Perfecting the Theory of Meaning: The Story of Pragmatics and Discourse Analysis

Hosni M. El-Dali


The common sense view of what language is for is that language is used for communication. However, some of the most prominent linguists in the field reject this view. In other words, the majority of professional linguists used to adopt a view of language which is at odds with the view held by non-linguists. The phenomenon of communication has often been thought of as peripheral in linguistic research. This view is a result of the strong hold the abstract objectivist language conception has had on modern linguistic thought. Communication has been reduced to a subordinate place amongst the possible functions of language. This low status attributed to communication is challenged by different pragmatic approaches to language. On the other hand, the content and use of the term “communication” is even by humanistic standards extremely ambiguous, and it has, therefore, often been difficult to use in practical, empirical work. This study is primarily a deep survey of the major contributions of both “discourse analysis” and “pragmatics” in an attempt to clarify the problem of understanding meaning in language use. In addition, it attempts to show how language is used, as a persuasive tool, in political discourse.

The present study demonstrates that it would be a mistake to adopt an approach to pragmatics and discourse analysis which focuses on linguistic factors alone, or social factors alone, to the exclusion of cognitive factors. Also, it would be a mistake to adopt an approach which is exclusively speaker-oriented or exclusively hearer-oriented. The process of making meaning is a joint accomplishment between speaker and hearer; between writer and reader. In addition, the present study shows that both disciplines “pragmatics” and “discourse analysis” are hybrid fields of inquiry; and their common themes are “language”, “language users”, “communication”, and “meaning in interaction”. Both disciplines have borrowed their theoretical and methodological orientations from almost the same social and human disciplines. Accordingly, the terms “pragmatics” and “discourse analysis” can be used interchangeably. Finally, the present study shows that political speech is one of the main persuasive tools used by politicians to present their political persons and to further their political agendas.

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