Theoretical Issues In Pragmatics And Discourse Analysis


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2006. Keynote speech at the first conference on Critical approaches to discourse analysis accross disciplines, University of East Anglia, Norwich, June 2006. Louis de Saussure

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  • DP describes causal relations at stake in NL understanding. Note on social determinism: the idea of social determinism, or determinism from psychosocial factors, boils down to this proposition: the environment – social context and situation of speech – determines – and is shaped at the same time by – speech acts obeing rituals. Yet things can be taken exactly the other way round: the environment is a set of information, including conventional, that are managed together with other kinds of information – factual information, logical context, etc., in the process of speaking. In this idea, there is no such thing as social determinism. There is a more complex process going on, that can be explained at the level of utterance interpretation, but that doesn’t allow for social determinism, something which simply doesn’t exist. Certainly, this being said, environment, and things like representations of the listener’s expectations, are strong constraints on speech production; although they maybe better explained through notions like folk psychology, empathy or theory of mind, that is, our natural cognitive ability to represent the other’s mental states, assumptions and intentions.
  • Les approches DP sont mécanistes, car elles capturent / identifient des relations causales sans faire appel à une psyché individuelle, ou collective, qui déterminerait tel ou tel comportement humain. N’implique pas que ces facteurs psychologiques n’interviennent jamais. Mais supposition que ces facteurs psychologiques, éventuellement psychanalytiques, échappent à la science, car non satisfaction de principes épistémologiques (position de Wittgenstein à propos de l’Interprétation des rêves de Freud).
  • Compatibility theory (compatibility of determinism with human free will)
  • RST & autres: various possible and equiprobable analysis of a given text. The analyst uses he’s intuition. In predictive models: the intuition is wiped off the explanation
  • Noter que pour certains, le discours implique une intentionalité globale (Reboul & Moeschler) Interprétation non = à analyse exégétique.
  • Je ne parle pas de la transduction Get DEDUCTIVELY the inferential result. Say that I’m going to get back to the problem of discourse
  • Is this a timeline? Recanati’s answer would be yes (although his architecture is different)
  • Les exemples suivent
  • Why am I talking about all this linguistic stuff? Because I will now wonder whether there is a discursive level of representations, besides the syntactic, semantics and pragmatic ones, so that we can jump from utterance understanding to discourse understanding and then possibly influence and belief changes.
  • Because the set of representations determining the policy or set of actions is or is not coherent The most we can say is that discourses are documentation about the possible coherence of the underlining thoughts The set of assumptions provided by the interpretive procedure is or is not coherent; when it is, then a full interpretation can be postulated, given the effort / effect balance is satisfied.
  • Discourse takes utterances as intuitively interpreted, with a full-fledged meaning. But let me just present a quick list of examples in order to show that meaning is a complicated thing even at the levell of what the speaker says. Understanding utterances is making contextually plausible hypotheses about what the speaker means, what he intends to convey as an information. Most of the time this process is easy and transparent, since the speaker actually wants openly and cooperatively the hearer to get the information. The context provides the basis for meaning enrichment. Often, though, information is not overtly communicated and problems of cooperation in communication arise. Tautologies can be a means to communicate non-cooperatively.
  • Après la dia We all think that one of the most prominent problem of discourses is that discourses aim and often succed at modyfing the representations, the beliefs, of the target audience. In order to analyze influence through discourse, we certainly need to have a theory that helps with influence through utterance understanding in context.
  • AD: Two utterances make a discourse when they are produced by the general laws of discourse as a specific subtype of human activity. CP: Two utterances make a discourse when the first one is a contect that provides more relevance for the second one. This latter assumption allows for thinking that psychosocially, for example praxeologically, defective discourses are in fact defective at the level of the potential of contextualisation an utterance should offer for the next ones.
  • The epistemological problems remain, certainly, Top-down / bottom-up But are we talking about the same thing? If we tackle other scientific objects, can we use other tools? What’s the value of such a scheme? No answer. But One thing is sure: the discoveries of the ones are the heuristic material of the others.
  • Theoretical Issues In Pragmatics And Discourse Analysis

    1. 1. Theoretical issues in pragmatics and discourse analysis Louis de Saussure University of Neuchâtel CADAAD, Norwich, June 30th, 2006
    2. 2. A day at the IPrA conference Gricean people (Semanticists, philosophers of meaning, formalists, cogniticians, computationalists…) Austinian people (social psychologists, discourse analysts, interactionists …)
    3. 3. Reasons for mutual ignorance: The epistemological fence <ul><li>Shall we address discourse as shaped by (and shaping) social activities? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>> discourses are a reliable document for behaviour and social studies. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Shall we address discourse as a by-product of human cognitive abilities to exchange information dynamically? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Therefore with an epistemology more inspired by hard science </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The problem is that both viewpoints are true in their own domain, but that they oppose methodologically and epistemologically </li></ul>
    4. 4. Views of discourses <ul><li>Discourse analysts generally consider discourses as ‘wholes’, as static and finished entities </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For example: CDA to some extent, RST, Argumentation theory (pragma-dialectics), Modular approaches and other theories inspired by Goffman </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(exceptions: formal discourse analysis) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Cognitive pragmaticists will consider discourses as dynamic ‘processes’ </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For example: relevance theory (cognitive pragmatics), semantic defaults, Récanati’s t-c pragmatics, psycholinguistics… </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. Reasons for mutual ignorance (if not dogmatic hate): A different object of study <ul><li>Discourses as documents for psychosocial human activity </li></ul><ul><ul><li>input of the analysis: interpreted (=meaningful) sets of utterances </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>output / result of the analysis: spelling out the underlying articulations and structuration of the given discourse, its persuasive structure etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Discourses as communicative and informative processes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>input of the analysis: single semantic (or syntactic) structures </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>output of the analysis: meanings (utterance meaning / discourse meaning) </li></ul></ul>
    6. 6. Problems <ul><li>For discourse analysts: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Accounting for how meaning is achieved, while meaning is central ( even though some think differently or some have other definitions of ‘meaning’ ) and how non-intended information is eventually recovered by the hearer. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>For pragmatics </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Accounting for what a discourse is and works, while discourses obviously exist and must be accounted for ( even though some think differently ) </li></ul></ul>
    7. 7. Disclaimer: Of course not that simple <ul><li>Meaning construction, in particular implicit meaning, such as indirect speech acts, or implicatures, are integrated in many discourse analysis approaches. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>However, generally, no clear explanation of how these meanings arise (besides conventional linkeages between types of utterances) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Discourses as units are also considered in many formal / semantic / cognitivist approaches </li></ul><ul><ul><li>However, the outputs are structures that do not inform much about the meaning of the whole discourse </li></ul></ul>
    8. 8. An aspect of the debate : D-wholes vs D-processes <ul><li>Structures of actions, rituals and arguments </li></ul><ul><li>Existence of laws of coherence </li></ul><ul><li>a form of social determinism </li></ul><ul><li>A goal: free individuals from their dependency towards discourses </li></ul><ul><li>The task of the analyst is tackled </li></ul><ul><li>Discourses produce sequential changes of the hearer’s mental state </li></ul><ul><li>Parts of discourse are unfolding sequentially, the former discourse being available and salient context for the next utterance </li></ul><ul><li>Discourse (and communication) is a question of individual cognitions exchanging information </li></ul><ul><li>The task of the interpret is tackled </li></ul>
    9. 9. What dogmas do they have? What do they think? Cognitive approaches, are a regression (because of Fodorian solipsism)! Meaning simply doesn’t exist! Does even reality exist? Syntax is dictatorial!  Logical formalization won’t take us anywhere Discourse is not a scientific category! Discourses do not exist, only utterances do! They don’t explain meaning. And coherence, what’s that??
    10. 10. A defense of scientific mechanism (and naturalism) <ul><li>« Discourse as process » approaches are mechanistic. </li></ul><ul><li>Leonard Bloomfield: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mechanism is the necessary form of scientific thinking </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Why that? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Reduction / control of specultive assumptions </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Not exclusive but quite radical </li></ul><ul><ul><li>There may be other types of knowledge. Some wish to call them scientific as well. Mechanism rejects this. </li></ul></ul>
    11. 11. As much mechanism as we can <ul><li>Mechanism implies strict determinism. As much as we can, this approach must be followed. </li></ul><ul><li>When we reach the end of this possibility may begin the possibly richer but qualitatively more speculative work of psycho-social approaches to discourse and interaction </li></ul><ul><li>If there’s an end to mechanism, then there are limits to posit for it and for science. </li></ul><ul><li>For example: it’s unclear whether interaction is indeed determined by identifiable causal features. </li></ul>
    12. 12. The main advantage of mechanism <ul><li>To predict a unique result on the basis of a set of data and conditions. </li></ul><ul><ul><li> R sa T (data, conditions) = R </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Intuitions are wiped off the explanion. </li></ul><ul><li>Allows well for modeling causal relations causing cognitive changes through time (through discourse processing). </li></ul><ul><li>RT has such a position, as well as other trends in pragma-semantics (SDRT for instance) </li></ul>
    13. 13. Discourse-as-a-process unfolding through time <ul><li>Principles stating that: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Discourse understanding is reductible to utterances understanding ‘online’ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>The discourse is interpreted when the last utterance is interpreted. (mental state changes) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The understanding of utterances is a process going through various stages: (transduction), logical (syntactic) form, propositional form / explicit meaning, implicit meaning. </li></ul></ul>
    14. 14. The (to be abandoned) idealised model (‘morrissian’) <ul><li>A typical architecture of linguistic models </li></ul><ul><ul><li>First, build-up the LF (syntactic form) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Second, build-up the propositional form (referential assignments etc.) and other explicatures (pragmatic enrichment) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Third, when necessary, derivate implicatures (deduction device): </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Explicit premiss (an explicature) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Implicit premiss (a contextual assumption) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Inferential result </li></ul></ul></ul>
    15. 15. In short: the relevance-theoretic schema LF Utterance (stimulus) PF and Other Explicatures Implicatures Contextual information (referents, elliptic contents recovery…) Contextual information (implicit premisses)
    16. 16. What drives the process of understanding for RT <ul><li>A set of principles, the central one being: </li></ul><ul><li>Principle of relevance : search for the interpretation for which the effect obtained (in particular the amount of information) compensates best the effort being spent in the calculation. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>a path of least effort </li></ul></ul>
    17. 17. Is there a morrissian timeline? <ul><li>YES : Récanati : “ In order to retrieve the implicature, the interpreter must first understand what is stated — the input to the inferential process responsible for implicature generation” </li></ul><ul><li>NO or NOT EXACTLY : Carston and others: pragma-semantic processing « needs parallel adjustment ». </li></ul>
    18. 18. A dynamic process <ul><li>Dynamicity is not only a question of utterance-by-utterance processing but also a question of dynamic building-up of several levels of representations together </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Logical linguistic form, Propositional explicit contents, Implicatures (implicit meanings) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>There is a need for a parallel and linear model: it happens that the hearer needs to conjecture the implicit meaning in order to license the propositional explicit content. </li></ul>
    19. 19. What solution for a Discourse as a process account? <ul><li>If discourse (NL stream) is a process, then there is a (unconscious and automated) procedure that handles understanding, from the most basic element to the most complex one. </li></ul><ul><li>Information processing throughout a NL-stream is both LINEAR (it unfolds through time) and PARALLEL (it achieves parallel adjustment of syntactic, semantic and pragmatic representations). </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A typical case is implicit causality </li></ul></ul>
    20. 20. What about Coherence <ul><li>Coherence is not a linguistic / discursive property </li></ul><ul><li>It’s a property of thoughts / representations (‘discourse’ in a Foucauld-like sense) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A policy, a set of actions can be (in)coherent </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A set of assumptions can be coherent </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Any set of assumptions determined on the basis of an utterance can be coherent: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Consistent </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Logically organised (as premisses and conclusion) etc. </li></ul></ul></ul>
    21. 21. Utterance understanding <ul><li>A syntactic form is coherent with regard to the explicit and implicit contents it allows </li></ul><ul><li>An explicature is coherent with regard to the syntactic form that triggers it and to the implicatures it allows to deduce </li></ul><ul><li>An implicature is coherent with regard to the explicature it comes from or triggers </li></ul><ul><li>>> Any representation can co-determine representations of other levels for the satisfaction of coherence and the whole obtained is then evaluated in terms of relevance. </li></ul>
    22. 22. Meaning is all but given a priori <ul><li>Max is too small (for what?) </li></ul><ul><li>Paracetamol is better (than what?) </li></ul><ul><li>It’s raining (here and now) </li></ul><ul><li>Everybody likes pasta carbonara (in the family) </li></ul><ul><li>Max and Bill climbed the mountain (together) </li></ul><ul><li>Ann has 4 children (exactly) </li></ul><ul><li>I don’t eat frog legs (never) . </li></ul><ul><li>Mary took the knife and stabbed her husband (and then) </li></ul><ul><li>Holland is flat ( relatively ) </li></ul><ul><li>Federer is the new Sampras </li></ul><ul><li>Bush is Bush / A boy is a boy </li></ul><ul><li>(some of the examples are from the literature: Carston; Sperber & Wilson) </li></ul>
    23. 23. Some pragmatic problems <ul><li>Non-informative statements </li></ul><ul><ul><li>I don’t need to tell you why we invaded Irak. You know this already. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>I (don’t) vote Bush because Bush is Bush. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Presuppositional assertion </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Which teddy bear do you want to bring at Aunt Mary’s? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>X failed to provide the proofs of his innocence (> he tried to provide, he had to provide…) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Iraki WoMD are a danger for us (> WoMD exist in irak) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Metaphorical simplification </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A parasite must be killed; a cancer must be cured… </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Fallacious devices </li></ul><ul><li>How do we pragmatically enrich meaning there? What does it imply for discourses ? </li></ul>
    24. 24. Is there a discursive level of representations? Implicatures Explicatures b (unarticulated explicit.) explicatures 1 (referents) Logical / syntactic form Inter- pretation Discursive representations / Global intention… ?
    25. 25. Discourses and higher-level intentional meaning <ul><li>Are we speculating, during online interpretation, higher-level communicative intentions? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What does the speaker intends to communicate through the ordered set of representations (utterances) made manifest to me (the discourse?) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Certainly (Reboul & Moeschler 1998). </li></ul></ul><ul><li>We do a lot of other things: speculate hidden intentions, speculate about the speaker’s personality, speculate about his/her skills… all this through online processing. </li></ul><ul><li>Why not global discursive meanings? </li></ul>
    26. 26. The import from the structural and speech-act traditions <ul><li>Here comes the need for interdisciplinarity </li></ul><ul><li>Linguistic productions (discourses) are organised according to non-arbitrary and hierarchical schemes. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Psychosocial approaches: discourse is a conventional activity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cognitive approaches: discourse is a stream of representations providing context for the next ones </li></ul></ul><ul><li>We need a wider set of tools for the analyst </li></ul>
    27. 27. Towards an interface of pragma-semantics with DA? UTTERANCE MEANING Syntactic-semantic processing Inferential pragmatic processing Linguistic And Contextual Data Meaningful discursive elements RHETORICAL ORGANISATION PSYCHO-SOCIAL ASPECTS ETC. Discursive analysis
    28. 28. Conclusive remarks Thank you for your attention