Interactional Pragmatics: Towards a Theory of Performance. (Linguistics)

By Kopytko, Roman | Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies, Annual 2000 | Go to article overview

Interactional Pragmatics: Towards a Theory of Performance. (Linguistics)


Kopytko, Roman, Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies


1. Introduction

Relational Pragmatics -- a research program delineated in Kopytko (1998) proposes that pragmatic theory provides a theoretical framework for studying both pragmatic competence and performance phenomena. That is, it postulates enhancing the scope of pragmatic inquiry by investigating the process of actual language use in social interaction. This means that the narrow cognitivism of the Chomsky-Kasher program for pragmatics (cf. Kopytko 1998 and Sinclair 1995) has been overcome in favor of a more global, holistic approach that goes beyond the study of the linguistic knowledge of language use (or appropriateness conditions of language use) and focuses, on equal terms, on the language users/interactants, the context and the process of verbal interaction.

This is a very complex and ambitious endeavor that calls for a multidisciplinary approach. It seems to be rather obvious that the task of the analyst is to account, to the best of his/her knowledge, for the "things" users/interactants do with their language in the process of verbal interaction. It should not be overlooked that participants in verbal interaction are forced to play the role of a "scientist" i.e. to formulate hypotheses (about the speaker's intentions), interpret (contextual cues), infer (presuppositions, relevance), etc. On the other hand, they frequently jump to conclusions, misread contextual cues, misjudge interlocutors, engage in verbal conflict, etc. A comprehensive, explanatory theory of language use must take into account not only instances of cooperative social interaction (exemplified by Grice's (1975) conversational principles) but also of various types of non-cooperative behavior: verbal conflict and violence, ridicule, deception, critique, etc.

The claim that the study of performance is indispensable and essential to the formulation of any viable hypothesis about linguistic (pragmatic) competence seems to be non-controversial (cf. Chomsky 1965). An explanatory theory of language use, however, should go beyond the investigation of pragmatic competence (knowledge) and take a closer look at the phenomena of verbal interaction by focusing on the question when and why the pragmatic competence of the language user fails i.e. the situation when a perfectly competent speaker is not able to achieve his/her communicative, expressive or conative goals and the hearer fails to interpret the message correctly. Such an approach has at least three rather obvious advantages: firstly, it abandons a narrow rationalistic approach in favor of an empirical one (cf. Kopytko 1995), secondly, it increases the empirical base of the theory, which may allow us to cast a new light on the idea of pragmatic competence, and thirdly, it focuses on the phenomena of performance (actu al language use) that provide an interface between pragmatics and interpersonal communication, which is a very positive development not only in view of my integrative, holistic methodological commitment (cf. Kopytko 1998) but also in view of what seems to be an artificial partitioning of allegedly autonomous fields of language study. (This is too vast a topic to discuss here and it will not be pursued any further.)

Before discussing the most essential assumptions and claims of performance theory within the context of Relational Pragmatics (RP) a short review of the concepts of the latter will be presented (for a more comprehensive account cf. Kopytko 1998). Then, the question of why we study performance will be taken up again in more detail to pave the way for the main topic of this paper.

2. Relational Pragmatics

Relational Pragmatics (RP) is intended to provide a theoretical framework for studying both pragmatic competence and performance phenomena. It takes an integrated system of psychosocial, linguistic and contextual interdependencies as the object of analysis. The method used in the construction of RP is holistic rather than reductionist (cf. …

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