Edited by Konstanze Jungbluth, Cornelia Müller, Nicole Richter, Hartmut Schröder

Yilmin Koo

Are the Theories Applicable to Authentic English in use? A Corpus-based Approach to Theories of Pragmatics in Use

Anne O’Keeffe, Brian Clancy, Svenja Adolphs. 2011. Introducing Pragmatics in Use. Oxford: Routledge.

As the title indicates, the goal of Introducing pragmatics in use is to present the role of pragmatics to researchers and students who are new to pragmatics. Even for those who are well aware of pragmatics, this book is useful as it covers both pragmatic theories and application based on corpus data. Corpus-based approaches have not been so active in the field of pragmatics. Introducing pragmatics in use consists of eight chapters covering important topics in pragmatics and providing ample examples. By the help of written and spoken examples from various corpora, this book tries to provide aspects of authentic pragmatic English along with numerous figures and tables. The further readings suggested at the end of each chapter also are helpful.

In the first chapter, the authors introduce pragmatics in general and the structure of the book as a whole. The authors start this chapter with a question: “What is pragmatics?” Although there are many different definitions of pragmatics, the authors provide a user-friendly definition of pragmatics suggested by Fasold (1990: 119): "the study of the use of context to make inferences about meaning." According to the authors, the key concept of pragmatics is that the available evidence is provided by the context within which the utterance takes place; thus, contexts should be the primary source in understanding utterances. There is a brief overview of the book, followed by a general explanation of corpus linguistics. The authors focus on the advantages of using data from corpora in pragmatics. Examples of corpus word frequency lists, keyword lists, and concordance lines are given. This chapter is particularly interesting to readers who are new to corpus linguistics.

Chapter 2 reviews the major research methods in pragmatics. The authors then use five diverse case studies to show specific approaches including eliciting data through discourse completion tasks (DCTs), role-plays, interviews, questionnaires, and the use of a corpus. The authors discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each of them. The overview of research methods used in the field of pragmatics is particularly important for graduate students and young researchers.

Deixis is the topic of Chapter 3. Here deixis is defined as "the way in which speakers orient both themselves and their listeners in relation to the context of a conversation" (p. 36). According to the authors, deixis represents the intersection of pragmatics and grammar as may be demonstrated by personal pronouns (I, you), demonstratives (this, that), adverbs of time (now, then), adverbs of space (here, there), motion verbs (come, go), and a variety of other grammatical items are included in this chapter. English grammar teachers can find useful information in this chapter since deixis is known to be a great challenge for language learners.

"Politeness in context" is the subject of the following chapter. It reminds that contexts are essential in dealing with politeness. It starts with background information on Goffman's notion of "face" and “face threatening acts,” Grice's co-operative principle (CP), and Brown and Levinson's model of politeness. The corpus-based examples help to explain positive politeness, negative politeness, and impoliteness. A more recent theory suggested by Watts is compared and contrasted with Brown and Levinson’s traditional model of politeness as is Sperber and Wilson’s relevance theory with the Gricean co-operation theory.

As Austin (1962) pointed out, the speaker’s utterance often has power over the hearer to do something. Chapter 5, “Speech acts in context”, gives an overview on speech act theories suggested by Austin (1962) and Searle (1975). Austin's locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts are introduced, and Searle’s distinction between direct and indirect speech acts is explained. In the middle of the chapter, the authors explain how to identify and analyze speech acts using several examples.

Looking at different cultures, pragmatics shows up a certain diversity. For example, it is well known that Asians’ pragmatic refusal is more indirect and lengthy than Americans’. Chapter 6 treats pragmatics across languages and cultures covering cross-cultural similarities and differences. With the help of various examples, the authors explain socio-pragmatic mismatches that occur often in speech acts of apology, request, refusal, suggestion, and gratitude. Besides, the notions of "self” and "face" in Western versus Asian cultures are discussed in the issue of universality of pragmatic norms. Lastly, possible pragmatic variation within the same language is illustrated.

Pragmatics can be applied differently in different situations. “Pragmatics in specific discourse domains” is the title of Chapter 7. This chapter re-visits many of the issues discussed in the previous chapters. Pragmatics involved in five specific domains such as casual conversation, healthcare communication, the classroom, service encounters, and soap operas is presented. This chapter also discusses comparability in using corpora. The authors present

several examples of how a corpus could be used for comparison. Consistent with other chapters, examples from corpora help readers to understand key pragmatic issues in many different situations.

The final chapter is on pragmatics and language teaching. The authors focus on the implications of English globalization and pedagogic suggestions for teachers. In this chapter, the authors give another definition of pragmatics. That is, “the study of the way speakers and writers have to get things done while at the same time attending to the relationships they have with others” (p. 137). Pragmatic transfer between L1 and L2 could make L2 speakers appear insincere and rude. This is consistent with what Thomas (1983) suggested regarding pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic issues. In addition, answers to the questions on “what can be taught?” are provided. There are suggestions for teaching positive politeness, negative politeness, hedging, vague language, and the use of pragmatic markers. Pragmatic markers are divided into three parts: discourse markers, interactional markers, and response tokens.

The fact that a lot of real data from corpora are used in this book is one of its advantages. Examples used in this book are drawn from various corpora: the British National Corpus, the Corpus of Contemporary American English, the Limerick Corpus of Irish English, the Limerick and Belfest Corpus of Academic Spoken English, the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English, the Corpus of Meetings of English Language Teachers, and the Nottingham Health Communication Corpus.

Some readers might feel inconvenienced by the lack of a separate chapter for “implicature” which is one of the key concepts of pragmatics. Though one might say that some chapters need more explanations, Introducing pragmatics in use covers various key concepts of pragmatics. Importantly, written and spoken examples from various corpora are effectively used so that students and researchers do not have to rely on intuition-based instances. In particular, the use of spoken corpora such as the MICASE (Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English) is one of the greatest merits of this book since authentic spoken examples are necessary for pragmatics textbooks. Even though some chapters do not have in-depth explanations on given topics, this book is brief but still informative as an introductory textbook. In addition, this book does not forget to talk about pragmatics across different cultures and languages. This book is very practical and useful as in each chapter the authors give suggestions for further reading. The greatest value of this book lies in the authors’ efforts putting theory into practice. Overall, Introducing pragmatics in use is an invaluable book for students and researchers in the field of pragmatics and corpus linguistics.


Austin, John. 1962. How to do things with words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Fasold, Ralph. 1990. The sociolinguistics of language. Oxford: Blackwell.

Searle, John. 1975. Indirect speech acts. In Peter Cole and Jerry L. Morgan (eds.), Syntax and Semantics, vol. 3: Speech Acts. New York: Academic Press, 59–82.

Thomas, Jenny. 1983. Cross-cultural pragmatic failure. Applied Linguistics 4: 91–112.

Yilmin Koo
Research interests: Semantics, Pragmatics, Discourse Markers, Korean Linguistics.

Download: Yilmin Koo: Review on Introducing Pragmatics in Use. 2011. In PRAGMATICS.REVIEWS 2013.1.3

DOI: 10.11584/pragrev.2013.1.3.1