Communication Research Institute - publications > principles & philo...http://www.communication.org.au/htdocs/modules/smartsection/print....2 de 616/4/2008 15:37
pragmatics—have been used extensively as a way of dealing with different aspects of the phenomenon of communication.For me, one of the clearest and most accessible definitions of these three terms is to be found in a slimvolume by Charles Morris, published in 1938:
Foundations of the Theory of Signs
.In this volume, one of the seminal texts in semiotics and linguistics, Morris articulated the frameworkthrough which most of the research and thinking in linguistics, computer science, information design andmany other social and humanistic studies have been studied in this century. Each of these keyterms—semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics—have been used to describe a particular aspect of communication. To paraphrase Morris's definitions: semantics is concerned with the relation between signsand the things they stand for or represent, what we think of in popular discourse as the meanings of signs;syntactics is concerned with the relations between signs, what in popular terms we refer to as grammar;and pragmatics is concerned with the relation between signs and their users, what in popular terms wewould describe as speech or reading.These three types of relationships—and it is extremely important to see these terms as definingrelationships, not objects—fully cover the range and scope within which we can study any type of communication, whether linguistic, or as in our own case of information designers, the hybrid yet indivisiblecombination of language and graphics.On the flight to Vienna from Australia, I had three great treats: two nights sleep in a row, airline food thatwas for once delicious, and the opportunity to sample many of the delights in Robert Horn's latest book:
As I was thus luxuriously hurled across the globe at 39,000 feet (in the opposite direction to the arrow onthe front cover of Robert's book) I was struck by the personal significance of this arrow. Robert and I travelaround the same globe, share many of the same enthusiasms and visions, yet we travel, in some respects,as it were, in opposite directions. Robert's book, which I commend to all of you, takes Morris's categoriesof semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics and luminously articulates our domain of information designwithin the first two categories—semantics and syntactics. It is the best articulation of our domain withinthese concepts that I have seen. Yet when it comes to pragmatics, the relation between signs and users, itfalters. This is not a criticism of Robert. As Robert points out—quoting David Crystal author of theCambridge
Encyclopaedia of language
—"Pragmatics is not at present a coherent field of study"As a student in this so-called "incoherent" field of study, I take a slightly different view, not only about itssupposed incoherence but also about its status within the field.Pragmatics is the poor relation of the triumvirate—the Cinderella who, in my view, does all the work butnever goes to the ball. Here in Vienna—in this magical city in which great balls have played such an iconicpart—the time has come for Cinderella to go to the ball.In Morris's original formulation and in most subsequent theoretical treatments of the subject the threetypes of relationship are treated as having the same ontological status, the same right to existence underthe sun. They are treated as three aspects of communication, but seen through different approaches andmethods.
The thesis: pragmatics rules, OK!
My thesis is that pragmatics is not only ontologically superior to the other two, but that semantics andsyntactics have no existence outside of pragmatics. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that anysemantic or syntactic analysis is a pragmatic invention. Far from being real and valid subjects in their ownright, my thesis is that semantics and syntactics are generated, constructed through pragmatics.Cinderella's two ugly sisters, I want to argue, are not—as in the fairytale—real in their own right, but moreinterestingly and perversely, Cinderella's own invention—the perfect alter egos for justifying her ownmasochistic desires.But enough of fairy tales and playful dark deconstructions. I turn now to the arguments in favour of mythesis.