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Stylistics and Pragmatics

In an act of communication, spoken or written, apart from referential information (semantic content), that is, information about a segment of real life, there is also information about: a) the conditions and b) participants of communication, c) the intentions and attitudes of the speaker or writer (the addresser), the relations between the addresser and the addressee, d) the aim of communication and e) the calculated effect. All this is materialized in the message, which is shaped and transmitted by the addresser for the addressee to decode. "To understand a natural language is to be able to distinguish the propositional content of a sentence (or text) from its pragmatic implications" (John Marshall and Roger Wales, 1974).

Propositional content (proposition) is merely what the words put together in an appropriate way mean, not taking into account the communication situation, the participants, the specific intention of the speaker, what is called presupposition (presupposition is an indispensable precondition for adequate decoding).

If all the addressee can grasp is propositional content, he fails to comprehend the sense of the utterance, and the act of communication is disrupted. Consider the example:

An Englishman traveling in Wales is talking to a Welshman:

- Excuse me. Do you know the way to Cardiff, please?

- Yes, of course, I do.

- Could you tell me how to get there?

- Yes. I could.

- I mean, would you kindly show me the road?

- Yes, I would. There is no reason why I wouldn't.

The Welshman fails to realize that the Englishman is not wondering if the Welshman is in possession of some knowledge of geography, but is seeking concrete direction, that his utterances are not questions, but requests. So, all the Welshman understands is the proportional content, the pragmatic aspect of the Englishman's utterances escapes him.

The term "pragmatics" comes back to the Greek noun which means "deed". It is a term of semiotics, the science of signs.

Semiotics studies signs as means suitable for communication of any kind. Charles Morris, founder of semiotics, distinguished three aspects of semiotics: semantics, syntactics and pragmatics.

Semantics studies the relation of signs to objects and phenomena of real life.

Syntactics - the relation of signs to one another.

Pragmatics - the relation of signs to their users to those who interpret them. So, pragmatics deals with an optimal choice of signs able to render the user's intentions in a the most adequate way. The user predetermines the ultimate choice of signs. The choice depends on the immanent qualities of signs and the assessment of their potential communicative value by the community of users.

Since the natural language is a type of semiotic system, pragmatics is one of its constituents and an object of linguistic research.

During the reign of structuralism in the 50es and the 60es pragmatics was ignored. The pragmatic boom began in the late 70es. If language is studied not only as a potential means of communication, but in actual communication, pragmatics as an aspect of language and of linguistic research is indispensable.

Levels of observation are: pragmatics of language, pragmatics of communication, pragmatics of an act of communication, pragmatics of a discourse (that means any complete unit of verbal communication, spoken or written), a text or an utterance.

Stylistics is concerned with the latter three. So, pragmatics of language is in part, the materialization of the communicative function of language or the communicative function itself (Kolshansky, 1984). Pragmatics is an aspect of communication, theoretically opposed to the semantic content, the two aspects (semantic content and pragmatics) are inseparable in a speech act.

For more facts about Pragmatics read the article "Pragmatics, usage and grammar of speech" by V.G. Gak (pp. 11-16).


Essential concepts of decoding stylistic analysis and types of foregrounding | Pragmatics and the Speech Act Theory

A. Types of rhyme. | The notion of style in functional stylistics | Correlation of style, norm and function in the language | Scientific Prose Style. | Familiar colloquial style. | Literary colloquial style | Familiar colloquial style | Publicist (media) style | The style of official documents | Stylistics of the author and of the reader. |

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