An Introduction to English Semantics and Pragmatics

An Introduction to English Semantics and Pragmatics

An Introduction to English Semantics and Pragmatics

An Introduction to English Semantics and Pragmatics

Synopsis

This is a compact introduction to the study of meaning in the English language and how language is used, providing a solid foundation for further semantic studies.

Excerpt

I chose Edinburgh University for postgraduate studies because I wanted to learn semantics from John Lyons, one of whose books I had read. It turned out that he was not teaching semantics the year that I took the taught graduate course, but there were eventually seminars of his that I could attend, and I read more of his work. His influence can be traced in this book. It was Martin Atkinson, a fellow research assistant on an Edinburgh University Linguistics Department project, who first explained to me how the study of meaning can be split between semantics and pragmatics. Semantics is concerned with the resources (vocabulary and a system for calculating phrase-, clause- and sentence-meanings) provided by a language, and pragmatics is concerned with how those resources are put to use in communication. My grasp got firmer when I began to teach semantics and pragmatics myself at York University (UK), and later at the University of the South Pacific, York St John and Beppu University (Japan). Finding examples that communicate a point but which cannot easily be dismissed or misunderstood by students is a valuable discipline, especially when one tries to figure out, in relation to particular theoretical notions, what it takes to be a good example.

I am grateful that Heinz Giegerich, general editor of this series, came up with the idea of introductory textbooks offering compact descriptions of English unobtrusively grounded in defensible theory–it is an approach congenial to my ways of teaching and learning. My contribution to the series aims to present a reasonably detailed first look at the main features of the meaning system of English and the pragmatics of using that system. I owe thanks to Anthony Warner for encouraging me to write the book. In lunchtime conversations that I used to have with him at York University, he several times straightened out muddled ideas of mine regarding meaning. Beppu University provided me with an environment conducive to writing. Professor Kenji Ueda, Head of the English Language and Literature Department, encouraged me and also kindly authorised the purchase of some of the books that I needed to consult.

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