Pragmatics (continued)

We’ve had to take a couple of weeks off our study of pragmatics but resumed recently with chapters 5 and 6 of the book we are working through.*

Chapter 5 Speech Acts in Context brought us what we have been waiting for – a coherent framework for describing the interface between the language we use and the meaning we intend it to have in a social context. Several attempts at such a system are outlined, but none are an advance on the groundbreaking work of Sinclair and Coulthard in their 1975 book Towards an Analysis of Discourse.

They recorded lessons in primary schools and analysed them at the level of discourse, using a “rank-scale” of a social activity (in this case the lesson), which is made up of exchanges between teacher and pupils, which can be further sub-divided into acts (a single piece of dialogue). I remember how excited we all were in 1975  by this framework of analysis (especially those of us involved in teacher education).

It was disappointing after the pleasure of chapter 5 to find that chapter 6 Pragmatics across languages and cultures reverted to a summary of initial small scale studies in cross-cultural pragmatics. From my own experience I would have loved to have done an analysis of secondary school lessons in England and Bulgaria, which would have thrown up the political and cultural similarities and differences between the two educational systems. A huge potential here that does not seem to have been exploited in the forty years since Sinclair and Coulthard’s book.

*Anne O’Keeffe, Brian Clancy, Svenja Adophs: Introducing Pragmatics in Use (2011)

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