Pragmatics by liuhongmei



December 1, 2010
        Some Announcements
• Today: Syntax homework due!
• The final homework for the class will be due next
   • …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.
• Also note: final exam will be in Craigie Hall C 105
   • Wednesday, December 15th, 8-10 am
       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
• 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
• Pragmatics is also the study of how language is used in
• 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?
1. Time out!
2. Shotgun!
3. 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
• 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 Cavs 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
• 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
• 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?
1. “Time out!”
2. “Shotgun!”
3. “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.
Examples of Infelicity
         Felicity Conditions for
• 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
   • 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
1. Declarative sentence: Subject-Verb-(Object)
    •   LeBron James plays basketball.
2. Interrogative sentence: order of Subject and Auxiliary
   has been inverted.
    •   Did the Flames beat the Oilers?
3. 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
• Indirect speech acts may be made whenever a
particular sentence type is used to serve an atypical
   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
• 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
   • 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.
• For next Wednesday (the 8th), 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 Monday)
  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
   “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
• Basically: what you say should further the purpose of the
• Because of this principle, listeners will assume that
speakers are cooperating with them.
   • and draw conclusions (inferences) on the basis of that
• 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
   • 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
• Flouting the Maxim of Quality:
   • Reporter: Were you celebrating your birthday last
   • 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
• 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”.

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