General information


The Handbook of Pragmatics provides up-to-date information on research in the field of linguistic pragmatics, conceived as the interdisciplinary (cognitive, social, and cultural) science of natural language use. This electronic encyclopaedia of one of the major fields of language studies is a continuously updatable source of state-of-the-art information for anyone interested in language use. The Handbook of Pragmatics Online is variously searchable and flexible to meet the needs of both beginners and established scholars in the field.

It consists of topical articles (from anaphora and bilingualism to codeswitching, cohesion, discourse markers, implicitness, mass media, negation, social institutions, and terms of address) and brief biographies of eminent scholars (such as Austin, Bühler, Grice, Morris, Sapir).

In addition, it offers an extensive overview of research traditions that belong or have contributed to pragmatics (from accommodation theory, analytical philosophy and anthropological linguistics, to cognitive linguistics, construction grammar, conversation analysis, discourse analysis, literary pragmatics, neurolinguistics, psycholinguistics, relevance theory, sociolinguistics, speech act theory, and universal and transcendental pragmatics, to name just a few), of research methods (from contrastive analysis and corpus analysis to ethnography, experimentation, logical analysis, statistics, and taxonomy), and of notation systems (from formal semantics to transcription systems for spoken discourse).

The index is analysis-driven: it is not so much based on words and phrases that occur literally in the contributions to the Handbook; rather, it provides a conceptual road map with extensive cross-referencing.

The Handbook of Pragmatics Online now offers reference interlinking through DOI/CrossRef.

The Handbook of Pragmatics Online incorporates all information from the Handbook of Pragmatics (Manual & Installments). Future online versions will add further entries, and will include updates, rewritings and extensive revisions of already available entries.

The Handbook of Pragmatics Online is published by John Benjamins Publishing Company.


The Handbook of Pragmatics was first published by John Benjamins Publishers in the form of a bound Manual and eight annual Installments 1995-2002. The manual and the first installment were edited by Jef Verschueren, Jan-Ola Östman, and Jan Blommaert; the other seven installments were edited by Jef Verschueren, Jan-Ola Östman, Jan Blommaert and Chris Bulcaen.

There is a clear historical connection between the Handbook of Pragmatics, the online version, and the International Pragmatics Association (IPrA). From the very first announcements of the establishment of the Association in 1986, a project was anticipated which ought to result in the publication of a Handbook of Pragmatics, intended to be one of the major tools to achieve the Association's goals

  1. of disseminating knowledge about pragmatic aspects of language, not only among pragmaticians of various ‘denominations’ and students of language in general, but in principle among everyone who, personally or professionally, could profit from more insight into problems of the function and use of language;
  2. of stimulating various fields of application, ranging from language teaching and problems of intercultural communication to the construction of computer communication systems and the treatment of patients with language disorders, by making this knowledge accessible to an interdisciplinary community of scholars approaching the same general subject area from different points of view and with different methodologies; and
  3. of finding, in the process, a significant degree of theoretical coherence for the discussion and comparison of the results of the fundamental research carried out by those dealing with aspects of language use or the functionality of language in fields such as linguistics, text linguistics, discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, ethnomethodology, the ethnography of speaking, anthropological linguistics, procedural and developmental psycholinguistics, artificial intelligence, neurolinguistics, semiotics, the philosophy of language, speech act theory, communication theory, rhetoric, stylistics, and even in the wider fields of sociology, political science, and history, to name only a few.

Purpose & scope

The Handbook of Pragmatics Online places the field of research known as pragmatics at its center of interest. But our broad definition of pragmatics as the cognitive, social, and cultural study of language and communication indicates the breadth of the issues we see as relevant to the study of language use and language in use. Details of what such a broad definition of pragmatics exactly means, and what it entails for the scientific status of linguistic pragmatics, is explained in Jef Verschueren´s overview article The pragmatic perspective (which already appeared in the 1995 Manual; a more complete account is to be found in J. Verschueren, 1999, Understanding Pragmatics, London, Edward Arnold).

The overall purpose of the Handbook of Pragmatics Online is that it should function as a tool in a search for coherence in the sense of cross-disciplinary intelligibility, in this necessarily interdisciplinary field of scholarship.

To the extent that theories — in the sense of coherent and systematically organized sets of assumptions, principles and procedures — can be said to have a central position at all in pragmatics, none of the current ones are adequate to capture the full richness of simple but fundamental intuitions about what it means to use language. Moreover, it would be pretentious to believe, at our present state of knowledge about the use of language, that anything exceeding the barest outline of a program leading to a sufficiently sophisticated theory could be formulated right now. Nor is it clear that it would be desirable to have one theory, since theoretical depth is more likely to result from the availability of competing models, or even competing paradigms – as we have witnessed in recent decades as proponents of monologism vs. dialogism have explored very different facets of language use. The Handbook of Pragmatics Online is primarily intended to organize our present limited knowledge in such a way as to stimulate future research and interdisciplinary debate, and to reduce the risks inherent in disconnected fragmentary studies.

Even this limited aim for the Handbook may seem overly ambitious. Yet there are good reasons to strive for greater coherence, even if it is not the intention to produce one overarching theory. The jumble of scientific enterprises with the label `pragmatic' is marked by such a high degree of fragmentation that two linguists with slightly different methodological and terminological backgrounds might be unable to understand each other when talking about the same subject, even if the basic points they are trying to make are very similar. A reasonably coherent way of organizing knowledge about pragmatic aspects of language is indispensable if we want to achieve a minimal degree of comparability across topics of inquiry, across terminologies, and across methodologies. Such comparability is a conditio sine qua non for any form of fruitful cooperation (which has been recognized for ages in the sciences as a basic requirement for the accelerated growth of insights). Without comparability across methodologies and terminologies, and without inter(sub)disciplinary cooperation, we cannot expect to have the means to undertake any serious applicability of our insights in areas such as language teaching, the treatment of speech disorders, international and intercultural communication, or natural language processing systems, to name just a few of the more important ones.

There is no doubt that the International Pragmatics Association has exerted a beneficial influence on the international development of the multidisciplinary field of pragmatics, by means of its regular International Pragmatics Conferences, its participation in the organization of smaller-scale events, its publications, and the like. The Handbook of Pragmatics can clearly be situated in the same kind of context, and now, the Handbook of Pragmatics Online seeks to become yet another outlet and means in this continuous search for (inter)disciplinary coherence. It follows that the major task of the Handbook of Pragmatics Online is not so much the search for unity as the struggle against counterproductive fragmentation. It should, therefore, represent a continuous exercise in flexibility, rather than an attempt to impose a monolithic and unchangeable framework. In other words, it is not intended to consolidate a new, artificial, field of research, but to enhance understanding by promoting communication across the various (sub)disciplines which are, in part or in their totality, relevant to pragmatics.

Some basic options follow from this brief description of the purpose and scope of the Handbook of Pragmatics Online.


The Handbook of Pragmatics Online primarily addresses the needs of students, researchers, scholars and experts on language and linguistics, and places the field of research known as pragmatics at its center of interest. But the publication is anything but intended for only a particular group of students and academics: it wants to address any individual with a personal or professional interest in the problems of language use and communication, such as:


A project of this type cannot be successfully started, let alone completed, without the help of hundreds of devoted scholars. First of all, there are the authors themselves, who have sometimes had to work under extreme conditions of time pressure. Further, most members of the IPrA Consultation Board have occasionally, and some repeatedly, been called upon to review contributions. Other members of IPrA and other benevolent scholars have also contributed immensely. Our sincerest thanks to all of you!

And finally, we greatly and continually appreciate any suggestions that will improve the usability, accessibility, and flexibility of the Handbook of Pragmatics Online.