Clinical Pragmatics

Speech acts in the pragmatic assessment of language

Since from the second half of the 20th century, the pragmatic assessment of child language has aroused the interest of several authors (De Renzi & Ferrari, 1979; Dore, 1979; Dale, 1980; Lucas, 1980; Shulman, 1985; Adam & Bishop, 1989; Ninio, A., 1990; Ninio, A. et al, 1991; Ninio, A. & Goren, H., 1993; Bishop, D. et al, 2002, etc.). The speech act theory is one of the pragmatic theories that has been applicable in clinical attention and widely used in experimental studies, with the aim of analyzing the ability to produce or understand particular types of speech acts (Perkins, M., 2007).

On the other hand, the clinical application of this theory has received negative comments on account of its limitations, the most relevant of which is that it focuses on simple isolated statements regardless of the discourse context (Allan, 1998; Levinson, 1983; Geis, 1995).

Indeed, even though Austin, the creator of the concept of the speech act, takes nonverbal context (suitable interlocutors, place and time) into account, he certainly does not take discourse into account.

Speech acts in the pragmatic assessment of language

But we consider that child language requires a different dynamics in its initial stages, in which the analysis of speech acts that were isolated in their situational context becomes highly useful (nonverbal and verbal coherence).

When communication is compromised in early ages, reaching a diagnosis demands an interdisciplinary approach. For this approach to be made, a systematization and focalization of goals is required in each discipline. Through ICRA-A, we seek to provide specific pragmatic instruments and conceptual guidelines for the speech and language pathology discipline.

In ICRA-A Battery (Investigation of the Communicative Competence for the Realization of Speech Acts), we focus on the evaluation, analysis and therapeutic approach of seven speech acts that psycholinguistic literature identifies among the first ones to be developed (Bates, 1976; Dore, 1973; Bruner, 1974; Brown, 1979; Hoag, 1975; Lucas, 1980) as well as the development of joint referentiality, prelinguistic functions (Halliday, 1978) and nonverbal precursors of these basic speech acts.

Speech acts in the pragmatic assessment of language

Regarding child language, ICRA methodology focuses on speech acts early appearing in language development (Bates, E., 1976; Lucas, E., 1980; Bruner, J., 1983), as well as on their nonverbal precursors and coherence relationships (Abraham, M. and Brenca, R., 2001, 2006 and 2009). The absence or poor development of these elements implies significant difficulties in communication.

The systematic study of speech acts is an outstanding tool in the speech and language clinical approach, in order to obtain greater accuracy in analyzing language in children with difficulties in the development of communicative competence. Thus, a clearer orientation is obtained for differential diagnosis and subsequent treatment.