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Towards an emancipatory pragmatics
Keywords: Emancipatory pragmatics; Transdisciplinary research; Communicative practice; Common sense ideas of participants; Deictic ﬁeld;
The papers in this volume have developed out of dialogues and collaboration over a decade. The initial step was
taken by Yasuhiro Katagiri in a project investigating ‘‘the inﬂuence of social cognition on speech behavior,’’ funded
by ATR (Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International) during 1995–1997. He and Sachiko Ide
proposed a panel at the 5th IPrA Conference (1996) on ‘‘Japanese language, thought and cultural practice: toward
relativity,’’ with John Lucy serving as a discussant. Inspired by Bernard Comrie’s idea of a ‘‘cultural target for
grammaticalization,’’ Kaoru Horie and Sachiko Ide designed a project on ‘‘the inﬂuence of culture on
grammaticalization in East Asian languages,’’ funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)
during 1998–2000. Immediately prior to the current project, there was an earlier one in which Kuniyoshi Kataoka
played a major role, on the topic of ‘‘culture, interaction and language’’ funded by JSPS during 2001–2002 and
2003–2005. Panels also were held on ‘‘East Asian discourse and cultural ideology’’ at the 6th IPrA Conference
(1998), with Dell Hymes as a discussant, and on ‘‘Harmony: culture, cognition and communication in East Asia’’ at
the 7th IPrAConference (2000). One symposiumand three workshops were presented at the Japanese Association of
Sociolinguistic Sciences, and one special issue for the Journal of Pragmatics, edited by Kita and Ide (2007) was
proposed as the result of this line of projects. Participants involved are Sotaro Kita, Scott Saft, Shoichi Iwasaki, Yoko
Fujii, Masato Ishizaki, Kazuyoshi Sugawara, Keiko Abe, Krisadawan Hongladarom, Mayouf Mayouf, Nick Enﬁeld,
and Li Wei. Jane Hill and Asif Agha served as guests on this project. In recent years, William Hanks has played a
major role in this project. In 2004 the group met in Tokyo, coincident with the annual meeting of the Linguistic
Society of Japan, and again at the 9th IPrA Conference (2005). At the 10th IPrA Conference (2007), Saft, Ide and
Hanks co-organized the panel ‘‘Toward an emancipatory pragmatics: Culture, language and interaction in cross-
linguistic perspectives,’’ at which members of the group presented their research. From the outset of this project, our
intention was not to conﬁne our horizon to East Asia, but to seek out languages beyond the Western and East Asian
The expression ‘‘emancipatory pragmatics’’ comes out of extended dialogue between Sachiko Ide, Yasuhiro
Katagiri, William Hanks, Scott Saft, and other members and interlocutors of the project in recent years. The term
‘‘pragmatics’’ designates both language use and the disciplinary framework that studies it, standardly called
‘‘pragmatics.’’ It is our shared conviction that pragmatics as an analytic enterprise has been dominated by views of
language derived from Euro-American languages and ways of speaking. Speech acts deﬁned in terms of standard
illocutionary forces and felicity conditions, implicatures explained on the basis of the Gricean cooperative
principle and maxims, politeness deﬁned in terms of a universal notion of ‘‘face,’’ and the very idea that speech is
driven by the exchange of information are all examples of the problem. While these research traditions have
enriched the ﬁeld of pragmatics, they also have tended to rely uncritically on the common sense of speakers of
modern Western languages, with the attendant premises of individualism, rationality, and market economy. That is,
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Journal of Pragmatics 41 (2009) 1–9
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while they are presented as general models of rational language use, they in fact rely heavily on the native common
sense of their authors and practitioners. To move beyond this, we need to return to the token level and actual speech
practices in multiple languages. Not only do we need more comparative work on a wider range of languages, but also we
need descriptive frameworks and researchprograms that give closer attention toother ways of speakingandother ways of
In a sense, our project shares the classic Boasian aim of attempting to describe different languages in terms
grounded in the cultures and societies to which they belong (Boas, 1966). This aim has been at the heart of
linguistic anthropology for nearly a century and there is an enormous literature in that ﬁeld that bears on our
efforts. At the same time however, we aim to make a more radical experiment. In most cross-cultural research,
different languages and the contrasts they present are treated as objects of analysis, with the aim of developing a
general framework free from the particularities of any given (object) language or family of languages. The
metalanguage in which this description is stated is itself taken to be universal or at least cross-linguistically valid.
By contrast, we aim to integrate some of the cross-linguistic variations not only as objects, but also as part of the
metalanguage of pragmatic description itself. What would happen, for example, were we to apply a concept like
the Japanese wakimae ‘‘discernment’’ to a language like Yucatec Maya or English? Could we productively use the
Maya concept of the speaker’s body space, called iknal, to describe Japanese, Thai, Lao or jGui? In what way might
the jGui distinctions among pronouns bear on person reference in other languages? What could honoriﬁc usage and
interpretation in a language like Thai or Japanese tell us about languages like English or Finnish? On ﬁrst
appearance, these may seem quixotic questions, since the concepts cited are deeply rooted in their own speciﬁc
cultures, and applying them directly to another appears inappropriate. Yet, when Euro-American concepts like
information exchange and speech act forces are applied to languages like Maya, Thai, Japanese and so on, they are
assumed to be appropriate. This discrepancy is indicative of the mostly one-way ﬂow of received theory and
description, from Euro-America to the rest. The result is that different non-Western languages tend to be compared
and juxtaposed only in a metalanguage that is itself resolutely Western. We question that unidirectional ﬂow in
order to provincialize standard theory, to show that it is ultimately a projection of a particular, historically speciﬁc
view of the world. At the same time, we want to encourage scholars working in other languages and intellectual
traditions to draw their analytic concepts from their own languages, and to work across languages without
necessarily passing through the ﬁlter of Euro-American theory. In concrete terms, this may involve reanalyzing
Indo European languages and practices in non-Indo European terms. Alternatively, it may entail working out
analyses of other languages either in the terms provided by their own societies or in terms derived from other non-
Western languages. In all cases, the aim is to break free from the constraints of established paradigms and to
multiply the sources of theory. Each in its own way, the papers collected here seek to integrate the lifeworlds of
native speakers into the pragmatic descriptions of their languages.
Such scholarship would be ‘‘emancipatory’’ therefore, in the sense of freeing analysis from the conﬁnes of
theoretical orthodoxies grounded in dominant thought and practice. We do not wish to reify the division between
Western and non-Western languages or societies, for that division is a product of precisely the ideological posture from
which we seek emancipation. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that a pragmatics that is emancipatory in this
sense would reveal overlooked features of Indo-European languages at the same time that it sheds light on other
languages and cultures.
Like the concept of conscientization, the awakening of critical consciousness, developed by the great theorist of
education Paulo Freire, emancipation as we invoke it is a process and an ongoing aim, not an event or a one-time
goal. We do not presume to emancipate anyone, but we hope to foster emancipation in these terms. The expression
‘‘Emancipatory Pragmatics’’ therefore combines our scholarly focus with our commitment to a politics of
knowledge and a deeper engagement with cultural and historical difference. This commitment has shaped the
group itself, which consists of scholars working on and in multiple languages rarely brought together in a single
Such a project faces several epistemological and methodological challenges. To describe a language or culture
strictly ‘‘in its own terms,’’ if this were even possible, would yield a perfectly circular description. If the
(meta)language of description is identical to the (object) language described, then it is impossible to confront the
metalinguistic description with counter-evidence. The philosopher Charles Taylor dubbed this problem
‘‘incorrigibility’’ (Taylor, 1985). The standard solution to this is to devise a technical metalanguage that purports
to stand apart from its object language, based on abstraction and logic. But there is no need to collapse the two entirely,
Introduction / Journal of Pragmatics 41 (2009) 1–9 2
and the circularity referred to is not an automatic consequence of using native concepts in analysis. Moreover, in
applying concepts across non-Western languages, this incorrigibility does not arise.
A second problem is the well-known fact that native speaker notions about language are typically inaccurate if
taken literally as descriptive claims. Grammarians have long recognized that native speaker ideas about grammatical
structure are usually both revealing and at least partly inaccurate. Speakers do not know the way their language
systems work any more than parties to a phone conversation knowhow the electronics of telecommunications work. A
similar observation obtains in the case of native concepts about language use, although the problem is subtler. On the
one hand, research on interaction, indexicality, and sociolinguistic variation reveals dynamics that few if any native
speakers could articulate, and that rarely become the focus of attention in the course of everyday language use. At the
same time, native ideas about these and other aspects of context – however ‘‘inaccurate’’ or skewed they may appear to
be from a linguistic perspective – are important. When speakers make inferences as to why certain things are said, or
when they adjust their stance or speech register according to context, it is their own ideas of context and speaker
motivations that inform their actions. In other words, native concepts of language and practice are critical aspects of
the framework in which speaking and understanding occurs. The key is to recognize that native concepts can be
simultaneously skewed when evaluated as descriptions of the world and constitutive when viewed as assumptions that
frame the act of speaking or understanding. To put it simply, the way people use and understand language is
unavoidably shaped by their ideas about language, regardless of the ultimate truth status of these ideas. Like Austinian
performatives, native representations of language are consequential apart from whatever truth-value they might have.
1. The transdisciplinary framework
Our research is guided bycertain premises regarding language and the conceptual frameworks appropriate to its study.
We view language as historically embedded practice, cognitively rich, grammatically structured, and part of the social
world in which speech is a modality of action. Our focus on practice implies that we viewlanguage as an ongoing process
in what the Prague School linguists called a ‘‘dynamic synchrony.’’
These different aspects of language as a total
phenomenon require different kinds of analysis, drawing on work in several disciplines, including at least linguistics,
anthropology, history, sociology, cognitive science, and psychology. Our project is interdisciplinary in that it combines
workfromthese ﬁelds andfocuses onthe boundaries andpoints of contact betweenthem. It is alsotransdisciplinary inthe
sense that our research focuses on phenomena and frameworks that cross a relatively broad array of disciplines. It both
combines and confronts disciplinary approaches with the aim of altering them. Transdisciplinary work is richest when
researchers identify points on which their disciplinary approaches are in contradiction. For example, the standard
linguistic idealization of the individual speaker as the source of speech production is in contradiction with the actual
sociocentricity of practice. Similarly, the historical claimthat any language is the product of a speciﬁc history potentially
contradicts the linguistic and psychological claim that language is a universal human capacity and can be studied apart
from the morass of historical particulars. Empirical social sciences like anthropology and sociology share the
methodological premise that communicative practices must be studied in situ, implying a need for ﬁeldwork and data
gatheredfromordinarytalk. Bycontrast, experimental disciplines like psychologyandsomevarieties of linguistics, place
much greater emphasis on experimentally controlled elicited data. We aim not at simple bridge building across such
opposing views, but at exploring them as potential points of contradiction. Levinson’s (2003) spirited argument that
linguistic diversity has consequences for cognition as studied by psychologists is an example of transdisciplinary
confrontation (cf. Hanks, 2006). Hanks’s (1990, 2005) work on deixis confronts standard linguistic approaches with
socially embedded practices as analyzed in anthropology and practice sociology. Eckert’s (2000, 2001) attempt to revise
established approaches to linguistic variation using practice theory is another case in point, as is Enﬁeld’s (2002) and
Enﬁeld and Stivers (2007) insistence on the social and cultural basis of linguistic facts as a challenge to the orthodoxies of
The confrontation between different disciplines is akin to the juxtaposition of analytic concepts derived fromdifferent
languages and cultures. In both cases, our goal is to seek out and sharpen contrasts in order to better understand them, and
to better discern sameness and difference across languages and practices. This kind of research requires a community of
Introduction / Journal of Pragmatics 41 (2009) 1–9 3
By ‘‘dynamic synchrony’’ we mean analysis of a language at a given moment in its history, recognizing that any language is constantly changing,
rather than static. For further discussion, see Steiner (1982).
debate. Participants in such a community are bound by mutual respect, reciprocal trust, and convergent interest in a
project. Without community, debate is either impeded or agonistic, and the parties are unlikely tochange. Without debate,
communitydoes not produce newforms of knowledge. We debate becausewe share thegoal of learningfromone another,
a common goal and mutual concern that has been formative in the project of which these papers are a product.
2. Conceptual framework
The papers in this collection analyze verbal practices, broadly construed. Working with scholars of a diverse range
of typologically distinct and genetically unrelated languages, we are committed to close empirical description. The
cross-linguistic differences that concern us most include such phenomena as conversational organization, indexical
ﬁelds, linguistic etiquette, style (including indirection), patterns of mutual gaze and gesture. The term‘‘practice’’ has
numerous usages, but for our purposes it focuses on how ordinary native speakers use, understand, and represent
language in the historically situated social contexts of communication. Like linguistic pragmatics, a practice oriented
approach looks at the effectiveness of language in doing things and in processes of conversational inference, but
unlike mainstream pragmatics, practice is concerned with the social constitution of contexts beyond language, and
the values that native speakers invest in language. Like sociolinguistics and CA, the study of practice starts at the
token level, and like contemporary sociolinguistics, the link between language form and context is not viewed as
correlation, but as mutually deﬁning. The precise descriptions of talk-in-interaction provided by CA give important
evidence of practice, but a practice approach cannot conﬁne itself to the speech streamor the transcript. It must embed
talk in its social context, both locally and more broadly.
We focus on the integration of language form with verbal practices and socially distributed common sense.
There is a kind of mutual ﬁt between language form, the act value of an utterance, and the common sense ideas
that interactants activate in the course of speaking and understanding. The three elements are in part independent
and in part mutually deﬁning. Thus, common sense ideas that speakers have of their language are obviously
distinct from the grammar of the language, and yet common sense is sedimented in the categories and ways of
speaking the language. Moreover, it is drawn upon pervasively in the ordinary course of talking and
understanding. However distorting native ideas of language might appear to be from a linguistic viewpoint, those
ideas are what shapes the context in which the language is used, and that context is what makes conversational
inference possible. Actual verbal activity is distinct from both grammar and common sense, but it is partly shaped
by both: the grammar and semantic systems of a language are resources instantiated and deployed in talk, and
interactants’ background common sense is absolutely necessary to coherent understanding. The papers in this
volume mark a return from universalizing theories at the type level to actual interaction at the token level. How
can we best describe the integration of language structure, communicative activities, and social context in the
‘‘real time’’ of practice?
In order to analyze socially situated speech, it is necessary to recognize that language is only one of multiple
modalities of expression, all of which may be operant in communicative practice. These other modalities include
gesture and posture, the spatial and perceptual arrangements of interactants, the material setting, instruments and
artifacts with which interactants engage, and other ongoing activities concurrent with talk. Multimodality is a natural
corollary of the integration of language with non-language. It raises many questions about the synchronization of the
multiple modalities, the distribution of functions or information across them, whether in a given interaction the
modalities are mutually reinforcing or mismatched, and whether different modalities are similarly conventionalized.
Such questions cannot be answered in the abstract but require rigorously analyzed empirical data.
Introduction / Journal of Pragmatics 41 (2009) 1–9 4
Multimodality has emerged as a core topic of comparative work by research scholars at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen
Holland. It also has been a mainstay of the work of Charles Goodwin, John Haviland, and Sotaro Kita, among others.
2.3. Relative non-arbitrariness
We recognize that human languages are grammatical systems with certain irreducible features that are arbitrary
from the viewpoint of communication. At the same time, languages have multiple features that are highly motivated
by the communicative functions and settings in which language is used and by which it is, in part, formed. In this
sense, we are interested in social motivation, or what might be called relative non-arbitrariness (a term coined by
Functional and cognitive linguists have made important advances in the study of
grammaticalization, functional motivation, metaphor, and iconicity. We have beneﬁted from this work and our
focus on native common sense ideas about language, history, context, and cross-cultural variation is meant to further
explore the social motivations of linguistic facts.
The reference point for the kind of pragmatic description we are developing is the social relationship among the
interactants, not the individual speaker as an idealized isolate. Our own work and that of others in the ﬁeld has shown
that there are many features of talk and language that arise not from individual thought or intention, but from
interaction among two or more parties. The assumption of traditional linguistics and related ﬁelds is that dialogue and
multiparty talk are secondary to the primordial role of the egocentric speaker. We reject this assumption as
empirically inadequate and conceptually constraining. In turning to language study at the token level, we necessarily
re-evaluate the place of the speaker among the other participants to interaction. Thus our perspective is close to what
Goffman (1983) called production and reception formats and Goodwin (1981) has called frameworks of
2.5. Historical embeddedness
We seek work that gives account of the speciﬁcity of features of language and practice in a given culture, but we are
careful to avoid essentializing claims about primordial cultural identities. The motivations for cross-language
contrasts in practice are historical, not racial, ethnic, environmental or psychological – although any one of these may
be salient in the history of a language. Languages have at least three levels of historical embeddedness: (i) the long
duration as studied by history and diachronic linguistics, in which the language changes over extended periods; (ii) the
ontogenetic development of language abilities in the life of the individual as a social creature; and (iii) the diachrony of
practice, including sequential organization as studied in CA, the unfolding of utterances in real time and the role of
anticipation and ‘‘projection’’ of next moves in talk (see Goodwin, 1981).
2.6. Generality and speciﬁcity
We aim to characterize cross-cultural differences in communicative practice with enough generality to facilitate
controlled comparison and enough speciﬁcity to account for what is distinctive to given languages or varieties.
Received approaches to linguistic pragmatics, including politeness, implicature, and relevance theories have
traditionally emphasized the universality of their claims – this generality being the hallmark of prestigious theory. But
the degree and type of abstraction inherent in general concepts like relevance or the cooperative principle erases many
critical differences between languages and between varieties of talk. The more abstract the analytic concepts we use,
the more difﬁcult it is to apply them precisely to given cases, and the more difﬁcult it is to confront them with counter-
evidence. This is especially important when the object is actual talk in widely varying languages, since we do not know
in advance whether politeness, cooperation, relevance, turn-taking, illocutionary forces, or similar concepts are really
comparable across all languages. By returning to speech at the token level, and to native speaker common sense ideas
about speech, we will necessarily rely on more narrowly deﬁned concepts. We need the more ﬁne-grained analysis
Introduction / Journal of Pragmatics 41 (2009) 1–9 5
For our purposes, the key difference between arbitrariness and relative non-arbitrariness is not the sheer presence or absence of convention, but
rather the autonomy or non-autonomy of linguistic form from its social and historical context.
A related contrast can be drawn between cross-linguistic differences that are categorical (presence 6¼ absence)
and those that are probabilistic gradient (matters of degree). Ide (2001) has proposed a scale of contrast based on
‘‘involvement,’’ with Japanese talk illustrating ‘‘high involvement’’ and US English ‘‘low involvement.’’
The former is evident not categorically but quantitatively: more backchannel, more repetition of other’s
words, a premium placed on considerateness. High involvement speakers are less rapid to take over the ﬂoor from
a current speaker and have a greater tendency to leave elements like grammatical subjects implicit. Some
languages have elaborate grammaticalized sets of indexical distinctions that respond to the social status, setting
and relations among participants (‘‘honoriﬁcs’’), whereas other languages simply lack such clearly
deﬁned grammatical systems. Even in those languages lacking honoriﬁc categories, the social dynamics
underlying honoriﬁcation may still be in play. Indexical categories (including deixis, pronouns, markers of stance and
evidentials) vary considerably from language to language and provide extremely fertile ground for contrast. Additional
topics include metalanguage and social constraints on speech and silence. For instance, Sugito (1999) argues that
linguistic politeness inJapanese begins with the discernment of whether one mayspeakat all inthe context of situation. In
other words the ﬁrst decision the discerning speaker faces is whether to speak or remain silent at a given moment, and
silence is a key index of politeness. Ide has found this theory to be consistent with the common sense judgments of
Japanese students. Similarly, Abe’s (2005) research on Japanese and US. American speakers indicates that the former
tendtoengage inmore co-constructionof utterances thanthe latter. Sugawara’s (2007) studies of jGui interactionhave led
to a parallel discovery in relation to conversational overlaps: while overlapping talk occurs in both English and jGui, it
tends to last for less than 0.5 s in English, whereas longer (though still marked) stretches of multiparty overlap are
common in jGui. In all of these cases, speech in widely differing languages displays similar functions or features, but in
different degree or quantity.
For pragmatic contrasts of degree or probability between languages, it is possible that the degree of contrast to be
found between speakers and contexts of a single language is as great as that found between languages. Insofar as we
attempt to contrast whole languages, we must therefore attend to the diversity of practices within any single language.
The general issue here is to determine the level of speciﬁcity or generality at which signiﬁcant contrasts can be
We therefore distinguish between the interactive/communicative phenomena we study and the level of practice at
which they are deﬁned (from grammar through token-speciﬁc features such as speech–gesture combinations; from
whole languages to select groups of speakers, contexts or varieties of a single language). Functional features encoded
in one language may be simply absent or conveyed pragmatically in another. We share the linguist’s concern with
parsimony (that is, the value placed on simplicity in linguistic description), but only insofar as the unique features of
individual languages are not lost by abstraction or selective pre-deﬁnition of phenomena. Our ﬁrst task is precise
description in a metalanguage sufﬁciently general for comparison and sufﬁciently narrow to discern subtle contrasts
2.7. Rules and heuristics
Some aspects of linguistic practice are governed by rules or rule like constraints that are relatively
invariant within a given language or variety, whereas others are best described by heuristics of various
sorts. Much of the core morphology and syntax of a grammar is rule governed in this sense, whereas
conversational inference, deixis, the pragmatics of evidentials and linguistic etiquette rely on heuristics.
Heuristics may be maxims (Levinson, 2000, 2001), rules of thumb (Hanks, 2005, 2007), and stereotypical routines
for interaction in socially deﬁned settings (service encounters, telephone greetings, ritual events), or normative
ways of addressing or referring to certain classes of persons (honoriﬁcation, pejoration, euphemism).
Heuristics have in common that they make certain linguistic choices automatic or expectable, but they do not
determine either what is said or what is heard. Meanings conveyed via heuristics are also defeasible in that they
can be cancelled by other co-occurrent factors. They are typically part of native speakers’ common
sense knowledge of how language is used and they may be as much about context as about language as such.
In our research we have found that many phenomena, including the ones just mentioned above, are better
described by heuristics or a combination of heuristics and rules than by rules alone. Thus as we reach beyond the
established paradigms in pragmatics, we also reconsider the relation between rules, heuristics and regularities of
Introduction / Journal of Pragmatics 41 (2009) 1–9 6
2.8. Beyond reductionism
We are more or less trained to think scientiﬁcally based on reductionism. Reductionismis the search for lowest level
units, in terms of which every phenomenon of interest can supposedly be explained. Physical phenomena should
ultimately be explained in terms of interactions among a set of elementary particles. Biological diversities are
explained in terms of genes and genetic coding and decoding processes. So-called ‘‘hard’’ sciences are committed to
the idea that ﬁnding the lowest level elements is the most important step in theory building.
However, the reductive way of thinking is not sufﬁcient in our inquiry into human communication. We believe
that we need some approach beyond reductive ways in understanding language and interaction. Neither linguistic
form nor context of language use alone can stand on its own as the sole building block. Politeness may be a case in
point. Each language has its own repertoire of linguistic forms for expressing politeness, and each language
community has its own code of conduct, which dictates their use contexts. In actual practices, however, choice of
particular linguistic forms indicates situational construal by the speaker of the speech context. This construal is
then acknowledged and negotiated among interaction participants, thereby inﬂuencing and inducing further
construals and responses in other participants. Linguistic forms and their contexts of occurrence are intertwined and
dynamically deﬁne each other.
Similarly, speakers and addressees both undertake hugely complex mental and physical actions in engaging in
communication. Taking turns and aligning beliefs on information exchanged alone require rather complex processes in
both speakers and addressees. Interaction activities take place across a number of modalities, and those modalities
should be considered as a whole rather than be examined separately as independent channels, since multimodal actions
combine and compensate each other to form a functional unit in communicative interactions. We also should look
further than those processes taking place in individual participants to obtain full understanding of conversational
interactions. We must seriously take into consideration those factors that are operative at the joining of individual
participants, e.g., social norms, conventions, and cultural practices, which play no less signiﬁcant roles in constraining
and controlling processes of communication.
We should note here that non-reductive understanding does not imply an indeterminate account. We seek an
understanding of human communication that is no less precise and no less elucidating than those aimed at in
reductionist traditions. The theory demands a richer account of context. Austerity or parsimoniousness, which favor
few lowest level elements, is not our priority. What we need to explore for the ecology of mind of citizens (including
speakers of endangered languages) of this globe in the 21st century is frameworks based on other concepts, including
for instance, non-agency, non-subjectivity, non-transitivity, and further interactive relations irreducible to
individuals. We are explicitly interested in exploring indigenous cultural assumptions in their social, historical
traditions of common sense, and in the ordinary lives of ordinary people. Thus, ordinary communicative practices
may well be shaped by such broader phenomena as howspeakers understand and relate to nature (Descola, 2005), or
by systems of religious thought and practice (Hongladarom, this issue), or by the social and cultural history of the
speakers. The embedding of traditional Chinese concepts of ‘‘yin’’ and ‘‘yang’’ in the pragmatics of the language
might be another case in point, analogous to Hongladarom’s usage of Buddhism to redeﬁne indexicality in Thai and
The papers in this Special Issue (the ﬁrst one of the series) have been shaped by our collective attempt to
further the aims of emancipatory pragmatics as outlined above. Although the languages and topics they treat are
diverse, they all investigate aspects of communicative practice in its social and historical context. Each adopts
what Enﬁeld calls ‘‘relational thinking’’ in that features of language form and use are placed in the context of
social relations among interctants, with a special emphasis on the lifeworlds of speakers. The ﬁrst three papers, by
Hanks, Etela˚ma˚ki and Hongladarom, investigate indexical systems, including referential deixis in Yucatec Maya
and Finnish, pronouns in Thai and evidentials in Yucatec Maya and Tibetan. All three papers attempt to break
loose from established approaches to indexicality and argue for new interpretations, with Hanks focusing on the
kind of ﬁeldwork needed for proper characterization of deixis, Etela˚ma˚ki combining grammatical and interactive
arguments for a reanalysis of Finnish, and Hongladarom drawing on Buddhist thought to recast indexicality in
terms of contingency and relational co-dependence. The next two papers, by Enﬁeld and Koyama are both aimed
at situating pragmatics in a broader semiotics with special emphasis on the place of language among other social
forms and relations. Enﬁeld draws on his extensive ﬁeldwork on Lao, and Koyama draws on Japanese and
Introduction / Journal of Pragmatics 41 (2009) 1–9 7
The next two papers, by Sugawara and Mayouf can all be thought of as critical investigations of the participant
roles of Speaker, Hearer and Addressee, viewed through the lens of turn-taking and overlapping talk in jGui
(Sugawara) and the social constitution of the speaker and the rights to speak in Libyan Arabic (Mayouf). Sugawara
demonstrates that jGui multi-party interactions are marked by prolonged stretches of overlapping speech whose very
commonness contradicts the preference for orderly turn-taking in western language as analyzed in Conversation
Analysis. Drawing on exquisitely detailed ﬁeldwork, Sugawara distinguishes antagonistic, cooperative, and parallel
overlapping talk, seeking to explain the observed patterns in terms of rich ethnographic background and relatively
parsimonious principles deﬁning the ‘‘hearer’’ relation. In this sense, Sugawara’s paper is similar to Enﬁeld’s, since
Enﬁeld seeks to explain observed practices in terms of the interaction between ethnographic details of speciﬁc
languages and general principles, which he states in terms of ‘‘informational’’ and ‘‘afﬁliational’’ imperatives. In
both papers, the framework of inquiry starts from the idea that talk must solve certain basic human problems, which
different lingua-cultures conﬁgure in different ways. The ﬁnal paper of the set originally was written in Japanese and
has been translated into English, and introduced, by Koyama. It illustrates an analysis of one non-Western language,
Japanese, in terms that explicitly challenge the applicability of Western-derived grammatical concepts. Drawing on
the Japanese tradition of linguistic thought, the paper proposes a reanalysis of ‘‘subject’’ and ‘‘tense’’ in this
language. Taken as a whole, the papers aim to open up a horizon of research in which different traditions of analysis
rooted in diverse languages and histories of thought can contribute not only as objects to be analyzed but as
frameworks for thinking of pragmatics. We aimto foster a broader and deeper approach to pragmatic variation and to
encourage further international and intercultural research. This future work will be the ultimate measure of
The editors would like to acknowledge the editorial assistance provided by Ms Yuko Nomura, a graduate student at
Japan Women’s University. Without her splendid communication skills and organizational talent this special issue
would not have been possible.
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William F. Hanks
University of California, Department of Anthropology,
232 Kroeber Hall, MC 3710, Berkeley, CA 94720-3710, United States
English Department, Japan Women University, 2-8-1,
Mejirodai, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 112-8681, Japan
Future University - Hakodate, 116-2 Kameda-Nakano,
Hakodate, Hokkaido 041-8655 Japan
E-mail addresses: email@example.com (W.F. Hanks)
firstname.lastname@example.org (S. Ide)
email@example.com (Y. Katagiri)
Tel.: +81 3 3983 2730; fax: +81 3 3983 2730.
9 July 2007
Introduction / Journal of Pragmatics 41 (2009) 1–9 9
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