Monthly Archives: April 2012

Key terms in pragmatics

Key terms in pragmatics. By Nicholas Allott. New York: Continuum, 2010. Pp. viii, 251. ISBN 9781847063786 $24.95.

Reviewed by Kanavillil Rajagopalan, State University at Campinas

This volume is part of the Key terms series aimed primarily at undergraduate students. In keeping with the general layout of the series, it is divided into three parts: ‘Key terms’, ‘Key thinkers’, and ‘Key works’, preceded by a brief, sixteen-page introduction to the field. Finally, the book is rounded off with an index of important terms and topics covered in the book, with page references for quick consultation.

The introductory chapter begins by highlighting the multiplicity of orientations in the field of pragmatics, which the author says, following Deidre Wilson, could take any of the following three approaches: philosophical, linguistic, or cognitive-psychological. Mention of the sociological orientation, as advocated by Jef Verschueren and Jacob Mey, among others, is conspicuous by its absence, though their books are recommended in the bibliography. Nor are there any entries under rubrics like ‘social’, ‘societal’, and ‘sociological’. Pragmatics itself is defined as speaker meaning minus semantics.

The two key figures whose contributions to the field loom large over the book are John Langshaw Austin and Paul Grice, and rightly so. Apart from detailed discussion of such topics as ‘implicature’, ‘speech act and illocutionary force’, and ‘intentions and communication’, terms like ‘behabitive’, ‘cancellability’, ‘commissive’, ‘constative’, ‘conventional implicature’, ‘conversational maxims’, and so forth (in a long, alphabetically arranged list), attest to the centrality of the two philosophers in current research in pragmatics.

Explanations offered for the key terms vary in size and occasionally in depth. In some cases, the author has been diplomatically cautious and careful in his choice of words, as when he writes: ‘Performatives do not seem to be true or false, […]’ (137) (emphasis added), making it clear that he wants to steer clear of all controversy over whether or not they can be credited with any truth-value at all. The entry on ‘context’ runs into five pages, while that for ‘cognitive environment’ takes up merely four lines, with a recommendation to the reader to look up the entry on ‘manifestness’. Separate entries on ‘sentence’, ‘simile’, and ‘stimulus’ may raise some eyebrows, as it is by no means evident just how important they are from a pragmatic perspective.

Equally questionable may turn out to be the inclusion of the entry on ‘Noam Avram Chomsky’ among the meagerly short list of key thinkers in pragmatics, especially in view of the absence of so many other more relevant names.

Under ‘Key works’, the author presents the reader with an eleven-page bibliography of important books of interest to aspiring researchers, some of which are marked with single or double asterisks to indicate their importance and centrality to the field.

There can be no doubt that the book must go a long way in helping undergraduate students find their way about as they venture into the field of pragmatics. It should also help researchers in other areas tide over petty problems encountered while perusing relevant literature.


Cyberpragmatics: Internet-mediated communication in context. By Francisco Yus. (Pragmatics and beyond new series 213.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011. Pp. xiv, 353. ISBN 9789027256195. $143 (Hb).

Reviewed by Ferit Kılıçkaya, Middle East Technical University

Through language we convey information and facts as well as opinions and feelings. Every utterance, in a way, communicates social information, and context attracts prompt attention to how language is used. As technology improves, it paves the way for different types of communication and contact in written, audio-visual, and multimodal forms, such as Facebook, Twitter, wikis, and many others. Francisco Yus, in his book, approaches for analysis Internet-mediated communication and interaction, using the term ‘cyberpragmatics’, which he coined. According to him, ‘Cyberpragmatics aims at applying pragmatics to Internet users’ interactions, specifically cognitive pragmatics and, with that, relevance theory, which has proved to be useful for the explanation of face-to-face communication and also of asynchronous communication…’ (xi).

The book has been divided into eight core chapters following the introduction. The first chapter provides an overview of pragmatic assumptions, in which the author turns to a theoretical discussion of relevance theory. The second chapter analyzes virtual communities on the Internet, including users in virtual settings, with a proposal of hybrid networks of interactions, taking physical and virtual properties into consideration.

The third chapter deals with how information is processed on the Internet, especially on web pages, with discussions on interactive applications, such as chat rooms and cybernewspapers. The next chapter analyzes how interaction occurs in the context of Internet tools, such as blogs, social networking sites, and Twitter, which is perceived as a micro-blog. The fifth chapter discusses virtual synchronous conversations that generally happen in chat rooms or with messaging software, such as Skype and Messenger, and virtual world tools, such as Second Life, with a focus on how nonverbal behavior accompanies human interactions.

The sixth chapter is devoted to the discussion of electronic mail, describing its main features and elements in terms of an oral and written continuum. Ch. 7 examines how politeness is achieved on the Internet. This chapter provides different theories and approaches to the study of politeness, speech acts, and theoretical models, such as that of Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson, which is conceptualized differently from Paul Grice’s cooperative principle. The final chapter presents further research in cyberpragmatics, such as the use of mobile phones and how and why the young generation  prefers television offered as ‘on-demand’ over traditional television.

The book, overall, provides an excellent discussion of how communication, synchronously or asynchronously, occurs using Internet tools and how, from a cyberpragmatics perspective, it is achieved. Graduate students or researchers wishing to conduct studies in pragmatics and politeness, with respect to how communication is achieved successfully or unsuccessfully on the Internet, are advised to refer to this book.