12th IPrA Conference

The second speaker at the Opening Plenary was Sachiko Ide, President of the International Pragmatics Association (IPrA). Her topic was Let the wind blow from the East: Using the ‘ba (field)’ theory to explain how two strangers co-create a story. She informed of an Eastern view on the construction of conversation according to the so called ‘ba (field)’ theory which disregards the standard Japanese way of conversation when honorifics are employed as a means of politeness to shape it. The ‘ba (field)’ theory presupposes a gradual development of conversation in a kind of a creative way deviating from the norm of overt linguistic politeness in Japanese. The creative way of conversation leads to covert communication which adds little information to the conversation but provides a setting for smooth overt communication. This lecture represented well not only a major theme in pragmatics but also Japanese pragmatics, the country from which published contributions dominated in the field in recent years.
The Closing Plenary lecture by Laurel Brinton, How Historical Pragmatics can Inform Synchronic and Diachronic Linguistics, had the focus on comment clauses. The speaker reminded that the development of comment clauses did not always draw from main clauses, as historical corpora have shown. Synchronical studies, on the other hand, have indicated that prosodically “main clause uses of I think are indistinguishable from parenthetic uses”. This speaker also detailed on how the development of pragmatic markers supported the data and views on grammaticalisation as opposed to pragmaticalisation. This process “also served to sharpen our distinction between grammaticalisation and lexicalization”. Consequently, historical pragmatic studies have defined what actually belongs to grammar. This was a very well delivered major lecture at the Conference.
Among the lectures presented in parallel sessions, a lecture, Pragmalinguistic vs sociopragmatic politeness: A wrong turning in (im)politeness theory? given by Geoffrey Leech attracted an enormous audience and was a major contribution. In this lecture, the speaker sorted out approaches to politeness in pragmatics. He clarified his own views on politeness, “which have never been absolute”, and rather distinguishing between ‘absolute politeness’ and ‘relative politeness’ (‘pragmalinguistic’ and ‘sociopragmatic’, respectively). As since the 1990s “influential writers on politeness have abandoned general theorizing”, some of them found it impossible “to make any general claims about politeness”. By outlining differences between context sensitive and context free politeness, respectively, Geoffrey Leech finally referred to the old school theorizing on politeness, minding that its views were consistent with the native speakers’ judgment on what is more or less polite. This was a rare lecture, consistently clarifying the views on politeness and reassessing the state of the art in the field.
There was another interesting English speaker on politeness at the Conference: Jonathan Culpeper, who gave a presentation, English Politeness: The 20th century. Mr Culpeper began by saying that the high standards of politeness for which Englishmen have been famous in the world had carried on with the tradition of the nineteenth century. “Positive Victorian values, such as: self-help, self-control and self-respect” had shaped the image of the individual and regulated his behaviour. The practices deteriorated in the twentieth century. The old British politeness lived through a stage of revival in Mrs Thatcher’s time (1975-1990), but then lapsed again. Mr Culpeper, who did not investigate the profuse forms of politeness, informed the audience that Please and Thank you have remained the most frequent formulae, while Thanks has been becoming less frequent. These have been considered as the “magic words” of English parents. Another formula of politeness highlighted for its frequency was Excuse me, applicable when “personal space is violated”. Could you X? & Can you X? have been found to be the most frequent request structures in present-day English. They are also emblematic of English negative politeness in the speech acts in which an attempt to save the addressee’s negative face, while respecting his freedom of action, is made. This paper was based on corpus data and was very convincing.
There was a very interesting paper on historical discourse structures based on three early modern English trials of the monarch and of two nobilities: Barbara Kryk-Kastovsky: Early Modern English courtroom discourse compared: The trials of King Charles I, Titus Oates, and Lady Alice Lisle. This speaker explained how the social status of the defendants determined the language in these court trials and indicated how much the language of the seventeenth century differed from that of today. As the social status of the defendants differed, so did the language in the court discourse. The highest-placed person, the King, and one noble defended themselves, while two other nobles had defense lawyers. These factors conditioned linguistic characteristics of individual contributions of the trials participants: direct speech acts alternated with the indirect, polite forms of address alternated with invectives, orders with requests and so on. The language of the court discourse in this case has shown that indirectness and politeness decreased with the diminishing social status of the defendants. The defendants “fell victim to the current socio-historical conditions and faced different sentences”.
There was a very interesting paper on an aspect of linguistic relativity, presented by a group of researchers (Emanuel Bylund, Panos Athanasopoulos, Ljubica Damjanovic), affiliated with the University of Bangor, and entitled, Dos learning a new language change the way you think about events? It was a psycholinguistic research based on the evidence of the English learners of German. These presenters explained how speakers of languages which lack grammatical aspect (German) assume”holistic event perspectives” in speech and tend to mention the end point in a description of an action. Speakers of aspect languages (English) “are more prone to defocus the end point of an event and instead direct attention to its ongoingness”. Compared to English speakers only, the English speakers of German “were more prone to base their similarity judgements on endpoint saliency, rather than ongoingness. The speakers mentioned one important point: the described strategy became more pronounced as L2 proficiency increased. (This means only a well mastered foreign language has the power to influence the speaker’s turns subconsciously and essentially rather than superficially. Superficiality shows when the speaker peppers his speech with foreign words usually from a vaguely learned foreign language.) The discussant in this Panel was Guillaume Thierry, of the University of Bangor, who not only led the discussion in an organized way but himself contributed ideas on conceptualization in language.
A significant paper, Comparative Keyword Analysis for researching the Genre of the Political Speech: Tony Blair Pre and Post-Iraq War, was given by Jonathan Charteris-Black. This paper was based on the analysis of key words in political speeches and concluded on the change of the genre in terms of the rhetoric of the classical antiquity. The key words selected were not from the sphere of political vocabulary. They were functional words, such as but, just, why, good, right, etc. and such abstract words as: faith, love, narrative and solution. The researcher checked the frequency of these and related words in the speeches of Tony Blair, then examined them in their context placed into semantic groups. In the interpretation of the significance of the chosen keywords, reference was made to Tony Blair’s autobiography A Journey. This speaker has found that comparative keyword analysis “provided some lexical evidence of a change from a deliberative to an epideictic genre of political speech as a politician’s primary communicative purpose shifts away from policy formation towards memory, legacy and – perhaps – spirituality”. This paper and the one on linguistic relativity reviewed above were papers inspiring for further research in these fields. (Many presenters at this Conference finished their talks while indicating further prospective research topics.)
Ruta Marcinkeviciene, of the Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania, made  presentation on the Denotational Indirectness of Abstract Nouns. Her focus was on the nouns terrorism and terrorist(s). Although the noun terrorism classifies as “denotationally direct”, Ruta Marcinkeviciene reported that the investigated corpus data have shown that this nouns in collocation is often subordinated to other nouns and is often used even metaphorically. The verbal collocations similarly obscure the direct meaning of this noun. Lexical devices were also found to facilitate denotational indirectness of the noun terrorism. In usage, this noun prevails in indirect discourse. In conclusion, Ruta Marcinkeviciene stated that the noun terrorism “is predominantly used in an indirect way”, while the noun terrorist(s) has more cases of “direct references, especially in its plural form”. This was said to imply “a possibly manipulative nature of denotationally indirect discourse of terrorism”.
Marija Liudvika Drazdauskiene, Wszechnica Polska, Warsaw, made a presentation, Investigating the Substance of Vague Language. Having referred to the philosophy of mind, she has found that tentative utterances do not raise the question of truth value in communication and that principles of pragmatics have been sufficient to investigate the sense of tentative utterances. She described the tentative utterances identical with propositional attitudes, tentative utterances with a modal component and tentative utterances with an evaluative component which were treated as approximations. The conclusion was that tentative utterances identical with propositional attitudes have been weakest as statements and they were frequent as conversational turns. Tentative utterances with a modal component were found to have propositional value because the modal component implied quite definitely the value of the statement. Tentative utterances with an evaluative component were vague because the evaluative component specified the degree of evaluation rather than the quality of an object/subject. Therefore they were treated as approximations. They functioned as conversational rather than propositional clauses. This paper earned a comment that it would be welcome to continue the research presented and to base it on corpus data.

It appeared that several presenters at the conference were interested in phatic communion. However, only one of them (Gerrard Mugford) focused on linguistic units in discourse that may facilitate the phatic use in the English of the learners. One other speaker made only lip-service to the term as she (Dipti Kulkarni) analysed how conversation analytic approach can contribute to instant messaging.

The Conference had a rich display of publications from major publishers in the English speaking world (OUP, CUP, Longman, John Benjamins and others).

The Conference dinner on the 7th of July in Manchester Town Hall was a really grand event at which the participants enjoyed the architecture of the building, a rich meal and informal talk.

12th International Pragmatics Conference has brought to the fore the ongoing research in different fields of pragmatics, which any person working in the field may find interesting. Two copies of the ABSTRACTS of the Conference presentations are available in Lithuania.