Author: George Yule
Series Editor: H. G. Widdowson
Publisher: Oxford University Press
I’m quite sure I have never recommended books before on this blog. If anything, since many reviews are critical and often nit-picking, it wouldn’t be altogether unusual if one was used to leaving this blog with nothing but my haughty opinions. Which is nice, right? We love it! What? No.
So here’s a book I thoroughly recommend. I think one should choose to read this if a) interested in pragmatics, b) interested in cool things to speak about at linguists’ cocktail parties, c) interested in discourse analysis or d) particularly bewitched by the beauty of the array that human language his. (Although my tone is insincerely portentous, the claims are genuine). Oxford’s “Introductions to Language Study” are lightly-written prolegomena touching upon subjects such as: semantics, syntax, pragmatics, historical/applied linguistics, phonetics and many others. George Yule’s Pragmatics is, although I’m sure the title might have misguided some very few, the one interested in pragmatics. Its nine chapters cover the big-time subjects of pragmatics (speech-acts, deixis, implicature, politeness etc.) in an accessible design where, for instance, every newly introduced concept is explained and no footnotes are inserted.
Let us say a few words.
The four things pragmatics is about are summed-up as (1) the study of meaning as communicated by speakers, (2) the study of contextual meaning (how does the context influence what is conveyed), (3) the study of what is communicated yet unsaid, (4) the study of distance (i.e. amount of shared experience between speakers). That is why, among kindred subjects, pragmatics is said to dwell upon the relation between form & user, whereas semantics would insist upon the relation between form & world (roughly, how do words reflect reality).
Deictic expressions (“pointing via language”, e.g. ‘now’, ‘then’, ‘you’, ‘this’ etc.), their usage and interpretation, are briefly analyzed. The gist of speech-act theory (analysis, classification, identification) and implicatures (conventional, conversational, generalized conversaional) are examined and exemplified. The twin-concepts presupposition & entailment are also briefly introduced. I have no other introduction in Pragmatics to compare with, but I will say this: the chapter on potential presuppositions is probably the most instructive, the one dealing with reference and inference – the least. (In fact, since all-year-round we will deal with specific topics in argumentation theory, I am going to try and write post on reference sometime this week. Reading George Yule’s chapter is nevertheless a good, albeit restricted, starting point).
Politeness is a theme I had not been meticulously acquainted with until reading this. I think it’s a fruitful subject from which one can draw explanations for some phenomena relating to humor: over-politeness, for instance, is undoubtedly a species of irony. Also, it explains instances of odd sequences such as this,
A: Do you mind if I use your phone? B: Yeah, sure,
where the literal meaning of the response would actually be “No.” It can also have some sort of practical usefulness for those who have problems borrowing pencils:
Needless to say, you can find a PDF copy of the book in every nook and cranny of this wild, copyright-devouring thing called Internet. Enjoy. And if you do, you must continue with this. I’m just saying.