An Introduction To Applied Linguistics English Language Essay

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We human beings are odd compared with our nearest animal relatives. Unlike them, we can say what we want, when we want. All normal humans can produce and understand any number of new words and sentences. Humans use the multiple options of language often without thinking. But blindly, they sometimes fall into its traps. They are like spiders who exploit their webs, but themselves get caught up in the sticky strands.

Pragmatics studies the factors that govern our choice of language in social interaction and the effects of our choice on others. Pragmatics allows us to investigate how the "meaning beyond words" can be understood without ambiguity. Over the past 30 years or so, pragmatics has grown into a well-established, 'secure', discipline in institutional terms. There are a number of specialist journals (Journal of Pragmatics, Pragmatics, Pragmatics and Cognition, Multilingua as well as others), there is at least one major professional organization (The International Pragmatics Association) whose membership goes into thousands, and regular international conferences are held the world over.

Pragmatics Perspectives on Language Use

This section uses a brief (authentic) dialogue in order to introduce some important terms concepts in modern pragmatics and to illustrate briefly the sorts of phenomena that pragmatics needs to account for. Language is use all the time to make things happen.

A Sample Dialogue

Situation:Kiki and Sharon are students at a British University. They have been flatmates for a short time and do not know each other very well. Kiki is Greek and Sharon is English. Sharon is getting ready to go out.

[1] Kiki: Where are you going tonight?

[2] Sharon: Ministry.

[3] Kiki: Ministry?

[4] Sharon: Ministry of Sound. A club in London . Heard of it?

[5] Kiki: I've been clubbing in London before.

[6] Sharon: Where to?

[7] Kiki: Why do you want to know?

[8] Sharon: Well, I may have been there.

[9] Kiki: It was called 'The End'.

[10] Sharon: Nice one!

[11] Kiki: I hope you have a good time at the Ministry.

Pragmatic Meaning

Pragmatics is concerned with the study of the meaning that linguistic expressions receive in use. So one task of pragmatics is to explain why participants in a dialogue such as the one above move from the decontextualized meanings of the words and phrases to a grasp of their meaning in their context.

In our sample dialogue, the process of handling tese pragmatic issues sometimes goes smoothly, but sometimes it does not. Let us consider each of them in turn.

Assigning Reference in Context

Kiki starts by asking Sharon where she is going, but Sharon's one- word answer is not informative enough for Kiki to be able to figure out what Sharon is actually referring to. Sharon's utterance takes it for granted that the name 'Ministry' has a referent, but Kiki's general world knowledge is insufficient for her to identify the specific referent that Sharon intended for 'Ministry' in this context. Only upon further clarification, Sharon intends to convey something like:I am going to a club called 'Ministry of Sound'. So, there is a gap between the decontextualized meaning of the utterance and the thought expressed by that word. Kiki needs to bridge this gap this gap, and initially fails to do so. In other words, a listener needs to assign reference to the words that a speaker uses, and since there is no direct relationship between entities and words, the listener typically has to make inferences as to what the speaker intends to identify. If this inferencing process is too difficult, communication will falter, and so to be co-operative, a speaker needs to anticipate how much information the listener will need.

Assigning Sense in Context

Sometimes the process of identifying pragmatic meaning involves interpreting ambiguous and vague linguistic expressions in order to assign them sense in context. For example in line [10] Sharon says Nice one. This could be taken to mean that a particular previously mentioned thing is nice(in this context, the London club called 'The End'), but this expression also has another conventionalized meaning, roughly: 'Good idea', or 'Well done'. In this dialogue, it is unclear whether Kiki has interpreted the phrase in one way rather than another, or whether Kiki she treats both interpretations as possible. These observations show that contextual meaning (reference and sense)is not fully determined by the words that are used: there is a gap between the meaning of the words used by the speaker and the thought that the speaker intends to express by using those words on a particular occasion. More technically, the linguistic meaning of an utterance underdetermines the communicator's intended meaning. This gap is filled by the addressee's reasoning about what the communicator (may have) intended to communicate by his or her utterance. Hence, Pragmatics play a role in explaining how the thought expressed by a given utterance on a given occasion is recovered by the addressee.

Inferring Illocutionary Force

Yet another element to the working out of pragmatic meaning involves interpreting the illocutionary force of utterances. Let us consider Kiki's first question [1] Where are you going tonight? Why did she ask that question? Was she requesting factual information? Was she hinting that she wanted to be invited out with Sharon? Or was she perhaps criticizing Sharon for going out too much? In other words, what was her intention in asking such a question, or more technically, what was its illocutionary force?

These are the kinds of questions that speech act theory deals with. This theory, which was generated by the philosopher John Austin (1975) and developed by another philosopher John Searle (1969), views language as a form of action - that when we speak, we 'do' things like make requests, make statements, offer apologies and so on. Austin's initial stage was that people do not simply make statements that can be judged as 'true' or 'false'; rather, they use language to perform actions that have an impact in some way on the world. Both he and Searle tried to classify speech acts into different categories, and to identify the 'felicity conditions' that enable a speech act to be performed 'successfully'.

Working Out Implicated Meaning

The main import of an utterance may, in fact, easily lie not with the thought expressed by the utterance but rather with the thought(s) that the hearer assumes the speaker intends to suggest or hint at. More technically, it lies with what is implicated, or communicated indirectly.For example, in line[4] Sharon asks Heard of it?, indicating that information about whether Kiki has heard of the club in question is desirable to her. However, Kiki interprets Sharon's question as evidence that Sharon considers her incompetent or inadequate in the social sphere. Therefore, she responds to(what she takes to be) the implicit import of Sharon's utterance([5]), rather than giving the information explicitly requested. So, pragmatics need to explain how implicitly communicated ideas (in this case: Sharon thinks Kiki is socially incompetent and/or inadequate) are recovered.

By far the most influential solution to this problem was developed in the mid-1960s by the Oxford philosopher Paul Grice (1967, 1989). He argued that people are disposed to presume that communicative behavior is guided by a set of principles and norms, which he called the, Co-operative Principle' and maxims of conversation.

Deriving an interpretation that satisfies the Co-operative Principle is effected through four maxims which the communicator is presumed to abide by:

[1] Truthfulness (communicators should do their best to make contributions which are true).

[2] Informativeness (communicators should do their bast to be adequately informative).

[3] Relevance (communicators should do their best to make contributions which are relevant).

[4] Style (communicators should do their best to make contributions which are appropriately short and clearly expressed).

Grice (1989) labeled the maxims using terms which are, perhaps, less intuitive: quality, quantity, relation and manner, respectively. Grice's fundamental point was not that people always observe these maxims, but rather that they are unstated assumptions that underlie communication.

Conversational Patterns and Structure

This is an approach that starts from the commonsense observation that people take turns in conversation, and that relies on descriptions of naturally occurring data to discover the rules involved in the patterning of conversational exchanges. In this view, conversation proceeds through ordered pairs of utterances, called 'adjacency pairs'.

The Role of Context

Context plays a major role in the communication process, and so an important task for pragmatic theory is to elucidate this process. In social pragmatics, it is widely accepted that the following features of the situational context have a particularly crucial influence on people's use of language:

The participants: their roles, the amount of power differential (if any) between them, the degree of distance-closeness between them, the number of people present.

The message content: how 'costly' or 'beneficial' the message is to the hearer and/or speaker, how face-threatening it is, whether it exceeds or stays within the rights and obligations of the relationship.

The communicative activity (such as a job interview, a lecture or a medical consultation): how the norms of the activity influence language behavior such as right to talk or to ask questions, discourse structure, and level of formality.

Brown and Levinson's (1987) three variables, P, D, and R have been particularly widely used in social pragmatic studies, and have been manipulated in various ways to try and find out how they influence language use. Unfortunately, context is sometimes taken to be the concrete aspects of the environment in which an exchange takes place and that have a bearing on the communication process. But in pragmatics, a more psychological notion of context is crucial. In pragmatics, context can be defined as the set of assumptions (that is, mental representations capable of being true or false) that have a bearing on the production and interpretation of particular communicative acts.

Pragmatic Research: Paradigms and Methods

There are two broad approaches to pragmatics, a cognitive-psychological approach and a social-pschological approach. Cognitive pragmatics are primarily interested in exploring the relation between the decontextualised, linguistic meaning of utterances, what speakers mean by their utterances on given occasions, and how listeners interpret those utterancas on those given occasions. Social pragmatics, on the other hand, tend to focus on the ways in which particular communicative exchanges between individuals are embedded in and constrained by social, cultural and other contextual factors. These two approaches tend to use different research paradigms and methods. Generally speaking, work within social pragmatics tends to take an empirical approach, and emphasizes the collection of pragmatic data, partly for descriptive purposes, and partly so that existing theories can be tested and if necessary modified. Work within the cognitive-psychological tradition, on the other hand , is less concerned with large-scale data collection, and instead tends to theorize from specific examples of communicative utterances. In fact, many key pragmatic insights were developed within philosophy.

In terms of data collection , pragmatics borrows from other sciences such as psychology, sociology and anthropology, and thus uses a variety of methods. For example, it uses video /audio-recording and detailed field notes to collect role-played interactions; and it uses questionnaires, diaries and interviews to obtain offline pragmatic data in which participants report, discuss and/or comment on their language use. Some methods are more suitable than others for exploring given research questions, so it should not be thought that one method is necessarily always better than another.

Implications for Language Teaching, Learning and Use

The Importance of Context: Context is a crucial factor in pragmatics analysis. It influences what people say, and how others interpret what they say. So, when designing language teaching materials and language learning activities, it is vital to clearly identify relevant contextual information such as

The roles and relationships of the interlocutors.

The number of people present.

The communicative setting of the interaction.

What the communicative event is (lecture or job interview) and what the goals are.

By identifying this 'starting point' contextual information, students can learn explicitly or implicitly about the influence of context on language use. From a teaching point of view, it is probably not necessary to focus particularly on this, but when there are clear developments that have an impact on language use, it could be useful and interesting to discuss this change.

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