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Stability and variability in linguistic pragmatics

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The study of linguistic pragmatics is always caught in the wonderful tension between seeking broad human pragmatic abilities and showing the subtle ways that communication is dependent on specific people and social situations. These different foci on areas of stability and variability in linguistic and nonlinguistic behavior are often accompanied by very different theoretical accounts of how and why people act, speak, and understand in the ways they do. Within con- temporary research in experimental pragmatics, there are always instances of some people behaving in regular patterns and other people failing to adhere to putative pragmatic principles. My aim in this article is to broadly describe a way of thinking about stability and instability in linguistic pragmatics as emerging from people's self-organizing tendencies. This view claims that both broad regu- larities and specific variations in human behavior, like all natural systems, can be accounted for by self-organizational processes that operate without explicit internal rules, blueprints, or mental representations. A major implication of this perspective is that pragmatics and society are seen as dynamically interacting constraints operating on multiple time-scales of experience.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2010

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