Pragmatics: A multidisciplinary perspective

L. Cummings. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005. Pp. 336

Reviewed by Nguyen Thi Thuy Minh
Vietnam National University
Hanoi, Vietnam

Pragmatics: A multidisciplinary perspective is, as its back cover points out, the first truly multidisciplinary text of its kind. Offering a diversified perspective on pragmatics to illustrate how the field embraces quite a strong reciprocal relationship with many of its neighboring academic disciplines, the book s 10 chapters prove themselves to be a rich source of information for a wide readership, especially those interested in linguistics, cognitive science, and language pathology.

Its first chapter, The Multidisciplinary Nature of Pragmatics, sets the stage for the rest of the book by clarifying the links between pragmatics and related disciplines and examines a number of pragmatic theories and concepts that are relevant to this discussion such as speech acts, implicature, relevance, deixis and presupposition. Cummings also plausibly points out that pragmatics not only owes a large part of its conceptual grounds to a range of academic disciplines (p. 1) but also contributes a great deal to enlightening these disciplines.
Chapters 2 through 9 continue the discussion by focusing on a variety of pragmatic aspects with a view to highlighting their multidisciplinary nature.

Chapter 2, Theories of Meaning, for example, begins by exploring the complexity of meaning in the different perspectives of truth-conditional semantics (the referential/denotational approach), psychology and artificial intelligence (the psychologistic/mentalistic approach), and pragmatics (the social/pragmatic approach). Cummings also coins the expressions meaning in the world, meaning in the mind, and meaning in action to reflect the emphasis of each approach but stresses that they are all interrelated. Chapter 3 addresses inferences in light of logic and semantics (i.e. deductive inferences), psychology and artificial intelligence (i.e. elaborative inferences), and pragmatics (i.e. conversational inferences). Again, Cummings emphasizes that if a comprehensive account of pragmatic phenomena is to be achieved, all of these views need to be considered.

Following the discussion of the psychological basis of conversational inferences in chapter 3, the next chapter, Relevance Theory, examines the work of Sperber and Wilson (1995) with specific regard to its relevance-based account of communication and the underlying cognitive psychological processes. While criticizing the work, Cummings carefully notes that it is its reductionism that should be challenged, not the entire project of explaining cognition (p. 134). As revealed by its title, Pragmatics and Mind, chapter 5 seeks to establish what linguistic pragmatics can offer to the studies of the mind s structure. By showing how pragmatics is the best mirror of the human mind (p. 157), Cummings convincingly points out that like pragmatics, the mind is essentially non-modular and thus can be more appropriately dealt with in a post-modularity setting (ibid.). Chapter 6, Argumentation and Fallacies of Reasoning, drawing on a number of intertwined theoretical frameworks such as semantic, epistemic, dialectical, psychological, rhetorical and pragmatic, again indicates pragmatics and its neighboring disciplines complement one another.

In chapter 7, Habermas and Pragmatics, Cummings examines Habermas post-positivistic view of pragmatics. Summarizing Putman s criticism of the unintelligibility of the positivistic view of rationality, Cummings examines Habermas rational account of social communication and shows how his misidentification of the problem of positivism has trapped him in the paradox of his own account of rationality. Chapter 8, Artificial Intelligence and Pragmatics, clarifies the bidirectional relationship between pragmatics and artificial intelligence, a discipline that is concerned with the computational simulation of human intelligence. Cummings goes to great lengths to demonstrate how the emphasis on language use is at the heart of every concept of intelligence and, vice versa, how artificial intelligence can influence and inform pragmatics.

Chapter 9, Language Pathology and Pragmatics, deals with different kinds of pragmatic disorders and the contribution of pragmatic theories to clinical linguistic practice. Additionally, it also points out how clinical pragmatics can offer insight into the study of linguistic pragmatics.

Finally, chapter 10, Beyond Disciplines, neatly concludes the book by summing up the preceding chapters discussions and points to the future development of pragmatics as a multidisciplinary field of study (e.g. Cummings suggests that we look to some other disciplines such as cultural anthropology, neurolinguistics or game theory for further insights into pragmatics).

Overall, the book makes a strong case for investigating pragmatics from a multidisciplinary perspective. Well written and insightful, it constitutes a valuable addition to the existing pragmatics literature and offers little opportunity for criticism except that, because its discussions are heavy with terminology, a glossary at the end would be helpful for novice researchers and students who are new to the field.