TEXT,
Task 2: Syntax and semantics cannot always
disambiguate meaning. Where is the ambiguity that
syntax/semantics cannot solve? How can pragmatics
disambiguate the following:
Pet mince (outside a butchers shop);
Angel parking (road sign beside the road that runs past
the sculpture The Angel of the North, Gateshead);
Child actor (a child who acts; which word is the head
Child psychiatrist the meaning cannot be determined
by analogy (family butcher/ pork butcher);
Bergkamp wants to end his career at Arsenal (stay
Bin Laden paid for Bali bombing. (paid for is active or
passive? money paid by Bin Laden)
Ive just finished a book.
Task 3: Find appropriate contexts for the
following utterances:
Ive got a flat tyre.
1. If its in a garage, it may mean I need
2. If addressed to a friend with a car, it may
mean I need a lift;
3. as a response to a request for a lift from
a friend without a car, it may mean I
cant give them a lift.
Can you open the door?
Task 4: Consider the following examples. What is
the (immediate) consequence in each case?
1. You have such cute earrings!
2. I declare you husband and wife! (uttered by the
3. Fire! (the commander of the firing squad)
4. You are sentenced to 20 years in prison!
5. Women must cook and take care of children.
6. Women and men are equal.
7. Theres a bull in the field.
8. You are going to have an exam at the end of this

. What is the difference between 1-4 and 5, 6 ??

1. You have such cute earrings! = a compliment that makes you
feel good
2. I declare you husband and wife! (uttered by the registrar) = a
new social status
3. Fire! (the commander of the firing squad) = death
4. You are sentenced to 20 years in prison! = seclusion
5. Women must cook and take care of children. = a sexist
6. Women and men are equal. = the feminist discourse
7. Theres a bull in the field. = information/warning/expression of
8. You are going to have an exam at the end of this course. =
information/ menace supposing someone misbehaves.

What is the difference between 1-4 and 5, 6 ??

1-4 refer to individual cases; 5,6 are parts of discourses that are
carriers of ideologies in the world, that attempt at making other
people see the world in certain colours.
Walker, a successful manager, leaves her office and says
goodbye to her business partner, her secretary and the
caretaker, arrives home and greets her son, mother and
husband. What do you think these greeting manners say
about the relationships between people?

1. her business partner says goodbye Margaret, (she replies

goodbye Mike)
2. her secretary says goodbye Ms Walker, (she replies goodbye
Jill) and
3. the caretaker says Bye Mrs Walker (to which she responds
goodbye Andy).
4. As she arrives home she is greeted by Hi mum by her son,
5. hello dear, have a good day?, by her mother,
6. and simply youre late again! by her husband.
(Holmes, 1992:3).
CONCLUSION: language reflects and
shapes social order.
II. Participants and strategies

Conversational strategies differ according to

1. participants social status and

2. the speech style of the social group they

belong to.


(Douglas, 1970:60)
III. Social groups and conversational style
What is a group?
1. A speech community? (Gumperz, 1960s)
= shared membership +
= shared linguistic communication
vocabulary and grammar conventions,
speech styles,

conversation norms.

. An individual participates in various speech

2. A community of practice? (Eckert, 2005)

= a community organized around a common

purpose (craft, profession).

C of P may
develop naturally
be created with the goal of gaining

No given social variables (class, gender, area,

Social groups represent a study field for
Variation Studies (Eckert, 2012).
What is Variation Theory?
VS/Theory have proved that different groups
(gender, social status, ethnic or regional
background and so on)tend to use different
linguistic forms.

Eg: Case study: Men and women are said to

belong to different groups, consequently they
would use different linguistic forms.
IV. Variation theory
3 waves of variation studies:

1. Linguistic variables macro-sociological categories

of socioeconomic class, sex class, ethnicity, age

2. Ethnography explores local configurations that

constitute the broader categories

3. - Variation constructs social meaning, it

represents a force in social change
- Variables only acquire meaning in the context of

(Eckert, 2012)
linguistic variables, that are equivalent in
meaning, locate speakers in social space
and enhance social class differences
(Quantitative sociolinguistic studies)

Eg: There are phonological, morphological

and lexical differences between mens and
womens language in certain communities
in the world. (Coates, 1996: 44).
women - more prestige linguistic features
men less prestige linguistic features
(Coates, 1996: 77).
Membership of social groups (middle class or
working class etc.) has been found related to
the use of certain linguistic features (eg.
prestige or low/vernacular variants).
(Graddol & Swan, 1995)


Through language, social groups assert
their distinctiveness: members of a group
recognise each other as being linguistically
similar to each other and different from
people outside the group.
Patterns arise because people deliberately
choose to speak in certain ways to signal their
membership of a particular community, their
gender, and other aspects of their social identity
(Graddol & Swan, 1995: 65).
Speakers who use standard norms are perceived
as of greater status, seen as more ambitious,
more intelligent and more self-confident.

Regionally accented speakers are, on the other

hand, rated highly in terms of personal
attractiveness, they are seen to be talkative,
good-natured and full of sense of humour
(Coates,1996: 83).
Nevertheless no generalization can
be made since speakers are not wholly
free to adopt the speech style they
choose so as to become the particular
person they want to become.

There are constraints on individuals

that arise from social structure, from
the socio-economic processes. So the
intentions and desires of individual
speakers will be frustrated by external
social processes (Graddol & Swan,
1995: 141).
Cross-group conversational interaction may
give rise to distortion and even loss of
linguistic strategies are ambiguous and
polysemous (case-study).

Eg: Conversational features traditionally associated

with power (interruptions and overlaps) may show
solidarity and involvement. Features that have been
thought to express solidarity (indirectness), may
represent a display of power.
participants use politeness and face-saving
strategies in order to keep the conversation going.
V. Pragmatics vs. other branches of
linguistics revisited
The level of speech sounds: Eg. Most
speakers of languages with a
significant degree of dialectal
variation, who have grown up with a
local dialect but who were socialized
into the use of a standard variety
through formal education, will find that
the language they use sounds quite
different depending on whether they
are in their professional context or
The level of morphemes and words: there are
pragmatic restrictions on and implications of
aspects of derivational morphology.
Eg. Consider the derivational relationship
between grateful and ungrateful or kind and
unkind. The reason why this relationship is
not reversed, with a basic lexeme meaning
ungrateful from which a word meaning
grateful would be derived by means of the
negative prefix, has everything to do with a
system of social norms which emphasizes
the need for gratefulness and kindness.

At the level of syntax: the same state of affairs can be

described by means of very different syntactic
John broke the vase
The vase was broken by John
The vase was broken
The vase got broken

How are pragmatics and syntax related in the following

John was murdered.
John was murdered by a man known to the police.
John was murdered by Mary.
At the level of word meaning (lexical
semantics), more than what would be
regarded as dictionary meaning has
to be taken into account as soon as a
word gets used. Many words cannot be
understood unless aspects of world
knowledge are invoked.
E.g. pet mince; topless district; Angel
Meaning is a triadic relationSpeaker means Y
by X.
Pragmatics = utterance meaning.
Utterance meaning consists of the meaning
of the sentence plus considerations of the
intentions of the Speaker (the speaker may
intend to refuse the invitation to go to the
film), interpretation of the Hearer (the
Hearer may interpret the utterance as a
refusal, or not), determined by Context
and background knowledge.
Pragmatics = meaning in context
Meaning is not seen as a stable.
Rather, it is dynamically generated in
the process of using language.
Also, pragmatics (as the study of
meaning in context) does not imply
that one can automatically arrive at a
pragmatic understanding of the
phenomena involved just by knowing all
the extra linguistic information, because
context is not a static element.
References (courses 1+2)
Bakhtin, M. (1978) Esthtique et thorie du roman.
Paris: Gallimard.
Coates, J. (1996) Women, Men and Language. A
sociolinguistic account of gender differences in
language. London&New York: Longman.
Coeriu, E. (1996) Lingvistica integral. Interviu cu
Eugeniu Coeriu realizat de Nicolae Saramandu.
Bucureti: Editura Fundaiei Culturale Romne.
Douglas, M. (1996) Natural Symbols. Explorations in
Cosmology. London New York: Routledge.
Eckert, P. , Wenger, E. (2005): Communities of practice
in sociolinguistics. Journal of Sociolinguistics. Vol 9, Issue
4, 582-589.
Eckert, P. (2012): Three Waves of Variation Study: The
emergence of meaning in the study of variation study,
Annual Review of Anthropology. 41-87:100.
Graddol, D. & Swan, J. (1995) Gender Voices. Oxford UK and
Cambridge USA: Blackwell.
Grice, H. P. (1975) Logic and conversation. In: Peter Cole,
Jerry L.Morgan, Syntax and semantics, 3: Speech acts. pp.
Mey, J.L. (1993) Pragmatics. An Introduction. Oxford:
Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
Romaine, S. (2005) Variation in language and gender. In
Janet Holmes and Miriam Meyerhoff (eds.) The Handbook of
Language and Gender Malden Oxford Carlton: Blackwell.
Sperber, D. (1995) How do we communicate?. In John
Brockman & Katinka Matson (eds.) How things are: A
science toolkit for the mind New York: Morrow pp. 191-199.
Yourcenar, M. (2007) Poveste albastr. Bucureti:
Milroy, L. (1987) Language and Social Networks. Oxford
New York: Blackwell.