Topic outline

  • The annotation, goal of the course and attestation requirements

    The course covers the key issues in contemporary pragmatic linguistics: reference and deixis, speech behaviour (speech acts, implicatures, conversational logic) as well as elements of conversational analysis.

    The goal of the course is to present students with an overview of the most important topics in current pragmatic linguistics. The texts to deal with will be both in Czech and in English.

    The course will be completed with students´ short essay (analysis of a text) aimed at certain pragmalinguistic properties dealt with during the semester.

    For the external students, the attestation is based on their active using of moodle.

  • Topic 1

    The scope of linguistic pragmatics

    All pragmatic analyses aim at utmost explicitness of explanation as for the meaning of an utterance / a discourse under observation. It is necessary to keep in mind, though, that explicit interpretation in pragmatic linguistics is prevalently based on individual, context-bound data which are hard to formalize or resist to it. The difference between semantics and pragmatics traditionally seen as a difference between competence and performance can be fleshed out with the notion of discourse competence (cf. Carston 1998) – a set of principles ruling for each speaker his/her selection of syntactic and referential choices in certain context. From the viewpoint of addressees, identical set of principles rules their understanding / interpretation of chosen constructions.      

    Pragmatic phenomena are not a part of grammar. Nevertheless, in a language like Czech, with highly developed inflectional morphology, the interface of grammar and pragmatics is in many ways indiscernible: Personal and temporal deixis is fully grammaticalized as an integral part of complex meaning in verbal endings; also, the inflectional morphology is responsible for the extensive congruence mostly reflecting pragmatic factors.  Another language-specific issue is the Czech repertory of personal pronouns/determiners/quantifiers offering a refined tool for both identification and evaluative aspects of personal deixis. Last but not least, conceptual and terminological analysis of the speech act theory has shown that specifics of Czech (as well as other Slavic languages) in this area is anchored within the tense and aspectual properties of Czech verbs.

         The chosen approach to pragmatic analyses deliberately adopts the methods and ideas of the so-called moderate pragmatics (cf. Cappelen – Lepore 2002) as delimited in opposition towards “radical pragmatics“ represented esp. by J.R. Searle (1983, e.g.). The point is that radical pragmatics denies a direct dependence of the meaning of an indicative sentence and its truth conditions even though (1) the meaning or semantic value of every word in sentence S has been specified; (2) all the relevant compositional /syntactic rules for S have been specified; (3) every ambiguous expression in S has been disambiguated and every vague expression in S has been precisified; (4) the referents of every referring expression in S (including indexical ones and those ´hidden´ in logical form) have been determined. According to radical pragmatics, sentences neither have truth conditions nor say or express anything, even with (1) – (4) being settled. In the view of radical pragmatics, meaning of a sentence always leaves space for variance of truth conditions at every use, therefore, it is always just “applied“,  a sentence itself being just a „vehicle“. Moderate pragmatics does not deny the existence of indicative sentences truth conditions of which go beyond the semantic values of their components (cf. well known examples Vzali se a měli dítě vs Měli dítě a vzali se). Nevertheless, if conditions (1) – (4) have been fulfilled it is possible to settle (or derive, or otherwise specify) a/the conditions under which S is true; b/the proposition expressed by S; c/ what intuitively is (literally) said by S. Even though the importance of contextual factors (in the interpretation of speech acts, e.g.) cannot be denied, the present book avoids the radical approach.

        As for the existing definitions of linguistic pragmatics the book tries to cover both the “extensional“ conception studying the pragmatic aspects of human linguistic behaviour (reference, illocution, im/politeness) and “intensional“ conception, usually represented by the words of G. Gazdar: “Pragmatics has as its topic those aspects of the meaning of utterances which cannot be accounted for by straightforeward reference to the truth conditions of the sentences uttered. Put crudely: PRAGMATICS = MEANING – TRUTH CONDITIONS.“ (Gazdar 1979, p. 2.). Also, the notion of pragmatic dimension of language phenomena (Kořenský 1994, Verschueren 1999) has been adopted, saying that every linguistic unit larger than a phoneme can be viewed in a pragmatic perspective. Pragmatic perspective consists in seeing the language phenomena not from the viewpoint of their form and position in the grammar of a given language but from the viewpoint of their role and use in verbal communication  - it is communication where the pragmatic dimesion of linguistic entities emerges. 

         The most important preliminary condition of a successful (efficient) communication is the knowledge of the means of a language and the knowledge of the rules enabling to create non-defective (both as for the grammar and for the semantics) sentences of a given language. This area is traditionally described as a grammar / language competence. A complementary notion, language performance covers the production and interpretation of sentences/utterances in certain situations. To be able to communicate succesfully means to know also the conditions and rules of usage of (grammar) sentences (and being able to discern and interpret defective sentences, respectively). A native speaker masters the rules of language competence approximately by the age of six, the rules (and skills) of successful communication, on the other hand, must be learned and adopted in the course of the whole life. They change, develop and they can be regulated and coded (what is considered “appropriate“ is fluid). Speaker´s ability to use competently formed sentences appropriately/competently in relation to the communicative situation is described as a pragmatic competence.

    While the use of a language, as a pragmatics very field, can be grasped in more or less identical way as in its non-terninological meaning, language function can mean a mutual relation of language phenomena, a relation of a language/linguistic entity and its referent, it can mean a task/job in communication for which the particular entity is predisposed, and, an aim for which such an entity can be, within its functional potential, intentionally used. Linguistic pragmatics deals both with relational/referential meaning of language units and with their purposeful use. Moreover, the mentioned areas often overlap (when understanding reference/referring as a speech act). 



    • Topic 2

      Temporal ans spatial deixis

      For Morris (1946/1970), semantics is a field dealing dealing wits relations of signs to their meanings or to the objects (referents) to which the signs can be related, respectively. However, as Lyons (1977, p. 117)  mentioned, when observing a natural language, drawing a strict line between semantics, syntax and pragmatics is often uncertain. Even though the bi-lateral conception of sign has been widely accepted, it is necessary to realize that in communication a sign functions as a unitary entity and it is its momentary, autonomous context dependent reference which is essential for its interpretation. Mutual relations of signs (i.e., in Morris´s definition, syntax) can be manifested both by grammar morphemes (endings) and by morphemes of lexical nature (conjunctions, primary and secondary prepositions). Other lexical items, indices, represent signs with specific features: Their combinatorial potential towards other signs is not limited but their semantics is given sheerly by their reference in a current context, i.e. pragmatically. To use them descriptively (as non-indices) is possible only in specific contexts. Also, the primary functions of demonstratives and particles are pragmatic, despite the fact that their lexical semantics is not entirely empty. In addition to that, their syntactic potential is limited.  The specifics of expressing temporal meanings have already been mentioned – the gramemes with temporal meanings have a reference, therefore they are close to indices. But, since the temporal meanings in compound verbal forms are distributed among several constituents (including auxiliaries jsem, jsa, budu carrying only temporal meaning) the relation of grammar, semantic and pragmatic elements here gives an even more complicated picture.   

          On the other hand, a syntactic relation of two constituents can be determined pragmatically and it is an individual language-dependent feature whether the relation will or will not be manifested in grammar. In Czech, the gender meaning of a pronominal subject in the 1st and in the 2nd pers. sg. is pragmatic (contextual) and is “invisible“ for morphology; so the congruent form of the predicate in the past tense (já jsem přišla/přišla jsem - F, ty jsi přišel/ přišel jsi - M) ensuring the reference identification of speaker and addressee is claimed by pragmatic factors only.   

          Functioning of language seen in the pragmatic perspective concerns every linguistic entity – in usage any expression obtains its pragmatic dimension starting from marked articulation of certain phones (bringing into interpretation connotations linked to some sub/codes), the role of intonation differentiating illocutions, roles of indices, demonstratives, etc. The very reason why to differ a semantic and a pragmatic view of language phenomena is the impossibility to account for the full meaning of a sentence using only the meanings of its constituents. Its not only indices, demonstratives and ambiguous expressions or constructions which have to be anchored pragmatically, it is also the issue of all kinds of secondary or tertiary meanings/interpretations based on speakers´ extra-linguistic knowledge. It is necessary to keep in mind, though, that a sentence can be ambiguous but its use (an utterance-event) is not (if it was not meant like that purposefully) because the communicative situation/event provides the addresse with pragmatic clues giving him/her a chance for full-fleshed interpretation. It is then a matter of the adopted theoretical stance what status and extension the pragmatic clues of interpretation are given.

      Reference and deixis, deixis being defined as refering not by the means of definite description or proper names but by the means of an expression the main feature of which is pointing to the area / domain within which the entity in question (object of reference) can be found by the addressee. Deictic expressions (deictics)  are “pointers“,  their lexical semantics (sign properties) can be defined only in the relation to the entity to which it regres (zde/here, zítra/tomorrow). Special sub-chapters are devoted to situational deixis (including spatial temporal, personal and social deixis) as well as the textual deixis. Specifics of Czech in this domain can be seen mainly in the area of referring to time and space, expressing of time being almost fully grammaticalized and spatial meanings being expressed by several means (verbal prefixes, prepositions and adverbial expressions) simultaneously. As for temporal meanings, Reichenbach´s (1947) tense decomposition is used (also for relative tense meanings in complex sentences). The description of spatial deixis is based on three elementary concepts/terms origodeictic center and point of reference and their relations. The structure of spatial descriptions (in most of the languages of various types) is generally based on the object to be located (O, or Figure F) and the object with respect to which the location of O is specified – the (back)ground G. Their configurations can be defined as topological (including meanings “at“, “in“ or “on“ or they involve three main types of the frames of reference: intrinsic, relative and absolute. The main domain of spatial deixis is the relative frame of reference which is ternary because it always includes the viewer and his perspective; the location of O in relation to G depends on the location of the viewer - speaker (or addressee, or another person or point involved) –  před stromem or za stromem  (“in front“ or “behind the tree trunk“) depends on the position of the viewer/speaker, or, like in ta kniha na polici po tvé levé ruce (“the book on the shelf at your left hand“), on the position od the addressee. The third basic frame of reference is absolute, using parameters „north, south, east, west“, i. e. conventionalized geographical coordinates. Even in this frame a high evel of relativity can be seen, e. g. ,  Praha ležína východ od Berlína, ale na západod Vídně (“Prague is located east from Berlin but west from Vienna“), which means that for the precise location, an elaborated system of geographical coordinates has to be employed.

      Within textual deixis, the information structure of a text is presented, using the term “object of speech“ – its identity within a text is ensured by the speaker´s act of reference relying on the stock of shared knowledge between speaker and addressee.

      Consider a full interpretation of a sentence

      May we come in?

      Consider it with a full interpretation of a Czech sentence

      Můžeme jít dál?

      Hint: Charles Fillmore: Lectures on Deixis. 1971/1997, Stanford: CSLI Publications (

    • Topic 3

      Speech actions I

      Dokument PDF Speech action I

      Speech acts. The origin and the development of the theory is presented and the most widely accepted classifications of speech acts are discussed. The key notion of performativity is seen as a phenomenon based on the notion of coincidence first introduced by Koschmieder (1934) as a “coincidental imperfectiveness“ . Again, Reichenbach´s tense decomposition seems to be an adequate tool to show the core of it: The specific feature of verbs which can be used performatively (exclusively imperfectives) is that in an utterance meant as a performance of a speech act the point of speech, point of event and the point of reference coincide. Most specifically, what coincides is the point of event identical with illocution and the point of speech, extension of it, i.e. locution. Performativity is always a property of an utterance (utterance-event), not of the sentence form itself. In the semantic viewpoint, illocutionary verbs are accomplishments, therefore, in reporting illocutionary acts both imperfective and perfective verbs can occur.

      Further, direct and indirect speech acts are discussed and modifications of illocutionary functions are presented. In Czech, constructions with modal verbs, use of Conditional mood instead of Indicative and use of the so-called free (non-syntactic) Datives can be seen as pragmatic equivalents of hedging. The very notion of indirectness has become a highly frequented topic of pragmatic treatises linking this way the speech acts theory and conversational analysis.

      Maxims of conversation and implicatures. Particular  and generalized conversational implicature, conventional implicature, scalar implicatures using the Aristotelian square of oppositions, with special attention to Czech pronouns/quantificators. Czech language has no verb reflecting the difference between imply (implication in a logical sense) and implicate (application of an implicature) so certain terminological adaptations had to be done. The chapter also presents the development of the so-called neo-Gricean theory of meaning (relevance theory, explicature, Levinson´s Q-implicatures, M-implicatures, I-implicatures, clausal implicatures. Further, the results of application of politeness principle and the theory of politeness are dealt with. The theory of politeness and impoliteness is shown in its current diversity, abandoning the Brown´s & Levinson´s older construct, with special attention to Czech im/polite forms of utterances (sub-chapter on Czech speech-etiquette). In general, the chapter concentrates on context-bound circumstances of addressee´s utterance interpretation,  regarding also irony and certain  kinds of remedial speech strategies. 

    • Topic 4

      Speech actions II

      Speech act and speech action

      A speech act has been, in the times of the origin of the theory, conceptualized as a discrete unit (cf. Austin 1962). Its main dictinctive feature, its illocutionary force, ensued from speaker´s intention (illocutionary point) and, in a prototypic case, materialized by an utterance with specific properties given mainly by the presence of an illocutionary verb used performatively, or from speaker´s use of some other illocutionary force indicating device, cf. Searle 1969. While an utterance as a speech item can be seen as a discrete/limited unit without major uncertainities (unmarkedly, its boundaries are delimited by intonation), the discrete nature of an “act“ (already when performed by the speaker) is far from being unambiguous. If we consider “acts“ related to speech act verbs such as confide (something in somebody), gossip (about somebody), it is clear that they do consist in conveying an item of information, i.e. they could be listed as assertives, but, at the same time, in every day (“real“) communication they probably would not be executed as a single utterance. Both communicative events of confiding or gossiping have in common that they transmit a piece of information (their propositional content is) of a specific kind: either it is something personally relevant for the speaker (and not publicly known at the moment of  confiding), or it is something relevant for the speaker and (presumably) for the addressee. Most importantly, a content of a gossip concerns a third party, a non-present person, in an unfavourable way. Such information can hardly be conveyed right away, directly, without at least minimal preparatory steps, i.e. preliminary announcement or notification. There are common opening phrases of the kind:  If you do not mind, there is something I need to tell you; You know, I think that you should be aware of …, etc. Moreover, confiding would probably be followed by a request that the addressee would keep the information for him/herself (e.g. don´t tell anyone, ok?) and a gossip by an assertion cancelling or weakening the speaker´s commitment towards the truthfullness of the content (e.g. well, that´s what I have heard), or transfering the burden of evidence to some other person (e.g. that´s what A.B. told me!). In their common most expected forms both confiding and gossip are represented by sequences of utterances (each of which can have its own subsidiary function) creating a complex unit covered by one major (macro-) illocutionary function (cf. van Dijk 1980).

      Another example of common speech act-clusters are requests or pleas which quite regularly are preceded by apologies for bothering the addressee (e.g. sorry, but …; Sorry to bother you but …) and followed by explanations why the speaker wants the addressee to do p – Open the window, please / Would you mind opening the window, please? It is hot in here; I think we need some oxygen, etc.). Performing illocutionary acts of confiding, gossiping, requesting, and alike (as well as, with the exception of some ritualized declarations, most of the others, no matter which classification of them we use) in the form of a plain, isolated utterance is unusual, unconventional, and can be viewed as less felicitious. Illocutionary acts are more commonly performed as sequences consisting of smaller steps towards one major point, so we dare to conclude that it is more appropriate to describe doing things with words as continuous succession of minor actions aimed at a major goal than singular/discrete acts (cf. also German term sprachliche Handlung). This view has already been acknowledged in pragmatics literature, e.g. as a concept of subsidiary illocution (Rosengren 1983).; from other angles cf. e.g. May 2001, Hirschová 2004, Witczak-Plisiecka 2013.  Nevertheless, the idea of speech acts as unitary utterances is still rather well established in general linguistics handbooks and in general educational contexts.

           Following the above-mentioned complexity, it seems that the most cogent capture of particular classes of illocutionary acts might be to picture them as blocks of actions unified by speaker´s  goal; an illocutionary point of a speech event can be seen as a flagpole or the main pillar supported by particular actions serving as foundations for its erected structure. The main purpose in such speech actions is recognized and secured step by step. The borderlines among such blocks are far from being clear-cut - indirectness is the most common way of fulfillment of speakers´ goals in conversation and, as G. Leech mentions (1983, p. 175), “… illocutions are in many respects (…) distinguished by continuous rather than by discrete characteristics.“ In addition, illocutionary acts can often be “negotiated“ (ibid, p. 23). It has also been suggested (Leech 2014, pp. 56-58) that the pragmatic meaning of what was said resides in the speaker´s communicative intention, but its interpretation depends on the recognition of that intention, which can also be seen as a goal, by the addressee (or by some third party). In this perspective what is fundamental for pragmatic interpretation is  therefore the complex inferential process that is always present.

      Between what is said and what is implicated:

      Consider the following dialogue (a snatch of a conversation in a movie):

      Charles:               Do you have the wedding list for Banks?

      Shop assistant:     Certainly, sir. Lots of beautiful things for around about 1,000 pounds mark.

      Charles:               What about things around the sort of 50 pound mark?

      Shop assistant:     Well, you could get that pygmy warrior over there,

      Charles:               This? Excellent!

      Shop assistant:     If you could find someone to chip in the othe 950 pounds. Or our carrier bags one pound fifty each. Why don´t you just get 33 of them?

      Is the shop assistant being helpful? 

      (Cf. Culpeper - Haugh, 2015, pp. 102-114.)


    • Topic 5

      Conversation analysis, metapragmatics

      Conversation analysis. Empirical studies of conversation in diverse social groups and situations as opposed to discourse analysis (based on the speech acts theory and general theory of communicative interaction). Critical discourse analysis, with its interrelations to social psychology, sociology and political science is mentioned rather briefly, with some examples of the discourse of Czech communist press in the recent past. The explanations discuss forms and methods of conversational analysis, differences between monologue and dialogue, as well as the main types of dialogues (dialogue structure, turn-taking etc.). One of the sub-chapters is devoted to phatic communication in Czech. Also, an interview (as a type of a dialogue) and some specific features of communication in mass-media are presented, with extension to political rhetorics.

      Metapragmatics deals with reflection of pragmatic phenomena in communication. It concerns both commenting (and naming) acts of communication and reflecting particular communicative strategies (in this viewpoint, every token of reported speech is metapragmatic). Reflection of communicative acts and the (meta-linguistic) names denoting and reporting communication create in every language a specific semantic domain which, as a result, has its secondary influence on the ways how speakers perceive their own language and its usage (incl. self-monitoring).