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Journal Article

Relationship thinking and human pragmatics


Enfield,  N. J.
Language and Cognition Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Categories across Language and Cognition, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Enfield, N. J. (2009). Relationship thinking and human pragmatics. Journal of Pragmatics, 41, 60-78. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2008.09.007.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-38B9-0
The approach to pragmatics explored in this article focuses on elements of social interaction which are of universal relevance, and which may provide bases for a comparative approach. The discussion is anchored by reference to a fragment of conversation from a video-recording of Lao speakers during a home visit in rural Laos. The following points are discussed. First, an understanding of the full richness of context is indispensable for a proper understanding of any interaction. Second, human relationships are a primary locus of social organization, and as such constitute a key focus for pragmatics. Third, human social intelligence forms a universal cognitive under-carriage for interaction, and requires careful cross-cultural study. Fourth, a neo-Peircean framework for a general understanding of semiotic processes gives us a way of stepping away from language as our basic analytical frame. It is argued that in order to get a grip on pragmatics across human groups, we need to take a comparative approach in the biological sense—i.e. with reference to other species as well. From this perspective, human pragmatics is about using semiotic resources to try to meet goals in the realm of social relationships.