Linguistic Pragmatics from a “Hard-Science” Perspective


El¿bieta W¹sik (Poznan)



The focus of our polemic will concentrate around investigative consequences, which may have resulted from the strict application of the distinction made between physical and logical domains and in a human-centered study of the pragmatics of linguistic communication. This distinction was endorsed in the book of Victor H. Yngve From Grammar to Science (Amsterdam 1986: Benjamins) claiming that the only accessible objects of scientific study, understood in terms of physics, chemistry and biology, are linguistic properties of human individuals communicating with other individuals in temporary and long-lasting linkages. Accepting a “hard-science” tenet, we agree that: “There is no such thing in nature as an utterance that carries with it a linguistic segmentation or structure of any sort, whether in terms of phonemes, syllables, words, sentences, or any other of the constructs usually invoked to describe them” (p. 9). However, we cannot say the same about the statement: “Instead we have in nature only the physical sound waves themselves and the people producing, sensing, and interpreting them” (ibid.). In fact, true is only the first part of it pertaining to observable channels and referring behavior of communicators. “Interpreting” activity has to be relegated, along with “knowledge”, “concepts”, or even communicative “tasks hierarchies”, to the logical domain based on inferences and conditional reasoning in the same way as “competence” is seen as “not a part of the real world” (p. 341, cf. 97). Thus, philosophical foundations of linguistic pragmatics are unavoidable as a complementary part of human communication including the self-awareness of communicators not only from the intellectual and emotional but also from chemical-electrical and motoric-kinetic points of view. It would be necessary to consider the distinctions between observable and concluded reality related to extraorganismic and intraorganismic properties of communicating individuals, if the opposition between physical and psychical in terms of biology were untenable. The refutation of distinctions derived from “soft-sciences”, for the lack of theoretical constructs providing a base of solipsistic experiences of both scientists and ordinary human beings, would impede the possibility of communication about the discoveries made in the real world being remote in time and space. The only thing we could state about the real world of linguistic properties of people is that there are observable links between communicating individuals constituting parts of a dynamic linguistic community with open boundaries. These interindividual links constitute inter alia energy flows exchanged through particle and wave duality in the physical domain of verbal expressions. While remaining in the logical domain of a source agent, the material shape of verbal expressions is received or not by a target agent. As such the logical domain exists separately in the knowledge of communicating individuals as a mental connection between the two domains, the domain of expression and the domain of reference. Thus, individuals communicating about the same domain of reference are supposed to be endowed with the same knowledge of how to interpret the domain of expression of a given language in a relatively similar way.