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Yan Huang: Pragmatics.

Yan Huang


Toronto and New York: Oxford University

Press 2007.

Pp. 366.

Cdn$144.00/US$110.00 (cloth ISBN-13: 978-0-19-929837-2); Cdn$45.95/US$35.00 (paper ISBN-13: 978-0-19-924368-6).

This is an excellent up-to-date introduction to much, but not all, of pragmatics from a predominately linguistic point of view. The book divides into two parts: Part 1 surveys four central topics in pragmatics, while Part 2 looks at pragmatic interfaces. There are exercises and essay questions, further readings, and key concepts for each chapter--as well as a useful glossary of common terms in pragmatics. As it is a textbook, I will be more expository than critical, alerting the potential user to its virtues, but occasionally mentioning a disagreement.

Chapter 1 is an introduction to pragmatics: what pragmatics is, some historical notes--although J. Katz is not a generative semanticist (3)--why one might study it, and what some basic terminology and distinctions look like, e.g. speaker vs. sentence meaning, sentences (with truth conditions) vs. their utterance, the proposition expressed vs. its truth value relative to a context, etc. Chapter 2 is devoted to implicature. It begins with the classical Gricean system of conversational implicature based on the Cooperative Principle and the Maxims of conversation. It then follows up with two 'Neo-Gricean' developments: Horn's system of 'Quantity' and 'Relation' principles, and Levinson's 'Quantity', 'Informativeness' and 'Manner' default heuristics. It ends with a discussion of conventional implicature. This is a useful discussion to have in one chapter. The author suggests that Grice would have approved accounting for Moore's paradox using the second submaxim of quality, which is given as 'Don't say what lacks evidence' (26) (rather than the correct, 'Do not say what you lack adequate evidence for'). This is controversial; not only does the maxim not mention believing, but assertive meaning-intentions already express beliefs, and so Grice has machinery in place to do the job.

Chapter 3 covers presupposition: what it is (and is not), what its properties are and major theories of it. Chapter 4 takes up speech acts, first in the guise of Austin's performative-constative distinction and the doctrine of locution, illocution and perlocution, then in its reincarnation as Searle's constitutive rule theory. Finally, indirect speech acts and the relation of speech acts to culture are discussed. According to Huang, 'the central tenet of speech act theory is that the uttering of a sentence is, or is part of, an action within the framework of social institutions and conventions' (65). This may be true of the Austin-Searle line surveyed in this chapter, but it is not true of the competing Grice-Schiffer-Bach and Harnish line, for whom intention and inference, not rules and conventions, are central. Huang thinks Austin saw performatives and constatives as 'special subcases' of 'a general theory of speech acts' (100), whereas in reality performatives just swallowed up constatives as a special case. Huang also claims that, with Searle, (Austinian) 'felicity conditions are the constitutive rules ... of speech acts' (104), when actually Searle extracts his rules from these conditions on speech acts. Huang characterizes an indirect speech act as one where 'there is no direct relationship between a sentence type [mood] and an illocutionary act' (110). This is true for some authors, such as Sadock, but not for others, such as Searle or Bach and Harnish, who characterize indirect speech acts in terms of the number of, and relation between, the speech acts being performed. Chapter 5 is an interesting cross-linguistic discussion the phenomena linguists call 'deixis', much of which philosophers call 'indexicality'. Five categories of deixis are discussed in some detail across many languages: person, time, space, social and discourse.

Chapter 6 begins Part 2 of the book, a discussion of pragmatics and cognition. It starts with a short survey of Relevance Theory (RT), then a short discussion of Fodor's Modularity theory, and ends with a comparison of RT with classical Gricean theory. Huang appears to endorse the view that Fodor's modular view 'plays no role in processing accounts of how language is produced [sic!] and understood,' and goes on to mention evidence for 'parallel' processing (199). But there is a mountain of research in psycholinguistics surrounding modularity, and of course a module can itself compute in parallel and in parallel with other modules. Although there is passing allusion to some work in experimental pragmatics, this substantial and interesting body of literature is inexplicably ignored. Chapter 7 is the most distinctive contribution of this text. It is presented as a survey of major issues at the semantic-pragmatic interface because that is the way it is often presented in the literature, but that is a terminological way of framing the issue. The core controversy is over the nature of information (which many see as neither clearly 'semantic' nor clearly 'pragmatic', at least not in the sense of being worked out by flouting Gricean maxims of conversation) and the mechanisms that provide it. This type of information goes by a number of labels: enriched saying, explicature, impliciture, unarticulated constituents and even generalized conversational implicature. The views of some of the players, such as Grice, Relevance theorists, Recanati, Bach, Levinson are conveniently summarized in a chart (241) that is unfortunately almost unreadable due to the choice of printing hues and labeling. Others, such as Perry, Stanley, Cappelen and Lepore are omitted. Huang takes up the issue of pragmatic 'intrusion' into what is said--an issue related to what is variously called 'Grice's Circle' ('Paradox'): 'How what is conversationally implicated can be defined in contrast to and calculated on the basis of what is said, given that what is said seems to both determine and be determined by what is conversationally implicated' (203). This needs to be sorted out, since what is said is fixed by linguistic conventions and speaker intentions, while what is implicated is fixed by the hearer's construal of the utterance (with qualifications). Finally, Chapter 8, entitled 'Pragmatics and Syntax', is devoted almost completely to anaphora. The author sets out Chomsky's Binding theory, then criticizes it, and finally offers a pragmatic alternative based mostly on Levinson's default heuristics. This is an interesting proposal, but to be used with novice students the chapter will require someone independently acquainted with the literature.

Robert M. Harnish

University of Arizona
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Author:Harnish, Robert M.
Publication:Philosophy in Review
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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