Title: Systematising pragmatics: the remit and limits of contextual inference for the study of language
Date: 2 December 2020
Time: 12:00 - 13:00
Venue: Remote through Zoom; register via this online form.
Speaker: Dr Stavros Assimakopoulos, University of Malta
Contemporary pragmatics owes a lot of its existence to the pioneering work of Grice, which emphasised that verbal communication requires not only the knowledge of some linguistic code, but also a general ability to draw inferences against contexts of use.
For quite some time, this perspective dominated the field, not least of all because, by placing speaker intention and its inferential recognition by the hearer at the forefront of attention, it had finally managed to bring some order to the contents of what had previously been treated as a ‘wastebasket’ of linguistic theorising. While this fascination is obviously still going strong nowadays, the original Gricean rationale is increasingly being questioned by scholars from diverse backgrounds, with some downplaying the role of intention recognition in favour of models that view communication as interactional achievement and others protesting the broader exclusion of sociocultural aspects of language use from the remit of pragmatics in this particular tradition.
The main aim of this talk is to review the central arguments underlying this tension in an attempt to assess whether the field can still be delineated in a coherent and meaningful way while respecting the diverse perspectives of scholars who self-identify as researchers of pragmatics.
To this end, Dr Assimakopoulos will look at the different conceptions of context that the relevant theoretical traditions adopt in their respective approaches with a view to distinguishing between the types and levels of information against which pragmatic inference can be taken to operate in each case.
In this regard, the upshot of his argumentation will be that we can still identify a core research agenda for studying pragmatics, and that it is ultimately the particular formulation of our more specific research questions, which is in itself a pragmatic task after all, that often leads us to distinct and seemingly incompatible conclusions about the true nature of the field.