Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Relational Pragmatics: Towards a Holistic View of Pragmatic Phenomena

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Relational Pragmatics: Towards a Holistic View of Pragmatic Phenomena

Article excerpt

Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification.

Karl Popper

1. Introduction

The situation in theoretical pragmatics is a peculiar one: first there is the Chomsky -- Kasher cognitivist research program (cf. Sinclair 1995) that concentrates on a narrow view of pragmatic competence as conditions on the use of language; second, Leech (1983) and Sperber and Wilson (1986) propose a performance-oriented pragmatics; and finally, there are the majority of the pragmaticians who are simply "doing pragmatics" with few or no theoretical commitments whatsoever (cf. Levinson 1983).

This paper is intended to provide a theoretical framework for studying both pragmatic competence and performance phenomena. The theoretical suggestions should be seen as a research program for theoretical pragmatics rather than a complete, systematic and justified model. Only the essentials of the inquiry into the problems at the interface of theoretical and practical pragmatics will be presented here (for details cf. Kopytko, in preparation). The research program proposed below will be referred to as Relational Pragmatics (RP).

1.1. Goal, scope and method

Relational Pragmatics puts into focus the analysis of relations between elements of a pragmatic system that consists of (a) interactants or language users, (b) signs or language and (c) context. The scope of Relational Pragmatics is broad.

In contrast to Chomsky's narrow cognitivism supplemented with unspecified conditions on language use, RP takes an integrated system of psychosocial, linguistic and contextual interdependencies as the object of analysis. As can be deduced from the views presented above, the method used in the construction of RP is holistic rather than reductionist (on the problems of methodological reductionism cf. Kopytko 1995). It should be remembered that the reduction of higher to lower level explanations neglects the fact that each level has its own characteristic structure, emergent properties and interrelation qualities.

It should be noticed that some pragmaticians, e.g., Nuyts (1992) or the authors of the articles in Verschueren et al. (1994) postulate an integrative approach to pragmatics or "pragmatic perspective". So far, however, no clear formulation of holism in pragmatics has been offered. Pragmaticians seem to avoid this term in favor of integrative, which is even vaguer, informal and theoretically non-committing.

Among holistic concepts Taylor (1972) includes the following: relationality, interaction, equilibration by means of feedback (i.e., circular causal chains), decision making and goal-seeking behavior. A human being as anthropos telos is seen by Taylor as a self-aware seeker after goals that he/she derives from his view of reality (for a critique of holism cf. Fodor -- Lepore 1991). Holism is usually associated with a multi-disciplinary (or cross disciplinary) approach. Remarkable progress may be noticed in some disciplines that integrate research from many distinct subfields of science. For example, the study of the human mind referred to as cognitive science draws on the insights from cognitive psychology, epistemology, linguistics, computer science, artificial intelligence, mathematics and neuropsychology (cf. Reber 1985). On a smaller scale, a very successful application of the cross-disciplinary approach is the study of induction (cf. Holland et al. 1986) or the integration of motivation and cognition (cf. Higgins -- Sorrentino 1990). In communication research, Krippendorf (1993) sees a remedy for the failures of message-driven explanations in a new convergence of natural language philosophy, ethnography and cognitivism in linguistics, social and radical constructivism, second order cybernetics and reflexive sociology. Scores of other examples of the integrative tendency in scientific research might be adduced. These methodological developments can be viewed as independent evidence for a possible approach for other disciplines. …

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