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Elements of Hermeneutic Pragmatics

Agency and Interpretation


Tahir Wood

Can linguistic pragmatics be developed without the need to formulate rules, criteria or maxims? The author argues that rules as they have been conceived of within pragmatics, particularly speech act theory, are limiting and out of step with the linguistic science of recent decades.
Using a hermeneutic approach to pragmatics, this book seeks to bring pragmatics closer to the cognitive paradigm that has transformed the other branches of the linguistic and communication sciences, with the help of developments in certain neighbouring disciplines such as philosophy, sociology and narratology. The elements that are opened up to pragmatics in this approach include some new conceptions of intentionality, intertextuality, communicative action and literary authorship, as well as the subjectivity of interpretation, which by its very nature ceaselessly transforms all forms of communication in its historical spiral.
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Chapter 1: Introducing Key Concepts



Introducing Key Concepts

What is hermeneutic pragmatics?

Hermeneutic pragmatics (HP) can be characterized in the following way. As pragmatics, it is taken as the study of what is done in communication, in line with the etymology of the word ‘pragmatic’. It is ‘hermeneutic’ insofar as it is concerned with interpretation. HP takes as its object the communicative act or deed, as well as the ways in which such acts are determined, i.e. how they are shaped historically and understood by the various agents of communication.

This is a significantly different notion to that of pragmatics as ‘context-sensitivity’. In the latter view pragmatics is a kind of meaning that is either added to the semantics of sentences (usually conceived as ‘propositions’) or it is a kind of modification of the semantics of the sentence brought about by considerations of context.1 For such approaches, the distinction or the relation between semantics and pragmatics tends to be an abiding problem.

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