Social and cognitive factors in pragmatic variability

Mai Kuha, Elizabeth M. Riddle

Ball State University, USA

TP143: Pragmatic variation: the interplay of micro-social and macro-social factors

Much research on pragmatic variation has focused on differences in speech acts across cultures (Tannen 1981, Blum-Kulka and Olshtain 1984, Holtgraves 1997) and learners’ understanding and performance of L2 speech acts (Kasper and Rose 2003). Within languages, variability over time has also received a little attention (Sweetser 1995; Traugott & Dasher 2002). However, with the exception of gender (Tannen 1994; Holmes 1995), there has been little focus on intralinguistic variation involving macro-social variables (Barron 2005, Clyne 2006).

We offer a review of research impinging on macro-factors in variation, propose specific issues needing study, and discuss problems in research design, drawing from the fields of cognitive and social psychology, second language acquisition, sociology, and anthropology, in addition to linguistic pragmatics. For example, cognitively-based research including the variable of age in child language acquisition (Bates 1976), the role of memory in metaphor interpretation (Chiappe & Chiappe 2007), and the pragmatics skills of disabled populations (e.g. Autism Spectrum: Barrett et al. 2004; Asperger Syndrome: Bartlett et al. 2005) also bear on the study of pragmatic variability.

Finally, we report on our own preliminary research of variability in the understanding and production of literal vs. implied meaning in native American English speakers. We propose that there is a greater range of pragmatic variation than can be explained in the light of social macro-variables alone, and conclude that cognitive macro-variables must also be considered for the general population.


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Session: Themed Panel (part 1)
Pragmatic variation: The interplay of micro-social and macro-social factors
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 15