The Special Issue of Pragmatics
Pragmatics is the study of how people interpret utterances and actions in particular contexts and cultures. It also examines how these interpretations can change as the utterances and actions take on new meanings or as the people who are communicating change in their relationships to each other.
Pragmatists view utterances as a kind of puzzle that has to be solved, based on the available facts about the situation and the participants’ understandings, beliefs, and expectations. They are interested in partial truths and grey areas, because these can help us to explain real-world behaviour. Pragmatists are also interested in knowing which questions to ask, because this can help us make sense of what we do see and hear.
The research in this special issue explores a wide variety of pragmatic phenomena, including the use of multiple lexical and grammatical categories to mark an utterance as modal, the way in which utterances can be used to make requests and complaints, and how children develop their pragmatic abilities. It also examines the ways in which pragmatics interact with other aspects of linguistic and cognitive development, such as vocabulary, grammar, theory of mind, and executive function.
There are many challenges in attempting to understand pragmatics. First, it is extremely difficult to isolate the effects of language on pragmatics in laboratory settings. Most experimental studies involve some sort of social interaction between participants, so the effects are inherently influenced by the people involved and by the specific tasks that they are asked to complete. Furthermore, the interaction between a speaker and an addressee involves a complex interplay of semantic, grammatical, and semantic-pragmatic processes, making it hard to separate these factors out in laboratory experiments.
One major framework that linguists and philosophers have developed to tackle these issues is relevance theory, which was proposed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson. This theory, which builds on Grice’s ideas about implicature, suggests that speakers must convey enough relevant information in an utterance for it to be worth the listener’s effort to process it. This makes it important to incorporate contextual and cultural information into the analysis of utterances, which is another major challenge in pragmatic research.
Pragmatism is a useful research approach because it views people’s ideas and beliefs as tools for solving problems and navigating the world. It can strengthen research on organizational processes by encouraging researchers to be more flexible in their investigative techniques and ensuring that they are grounded in the realities of the respondent’s experiences and knowledge. It can also help researchers to explore the interconnectedness of experience, knowing and acting by identifying the connections between the research process, organizational processes and their effects on individuals. This can help to surface themes and issues that may be hidden in formal documentation or rhetoric. This is especially important for understanding dynamic organizational processes where action, even when well-planned, can have unpredictable consequences. This can have a profound impact on the future of the organization and its ability to solve problems and adapt to changing environments.