Is there a history of pragmatics?

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Pragmatics, the last of the three levels (the others being syntactics and semantics) of linguistic analysis to attract widespread interest and systematic research, is still generally perceived as a newly born subject with no history to boast of. My working assumption is that 'new' theories of language may have roots in the past, and, furthermore, that the merit of these theories can be, in part, checked by such philosophical roots. A methodology for seeking out these roots is suggested, profitably adopting the definition of pragmatics as 'explicit and essential' mention of the user of a language. Examples of 'case studies' using this methodology are presented in various areas of historical language study. The traditional disciplines of grammar and rhetoric are first candidates for such research, but it is in philosophy - and specifically, philosophy of language of the past - that true pragmatics is unearthed. Such 'discoveries' raise the more fundamental question: what are the rationales for looking for harbingers of pragmatics? A first approximation to an answer is entertained with its positive, and negative, implications for pragmatics today.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-470
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1996


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