Variational pragmatics

Variational pragmatics: A focus on regional varieties in pluricentric languages. Ed. by Klaus P. Schneider and Anne Barron. (Pragmatics and beyond new series 178.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2008. Pp. 371. ISBN 9789027254221. $158 (Hb).

Reviewed by Manuel Padilla Cruz, University of Seville

Variational pragmatics, a recent field of pragmatics explicitly and officially established at the 9th International Pragmatics Conference held in Riva del Garda (Italy), investigates, according to Schneider and Barron, pragmatic variation taking into account social and geographical factors. It aims to analyze the impact of variables such as region, social class, gender, age, and ethnicity on how individuals use (a) language, and is a reaction to traditional dialectology, which has mainly centered on the study of pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, thus ignoring to a great extent linguistic action and interactive behavior.

The volume gathers together ten empirical papers by thirteen leading researchers, accompanied by an introductory chapter by the editors, ‘Where pragmatics and dialectology meet; Introducing variational pragmatics’, where they delineate the field, establish its relationship with dialectology and explain the levels of pragmatic analysis that variational pragmatics seeks to explore. The papers are based on naturally occurring discourse obtained from already existing electronic corpora or recordings made by the authors and on experimental data collected by production questionnaires, role plays, discourse-completion task (DCT), and open discourse-completion task.

The book is organized into three parts—‘English’, ‘Dutch and German’, and ‘Spanish and French’—which contain papers examining pragmatic phenomena in those languages and some of their varieties. Seven papers address individual speech acts, such as requests, apologies, invitations, and thanking, stressing the action level of the varieties of different languages explored. These are ‘The structure of requests in Irish English and English English’ by Anne Barron, ‘The pragmatics of a pluricentric language: A comparison between Austrian German and German German’ by Rudolf Muhr, ‘Requesting in German as a pluricentric language’ by Muriel Warga, ‘Requests in corner shop transactions in Ecuadorian Andean and Coastal Spanish’ by María Elena Placencia, ‘Apologizing in French French and Canadian French’ by Ursula Schölmeberger, ‘Different realizations of solidarity politeness: Comparing Venezuelan and Argentinean invitations’ by Carmen García, and ‘Gratitude in Bristish and New Zealand radio programmes: Nothing but gushing?’ by Sabine Jautz.

Two papers analyze formal aspects of specific varieties: ‘Response tokens in Bristish and Irish discourse: Corpus, context and variational pragmatics’ by Anne O’Keefee and Svenja Adolphs, where the authors examine response tokens such as ‘yeah’, ‘oh my God’ or ‘absolutely’, and ‘The distribution of T/V pronouns in Netherlandic and Belgian Dutch’ by Koen Plevoets, Dirk Speelman, and Dirk Geeraerts, where the authors discuss the distribution of the T/V pronominal forms in those varieties of Dutch. Finally, ‘Small talk in England, Ireland, and the USA’ by Klaus P. Schneider adopts an interactive perspective to analyse topic selection and sequencing in small talk.
Apart from shedding light on the pragmatic phenomena analyzed, the papers contained in this volume also offer valuable suggestions for further research and raise additional questions that will awaken the reader’s interest in this new field of pragmatics. Certainly, scholars and students in pragmatics, dialectology, and sociolinguistics will welcome this collection of most interesting and illuminating papers on linguistic variation, for they approach this issue taking into account pragmatic differences between varieties of languages and adopting a multi-level perspective.