Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Editorial. Clinical pragmatics: an emergentist perspective

By Michael R Perkins


[First Paragraph] Clinical pragmatics has been a major growth area in clinical linguistics and speech and language pathology over the past two decades. Its scope is vast: if we define pragmatics in broad terms, there are no communicative disorders which do not involve pragmatic impairment at least to some degree (Perkins, 2003). Early work in the area tended to focus on the application of pragmatic theory in the analysis of pragmatic impairment (e.g. speech act theory (Hirst, LeDoux, & Stein, 1984), conversational implicature (Damico, 1985) and, more recently, relevance theory (Leinonen & Kerbel, 1999)) and on the development of pragmatic assessments, tests and profiles which included a theoretically eclectic range of items drawn from both pragmatic theory and elsewhere (e.g. Bishop, 1998; Penn, 1985; Prutting & Kirchner, 1983). In more recent years there has been an increasing interest in the neurological and cognitive bases of pragmatic impairment (e.g. Paradis, 1998; Perkins, 2000; Stemmer, 1999) and in the use of interactional approaches such as conversation analysis (e.g. Goodwin, 2003). This special issue of Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics draws on all of these areas but focuses on a particular aspect of pragmatic impairment which has often been overlooked – namely, that the behaviours we describe as pragmatic impairments are in fact the outcome of very varied and highly complex processes. This neglect is partly due to a common tendency to see pragmatics as a separate ‘level’ or even ‘module’ of language, on a par with syntax and semantics. Influenced on the one hand by speech act theory, with its distinction between language structure and communicative acts, and on the other hand by clinical populations who were either able to communicate well despite being linguistically impaired or else were poor communicators despite having good linguistic ability, clinicians assumed there to be a clear dissociation between linguistic and pragmatic competence. Although there is still considerable neurological evidence for a broadly modular view in terms of the lateralisation of linguistic and pragmatic functions, there is also compelling evidence for seeing pragmatic impairment as a more complex, non-unitary phenomenon. Non-modular, or ‘interactional’, views of pragmatic impairment have been influenced by connectionist and functional models of linguistic and cognitive processing (e.g. Bates, Thal, & MacWhinney, 1991), by a growing awareness of the role played in pragmatics by cognitive capacities such as inference, theory of mind and executive function (Martin & McDonald, 2003), and by approaches such as Conversation Analysis (e.g. Damico, Oelschlaeger, & Simmons-Mackie, 1999) which focus on those features of pragmatics which can only be accounted for in terms of interpersonal, collaborative activity. All of these interactional approaches share a view of pragmatic impairment as ‘emergent’, or ‘epiphenomenal’ (Perkins, 1998), rather than as a stand-alone, monadic entity

Publisher: Taylor and Francis
Year: 2005
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.