The paradox of communication: Socio-cognitive approach to pragmatics

Pragmatics and Society 1 (1):50-73 (2010)
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Communication is not as smooth a process as current pragmatic theories depict it. In Rapaport’s words “We almost always fail […]. Yet we almost always nearly succeed: This is the paradox of communication”. This paper claims that there is a need for an approach that is able to explain this “bumpy road” by analyzing both the positive and negative features of the communicative process. The paper presents a socio-cognitive approach to pragmatics that takes into account both the societal and individual factors including cooperation and egocentrism that, as claimed here, are not antagonistic phenomena in interaction. This approach is considered an alternative to current theories of pragmatics that do not give an adequate account of what really happens in the communicative process. They consider communication an idealistic, cooperation-based, context-dependent process in which speakers are supposed to carefully construct their utterances for the hearer taking into account all contextual factors and hearers do their best to figure out the intentions of the speakers. This approach relies mainly on the positive features of communication including cooperation, rapport and politeness while almost completely ignores the untidy, trial-and-error nature of communication and the importance of prior contexts captured in the individual use of linguistic units. The overemphasis on cooperative, societal, contextual factors has led to disregard individual factors such as egocentrism and salience that are as important contributors to the communicative process as cooperation, context and rapport. The socio-cognitive approach is presented as a theoretical framework to incorporate and reconcile two seemingly antagonistic sides of the communicative process and explain the dynamic interplay of prior and actual situational contexts.



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Istvan Kecskes
Lajos Kossuth University of Arts and Sciences (PhD)

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