Pragmatics April 3, 2012
Some Announcements • Today: Syntax homework due! • The final homework for the class will be due next Tuesday. • …for which you will need to understand the material I am going to go over in today’s lecture. • …and also some Semantics (to be discussed in the next two lectures) • Note: extra reading on Pragmatics has been posted to the course webpage. • USRI evaluations will be held at the end of class today.
Sentences vs. Utterances • The meaning of a sentence can usually be derived from the meaning of its words (and how they are combined by syntax). • However: sometimes, the meaning of a sentence can change depending on how it’s used in a particular context. • Sentence: a string of words put together by the grammatical rules of a language. • Sentences are abstract idealizations • Sentences are not physical events • Utterance: the use of a sentence, in a particular context. • Utterances are actual, physical events • Utterances can derive meaning from context which they can’t derive from their abstract form as sentences.
Sentences in Context • Sentence 1: Kim’s got a knife. • Context 1: You’re sitting on the beach in Tahiti, trying to figure out how to open a coconut. • Someone says: Kim’s got a knife! • Context 2: Darrell has just crashed into Kim’s car. Kim gets out of her car, looking angry, with a butcher knife in her hand. • Someone says: Kim’s got a knife! • In context 1, the sentence provides information. • In context 2, the sentence is a warning.
Pragmatics, defined • Pragmatics is the study of how meaning is derived from context. • Pragmatics is also the study of how language is used in context. • The word “pragmatics” is derived from the Greek: • /pragma/ “deed” • and an even earlier form: • /prassein/ “to do”
Speech Acts • It turns out that we can use language to do things. • When we use language to do something, we are performing a speech act. • What can we do with the following expressions? • Time out! • Shotgun! • Jinx! • The “meaning” of these expressions is what they do. (i.e., the use we put them to.)
Speech Act Examples • Speech acts can also be performed with complete sentences. • John read the book. assertion • Did John read the book? question • Please pass the salt. request • Kim’s got a knife! warning • Get out of here! order • I will love you forever. promise • I’ll give you a reason to cry. threat
Performative Verbs • There are some verbs whose meaning is the speech act they perform. • These verbs are known as performative verbs. • I bet you ten bucks the Flames will win. • I dare you to leave. • I promise to buy you some ice cream. • I nominate Batman for mayor of Gotham City. • I call shotgun! • I resign. • I confer on you the degree of Bachelor of Arts. • I now pronounce you husband and wife.
Performance Conditions • A “performative” verb only performs the action it describes if it’s used: • in the present tense • with a first person subject • Examples: • I promise to buy you some ice cream tonight. • #John promises to buy you some ice cream tonight. • #I will promise to buy you some ice cream tonight. • We promise to buy you some ice cream tonight. • (# denotes that the utterance of these words does not actually perform the speech act.)
The “Hereby Test” • If a sentence sounds fine with “hereby”, it is being used performatively. • Examples: • I hereby promise to buy you some ice cream. • I hereby pronounce you man and wife. • I hereby dub thee George. • I hereby challenge you to a duel. • #I hereby walk around the block. • #I hereby sing. • Also notice: Smoking is hereby forbidden.
Performance Problems • You can’t always perform a speech act by just saying something. • Context: A man is speaking to his wife. • “I hereby divorce you.” • Context: An unmarried couple is talking with a bartender. The bartender says: • “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” • The conditions which must be fulfilled for a speech act to be carried out properly are known as felicity conditions. • Also known as “appropriateness conditions”
Felicity Conditions Quiz Time • What are the felicity conditions for the Quick Write speech acts? • “Time out!” • “Shotgun!” • “Jinx!” • When someone attempts to perform a speech act when the appropriate felicity conditions have not been met, the speech act is said to be infelicitous.
Felicity Conditions for Questions • Speech Act: Speaker asks Hearer about a proposition “P”. • Q: Did the Flames beat the Oilers last night? • P: The Flames beat the Oilers last night. • Felicity Conditions: • Speaker doesn’t know P. • Speaker wants to know P. • Speaker believes hearer knows P. • Speaker believes hearer can share information about P.
Sentence Type vs. Sentence Use • There are three basic sentence types: • declaratives, interrogatives, imperatives • Each sentence type is typically used for a certain kind of speech act. • Declarative sentences are typically used in assertions. • They convey information about what is true and what is false. • Examples: • LeBron James plays basketball. • The dog ate the bone. • Linguistics is fun.
Sentence Type vs. Sentence Use • Interrogative sentences are typically used in questions. • They are used to elicit information from the hearer. • Examples: • Did the Flames beat the Oilers last night? • Is it snowing again? • Imperative sentences are typically used in orders and requests. • They are meant to affect the behavior of the hearer. • Examples: • Stop it! • Tell me what happened.
Sentence Structure • Note that each sentence type has a distinct syntactic structure: • Declarative sentence: Subject-Verb-(Object) • LeBron James plays basketball. • Interrogative sentence: order of Subject and Auxiliary has been inverted. • Didthe Flames beat the Oilers? • Imperative sentence: no explicit subject! • Pass the salt!
Direct and Indirect • A direct speech act occurs when a particular sentence type is being used to serve its typical function • Sentence Function • Declarative Assertion • Interrogative Question • Imperative Order/Request • Also: the speech act is based on the literal meaning of the sentence. • Indirect speech acts may be made whenever a particular sentence type is used to serve an atypical function.
Direct vs. Indirect Speech Acts • Direct: Please close the door. • Imperative sentence type; order/request • Indirect: Do you think you could close the door? • Interrogative sentence type; order/request • Direct: Did Bart get the job? • Interrogative sentence type; question • Indirect: I was wondering if Bart got the job. • Declarative sentence type; question • We use indirect speech acts in conversation all the time. • Example: “I would like the roast beef.”
Cheap Attempts at Humor • At a crowded airline ticket counter, a harried man rushes to the front of the line and demands: • Harried Man: “I HAVE to be on this flight and it has to be FIRST CLASS!” • Ticket Agent: “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll be happy to try to help you, but I have to help these other folks first.” • Harried Man (loudly): “Do you have any idea who I am?” • Ticket Agent (speaking through PA system): “May I have your attention please? We have a passenger here at the gate WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHO HE IS. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to the gate.”
Identifying Indirect Speech Acts • If a sentence contains a verb that is being used performatively, it is a direct speech act. • I promise to buy you some ice cream. • If there is no performative verb, identify the sentence type. • Declarative, Interrogative, Imperative • Determine whether the sentence type has its typical function. • If yes: another direct speech act. • A helpful criterion: determine how the listener would normally respond to the sentence. • Ex: “I would like the roast beef.” • #”Oh, that’s interesting!”
Identifying Indirect Speech Acts • Are any felicity conditions violated for the literal meaning of the sentence? • Ex: “Can you take the garbage out?” • Does the asker really not know the answer to this question? • If not, why would they ask it? • to draw the listener’s attention to the answer. • This is an indirect request.
Assignment! • For next Tuesday (the 10th), write down two indirect speech acts that you hear (or use) during the course of your everyday conversations over the next week. • And explain why they’re indirect speech acts. • (more homework details will be forthcoming on Thursday)
The “Maxims” of Conversation • The freedom that speakers have to use speech acts either directly or indirectly leaves listeners with a lot of leeway in how they interpret what has been said. • A set of “maxims” exist for contributions to a conversation • These maxims make conversation orderly and sensible (more or less) • They are not rules; they do not need to be followed. • One can observe the maxims, dis-obey the maxims, or even flout them.
The Cooperative Principle • The basic, over-arching maxim is the Cooperative Principle. • “Make your contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.” • Basically: what you say should further the purpose of the conversation. • Because of this principle, listeners will assume that speakers are cooperating with them. • and draw conclusions (inferences) on the basis of that assumption.
Flouting • When a speaker intentionally disobeys a maxim in a way that the listener will notice, they are flouting a maxim. • This is done to provide information to the listener indirectly. • This is often done in sarcasm or irony. • Example: What an amazing hockey player Bob is! • If Bob has just scored an incredible goal, then this comment is obeying the maxims of conversation. • If Bob just missed a wide open shot, then this comment is flouting the maxims of conversation. • = Saying something that is clearly untrue, knowing that the listener will notice.
Maxim #1: Relevance • The maxim of relevance: say things that are relevant to the topic under discussion. • Prevents randomness and incoherence. • Contributions are always interpreted as if they are relevant to the conversation. • Example 1: • Bob: Where’s Bill? • Ed: There’s a yellow VW outside Sue’s house. • Example 2: • Bob: Isn’t Larry the biggest jerk you’ve ever met? • Ed: The weather’s sure been nice this week, hasn’t it?
Maxim #2: Quality • Maxim of Quality: • Don’t say what you believe to be false. • Don’t say what you can’t back up. • People often disagree about things like the “truth” and “evidence”. • Flouting the Maxim of Quality: • Reporter: Were you celebrating your birthday last week? • Old film diva: Yes, I turned 39! • Reporter: And I’m turning 150 next Monday!
Other Quality Floutings • Example 1: • Bob: Chicago’s in Kansas, right? • Ed: And LA’s in Idaho! • Example 2: • Queen Victoria was made of iron.
Maxim #3: Quantity • The Maxim of Quantity: • Make your contribution as informative as is required. • Do not make your contribution more informative than is required. • In general: listeners assume they are being told everything they need to know. • Example: My ethically questionable lawyer friend.
Flouting Quantity • Stating necessary truths, (tautologies, or analytic sentences) is an example of flouting the maxim of quantity. • War is war. • Either Bob will come, or he won’t. • If she does it, she does it.
Maxim #4: Manner • The maxim of manner: be clear. • This one breaks down into four parts: • Avoid obscurity • Avoid ambiguity • Be brief • Be orderly • Example: • At the concert last night, Jessica Simpson produced a series of sounds corresponding somewhat to the score of “The Star Spangled Banner”.