Publication details [#54170]

Publication type
Article in book
Publication language
Place, Publisher
John Benjamins


Variational pragmatics is a field of inquiry at the interface of pragmatics and sociolinguistics. It can be defined as the study of intra-lingual pragmatic variation, i.e. of pragmatic variation across varieties of the same language. More specifically, variational pragmatics can be characterized as the intersection of pragmatics with dialectology. In this context, dialectology is not understood in its narrow traditional sense as the study of regional variation alone, but in a more comprehensive sense as the study of both regional and social variation. In this sense, dialectology combines and integrates the fields of dialect geography and urban dialectology and covers all areas of language variation in sociolinguistics (cf., e.g. Schneider 2005b). So far, the impact of such factors as social class, age and, especially, region on language use has been largely neglected in the field of pragmatics, particularly in empirical speech act-based work. At the same time, the pragmatic domain of language has been ignored almost completely in dialectology. Thus, variational pragmatics addresses two complementary research gaps (cf. Schneider & Barron, 2008). Its aim is, therefore, two-fold. On the one hand, it is aimed at introducing the examination of regional and social variation in pragmatics research. On the other hand, it is aimed at adding the pragmatic level to the other language levels overwhelmingly analysed in dialectology, i.e. especially phonology, lexis and morphosyntax. In short, the overall aims of variational pragmatics can be summarized as the ‘dialectologisation’ of pragmatics and the ‘pragmaticisation’ of dialectology (cf. Schlieben-Lange & Weydt 1978; Schneider & Barron 2008). The purpose of the present article is to outline the theoretical and methodological foundations of variational pragmatics and to summarize its development to date. Section 2 focuses on crucial issues concerning pragmatics. In this section, the concept of pragmatics underlying variational pragmatics is specified, the relationship between variational pragmatics and related disciplines in pragmatics is described, and five levels of pragmatic analysis are introduced. Section 3 deals with relevant aspects of language variation. First, the concept of variation adopted in variational pragmatics is explained. Then, pragmatic variation is discussed, and finally, the question as to what constitutes a pragmatic variable is addressed. Section 4 is concerned with methodological considerations. After outlining some methodological principles, the data types and methods of data collection employed in variational pragmatics are characterized. Section 5 summarizes the history and development of variational pragmatics and provides an overview of the most important research trends. In the last section (Section 6), areas in variational pragmatics are identified which merit further study and open up perspectives for future research.