Metapragmatics in indirect reports: The degree of reflexivity

Mostafa Morady Moghaddam and Seyyed Ali Ostovar-Namaghi


This study attempts to describe how metapragmatic devices can exert change in indirect reporting. This was achieved through the analysis of naturally occurring indirect reports during interaction. Specifically, indirect reports were extracted from a series of expert talks (≈800 minutes) broadcast by Iranian national TV. The analysis of these expert talks showed cases of communicative ‘know-hows’, where Persian speakers reflectively managed the dialogue in terms of their interpretation of the original utterance. Accordingly, Persian speakers negotiated the degree of reflexivity by changing the verb of saying and by adhering to specific syntactic markers. Thus, contrary to previous research, the present study revealed that Persian indirect reports can benefit from some syntactic markers to show that speakers do not perfectly adhere to the pragmatic force of the original speaker’s utterance. By contrast, Persian speakers use classes of markers, or contextualisation clues (Gumperz 1982), to show their control over the utterances. These markers are generally used to indicate politeness, uncertainty, and summarisation in Persian indirect reports. Such markers can distinguish indirect reports in Persian from those of other languages such as English.

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Table of contents

The focus of the present study is on the reflexive use of language as observed in Persian indirect reports. Indirect reports are complicated language games that require (intricate) online cognitive processing (e.g., an appraisal of the event as it occurs) and social awareness (Capone 2016, 2019; Morady Moghaddam and Capone 2020). The idea of reflexivity closely deals with guiding listeners through the proper interpretation of utterances (Lucy 1993a). With regard to utterance interpretation, Capone (2019, 226) points out that “there are pragmatic increments to utterance interpretation which are fuelled through explicatures.” Likewise, the practice of indirect reporting is under the control of the Paraphrase Principle, concerning which Capone (2010, 382) states that “[t]he that-clause embedded in the verb ‘say’ is a paraphrase of what Y said if it meets the following constraint: Should Y hear what X said Y had said, Y would not take issue with it, but would approve of it as a fair paraphrase of the original utterance” (emphasis added). When it comes to a ‘fair paraphrase’, the reporter is cautioned to provide sufficient linguistic (and paralinguistic) markers to help the hearer distinguish between the reporting speaker’s and the reported speaker’s voice (Salmani Nodoushan 2015; Capone 2016). According to Wettstein (2016, 421), “The reporter must be faithful to the original speaker’s remark. At the same time the reporter needs to choose a sentence that in the current context conveys the original speaker’s point. And there may well be no uniquely correct way to satisfy both desiderata.” On this account, reflexivity empowers the reporter to use metalanguage as an index of extralinguistic clues to facilitate the simultaneous interpretation process. In this case, Capone (2019, 7) rightly mentions that “linguistic resources and contextual clues and cues that direct the hearer towards the recovery of the implicature.”

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